How to learn from experience(s)

Children really know how to learn - do they have something that we need to remember?

October 2, 2017

I have rarely met anyone who said they enjoyed role-play; I have only worked with a very few who didn't get something out of it. Adults don't like doing 'pretend'. It seems that we'd far prefer to make a real mistake than to submit ourselves to a potentially embarrassing situation where we try to do something and fail, in front of a colleague - or a coach!

Turn back the clock 30 years (give or take a few revolutions) and there we are as toddlers and children, learning at every turn. Experimenting, making mistakes, picking ourselves up and doing it all over again. No shame, no embarrassment, no self-consciousness.

But unfortunately it doesn't take long, perhaps by the age of six or seven, before we begin to realise that there is a right and a wrong way to draw a giraffe, tie a shoelace or hold a fork. It's no coincidence that it's at about that age when the adults around us go into overdrive to 'teach' us everything we need to know. From that point the objective all of a sudden changes from "just have a go" to "not like that, like this!". And getting it right as soon as possible becomes the goal. Out goes experimentation and learning by discovery, trial and error.

Of course that's not true across the board. In finding out that mistakes aren't allowed at school many enterprising youngsters take to skate parks to teach themselves tricks on their skateboards and 'fixies'. It is these parks that are the grown-up toddler temples of discovery.

So, if you want to have a go at really accelerating your learning, get down wi' da kids, take a leaf out of their handbook of experiential learning and consider adopting these three simple principles:

  1. Identify the one thing you want to learn to door change. Be specific and then fixate on it. Small and specific is the way to go.
  2. Prepare to get it wrong and for that to be OK. A lot. To help you with this, tell people, if need be, that you're trying a new way of doing things and you'd appreciate the feedback - or that they should just 'bear with'.
  3. Do it a lot. Don't count how many times and don't set yourself a target or a deadline. Just get on and experiment until you notice a change that you're pleased with. Do not stop practising until you can barely get it wrong.

And remember, practise does not make perfect - making mistakes does. And when you really get down to it, we don't learn from experience - we learn from experiences.

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