how important is continuous learning

How Important Is Continuous Learning to Your Success?

How important is continuous learning to your success? The simple answer is tons! And, yes, that’s why MentorLoft exists.

I could ask it another way: How much do you want to succeed in your career? If being a lollygagger is fine with you, you can stop learning now. If you don’t know what lollygagger means, you can practice continuous learning and get smarter by reading the definition.

Once you stop learning, you start dying.

–Albert Einstein

Today’s college freshmen are learning information that will be obsolete by the time they get their first job. With the rapid pace of change, new technologies are constantly coming to market. New technologies are leading to new discoveries. Globalization of the workforce means we have to keep learning to deal with more changes.

Unless you want to be a lollygagger.

Adults learn by

  • layering new information on top of past experiences
  • making the information fit within their mental model
  • practicing using that information or new skill
  • revising the understanding of that skill based on lessons learned
  • practicing again until the skill becomes ingrained

Think about how you learned to ride a bike. You didn’t just jump on and take off. You had to practice and learn new skills–the most important one being how to balance.

Think about how you learned to drive. Sure, your teenage self thought you’d just grab the keys and take off. Didn’t happen like that, did it?

When you need to learn something new, break it down into chunks, then break the chunks down into bits, if you need to. This helps you avoid getting overwhelmed and quitting before you really learn anything.

For example, I’m mentoring a handful of people who are very reserved in how they interact with others. Their jobs as managers require them to build relationships with their staff. They know they need to get better at expressing their emotions. Their action plans for doing this are far too broad.

It’s like the elephant


Have you heard this before?

“How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.”

Actually, the story is about blind men encountering an elephant for the first time.  One man feels the leg and says the elephant isn’t alive, it’s a pillar. Another man feels the ear and says it’s a fan. Others think the tusk is a sword, the tail is a rope, the back is a bed, and the trunk is a giant serpent.

It’s all about your perspective. In learning new skills, break a skill down into its sub-parts and attack each of those one at a time.

My group of managers needs to break “improving emotional expression” down into chunks. Here’s what that might look like.

Goal: Improve emotional expression

  1. Use emotional expressions every day with my team
  2. Tell people “thank you”
  3. Improve your vocabulary
  4. Keep a diary of my emotions from each day’s work

Let’s take the first bullet: use emotional expressions every day with my team. That is an elephant of a challenge for a reserved person who isn’t comfortable expressing emotions. I’d move that chunk to the bottom of the list. It’s too much to begin with.

2. Tell people “thank you”

Most of us enjoy hearing “thank you” for something we’ve done. It’s a simple expression, yet it’s a challenge for some people–like my reserved managers. If this is you, try the 10-Penny Exercise. I wish I could remember the name of the speaker who shared this, but I can’t.

Start your day with 10 pennies in your left-hand pocket. Your goal is to say “thank you” to 10 people by the end of the day. When you thank them, you move a penny from your left pocket to your right. You end up with all 10 pennies in your right pocket. That’s it.

Many execs I’ve coached have found 10 pennies were too much to start with. They started with five. They learned how easy it is to say “thank you” and it became a habit.

3. Improve your vocabulary

Many people rely on the same words and expressions day after day. If you want to improve your emotional expression, you probably need to improve your vocabulary. Alternative answers for “How are you?” are fine, doing great, enjoying the day, optimistic about the project.

If having a collection of words and phrases to use is too challenging, pick one word that you’ll practice using for a week. For example, suppose you pick the word “satisfied.” How could you use that word or its derivatives during your day? To a coworker: “You should be satisfied with the fine work of your team.” To someone you’re mentoring: “Are you satisfied with the level of feedback I give?” To the person who prepares your dinner: “That is such a satisfying meal after the day I’ve had.”

Pick one word and build it into your repertoire each week. Then move on to a new word. This focus will help you learn to express your emotions around others–and they will appreciate your efforts.

4. Keep a diary of your emotions

Keeping a journal or diary is an excellent way for you to focus on any skill you’re building. Take a few minutes at the end of the day to write what emotions you experienced and expressed throughout your day. What emotions did you experience but not express? Write those down as well.

Keeping a diary helps you track your mindset and your behavior. It also helps you pinpoint situations or people who make it hard for you to open up. Use that information to make a simple plan for how you can grow in that case.

How important is continuous learning? That’s up to you. Now you have a formula for planning your growth.

Identify your learning style

Each of us has a preferred way of learning. What works for one person may not work for another person.

Here’s a list from this LifeHack article on learning styles.

  1. Visual (spatial): You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  2. Aural (auditory, musical): You prefer using sound and music.
  3. Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
  4. Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands.
  5. Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning, and systems.
  6. Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
  7. Solitary (Intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.”2

The article includes a link to an assessment that will help you identify your learning style. A quick caveat on the assessment: The tool is good; the page layout is miserable. You have to keep scrolling and leaping over ads to get to the next step. Still, it’s worth the effort.

How important is continuous learning for you? Make it easier by identifying your learning style.

Learn how a Noble winner learns

This Inc. article describes how Nobel winner Richard Feynman fueled his lifelong passion for learning. His “gift for learning wasn’t all about native ability. He also had a technique for learning new skills — and even better, it’s both simple and stealable by us non-geniuses.”

The steps are simple and so doable.

I especially like this summation in step 3: “If the explanation isn’t simple or sounds confusing, that’s a good indication that your understanding in that area needs some work.”

How important is continuous learning? If it’s good enough for a Nobel winner, it’s good enough for you.

Advice from Microsoft’s CEO

Another fine Inc. article shares advice from Microsoft’s CEO.

The author writes: “I’m a big fan of Microsoft’s Satya Nadella. Since taking over as CEO just three years ago, he’s used a combination of effective leadership and brilliant business moves to return the tech company to relevance.”

His advice is simple and so clear. Check it out at Inc

How important is continuous learning? If it’s important to the CEO of Microsoft, you should at least give it a shot.

© Pamela A. Scott, MentorLoft.com, 2017

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