+Scott Watson

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

If You Want To Learn More - Fail More

It is all too easy to forget just how easy, enjoyable and fulfilling learning can be. When we commit to learning something new, or even refreshing an old skill, it can be a fun and thought-provoking experience. When we enter in to the learning with an open mind and a willingness to take the little failures that are very likely to appear occasionally, overcoming them can be really quite straightforward. At least if we choose to think this way.

OK, now it may not be very motivational for you to read that, if you try something new, or even not so new, you should expect that you won't get everything right, first time or every time. Sometimes you might not realise 'why' you are failing, but you just are. It can seem like however hard you try, progress is minimal or non-existent. But that thought itself, is part of the problem. When we think that we aren't making any progress, or the progress we are making is really insignificant, it doesn't motivate us to focus on persisting. It can focus us more on generating justifications for giving up. You may have heard some of the following:

-It's not worth it anyway, I've got other things I need to do.

-Well, I've tried everything to make it work but still can't do it.

-S/he (someone who can do it successfully) must have some special ability that I don't possess. That's why they can do it.

-I was never serious about learning it anyway.

-It isn't worth the hassle or effort.

Any of these sound familiar? Not that I'm suggesting for one moment that you would use any of these justifications.

Who struggles most with failing?

The people that tend to struggle most with failure are those people who succeed so frequently that 'failure' appears foreign to them. Why don't they tend to handle failure well? Because they are so damned brilliant that they haven't learned how to manage themselves, their thinking and emotions through the turmoil that failure to achieve a goal can bring. You see, even the most brilliant amongst us has challenges to face and obstacles to overcome.

Failure as a learning opportunity

Let me put some context around this. If you are a trainee pilot attempting to land a passenger jet with 300 passengers on board, it wouldn't be wise to simply think positively to yourself 'I can do this, I can do this' when the technical competence hasn't reached the level required to confidently make an attempt. My preferred approach is small, regular and manageable steps on a daily basis. This way we exercise our self-confidence, self-awareness, motivation and resilience muscles. This way, any 'failure' is small and usually, more quickly overcome so you can get back on track.

If you want to learn more, fail more. But don't keep repeating the same thinking, communication and behavioural patterns over and over again. Persistence is a good thing when used wisely. But if you keep persisting at repeating the failure pattern, all you'll get really successful at failing miserably.

We continue to see how failure, either on a small or massive scale can bring about new learning. An airline crash can bring about a new or enhanced awareness of the need for specific pre-flight checks just as in business, failing to hit an agreed deadline for your boss can help you to realise that you shouldn't simply comply with a boss's demand or request when you truly know that you can't hit the deadline or achieve the required quality standard. The trick is to learn BEFORE the significant learning failure can occur - and this requires clarity of thought as well as a willingness to trust yourself to take appropriate and intelligent action.

Help me to learn to walk

Think of it this way. If you are the parent of a new born child, when it reaches 18 months old would you expect him or her to be learning to walk on their own? If so, when would you stop helping your child to learn to walk? Would you really have a tough talk with him or her stating that 'I've tried everything I know to get you to walk and you're not. So, either it's you can't be bothered or you're just not designed to walk or you're just being silly.' You'd never have such a conversation would you? Firstly, the kid wouldn't understand a word you are saying, never mind the significance of your communication. But more importantly, you place such a high value on your relationship with your child, and it with you, that you are going to persist and persist UNTIL your child learns to walk by itself, unaided. What an experience that would be eh? How proud would you be when those first unaided steps were walked?

So, why use the metaphor of learning to walk as a guide for yourself? What do you want to learn that you're not finding time or energy for? What do you need to learn if you are to achieve the goals you set yourself, or those set by your organisation?

You've already learned to walk, possibly drive a motor vehicle, speak at least one, if not more languages, program a computer, use the internet and so much more. Why not make your next learning something so important and exciting that you actually stick with it, even during the tough times?

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