How we learn

Much of the learning that takes place in our lives we don’t even think about. An event occurs and we internalise what has taken place and with either follow that pattern again (if it yielded pleasant results) or perhaps avoid that behaviour (if it led to unwanted feelings). We are not overly conscious about what we took away from the experience. Typically, our body and mind are experiencing feelings in these scenarios and they are either feelings we enjoy or ones we don’t.

Unless we have a real awareness and a process of reflecting on our experiences, lessons come and go and only the really impactful ones remain to change our behaviour.

When we are consciously learning something new however, we approach this differently. Perhaps we are learning a new skill like a language, an instrument or a concept.  We begin with thinking. We analyse what we are hearing or reading, we assess it and we try hard to remember it. Often this type of learning can be challenging unless you have a photographic memory of some sort. Repetition is our main approach to getting this new learning down.

When we are really working on changing behaviour consciously, we require a different approach. Thinking and analysing will only get us so far. Thinking allows us to understand a concept. In many cases we see people interested in behaviour change for themselves or their businesses and feeling frustrated that the old behaviour is still occurring despite having explained many times what they’d like to see. This is because shifting behaviour or working on changing the paradigm we live in requires more than thinking.

Thinking gives us the new concept. It is not, however, until we have an experience with the new concept that we actually feel different. A change occurs in the way we feel about an experience or interaction. That is when we notice our behaviour shifting. We can feel how different it is and the lesson or behaviour change has begun to sink in.

Imagine, if you can, that you really want to be a better listener. You know you want to be more present for your family and they have told you many times that you are distracted or don’t really hear what they are saying. Your team at work may also reflect to you that you are too fast paced or can seem short fused at times to really listen. You know this is the case and want to change. You understand that, conceptually, better listening would be a good thing.

However, after hearing this for many years, nothing much has shifted. Until one day, you decide to put some focus on it. You work really hard to stay conscious of this for the day and week ahead. In a meeting, things are getting frustrating and you feel yourself about to jump in and sort things out when you remember what you are working on. You stop yourself. Take a breath, and try again to listen to the other opinions in the room. You decide to assume that the other people may have a point and really get behind understanding them. They respond. They grow more confident and make some decisions and you are pleased to see this engagement. You realise that their confidence came from you giving them some real attention and listening well. This feels good.

You know now, that it truly feels different in your body to listen well. Your mind has registered what happened but it is the feeling that remains with you. Perhaps afterwards you reflect on the learning (thinking) but you are forever shifted because you now know how it feels to respond differently.

After many more conscious interactions that go this way, you slowly begin to let go of having to do this consciously and your learning just becomes something you know. It becomes something you believe deeply and it has shifted your behaviour, your perspective and your being.

Learning occurs at all three of these levels: Thinking, Feeling and Knowing. They are all important ways in which we understand the world around us. It is important to note however, that unless we are willing to allow ourselves the space and time to feel into a new experience, we are unlikely to really shift and retain any behaviour or perspective change that we are seeking.