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Do You Know How To Learn? – The Coaching Room

The questions which I’m about to ask you will seem, on the surface, to be nonsense and even obvious. Yet I assure you, they are not. Not really. I write them here because, surprisingly, because most people do not know how to learn. What?! Oh sure, they learn stuff. And they learn lots of stuff. And they also learn lots of stuff that’s wrong and even harmful. Learning stuff is inevitable given that a person is a human being. Given that we humans do not have information-instincts, we have to learn. So learn we do. But learning things and knowing how to learn are two entirely different things. So if you are ready, here is the question I’m inviting you to ponder:

  • Do you know how to learn?
  • Do you have a well-developed strategy for your learning?
  • What are you best states and how skilled are you for accessing those states when you want to learn something efficiently and thoroughly?
  • Do you know how to meta-learn— to learn about your learning?
  • To what extent do you identify yourself as a lifelong learner?
  • Are you still in school or is school out for you?


The amazing fact is that most people are stunned and stopped by these learning questions. They do not even think of themselves as learners, let along lifelong learners. Consequently, they have no learning goals or plans. They do not intentionally set out to learn new things each year.

One of my conversations recently at Starbucks was with a man who was unemployed. I turned around the question and asked him what he was studying? His immediate response was, “What?” as if the question didn’t compute; as if I had asked him when he was planning a vacation trip to Mars. “Well, you said you were unemployed didn’t you? [“Yeah.”] So now you have a great opportunity to be studying to add new knowledge and new skills that will give you greater employability, right?”

“Well …. I never thought of that. [Pause] Anyway I don’t know what I would study. And … anyway, I don’t like to study.”

“You don’t like to study?!” I said raising the volume and tempo of my voice. “Well I’m really sorry to hear that. Do you want some help in designing a learning program for yourself so that you can fall in love with learning and then add new skills so you can make a lot more money than you have ever before?”


I added the last line to provide an intentional motivation to the conversation and to see how he would respond. He didn’t take the bait. I felt sad for him as he left, and when he walked out some twenty minutes later, a sense of pity rose up in me that here was a person with all of the time and opportunity to increase his internal wealth of knowledge, understanding, and skill to add more value in the marketplace and to improve the quality of his life and even though I had tried to shaken his comfortable world and challenge him to wake up to the possibilities— he continued his sleep as he socialized with some friends and then left to go watch daytime TV. I know that because he told me that when I asked him what he’s doing with all the time on his hand.

If you think that I don’t know what I’m speaking about, then a quick story. In 1975 I was fired for the fifth time from my first career and lost my first profession. That’s when I finally concluded, “The problem is me, not the ministry; I do not have a good fit with this job.” Now for most people, “three strikes and you’re out” would have been enough to convince them to move on and find something more compatible. But either I was a slow learner, or very stubborn, or persistent to a fault, or a combination of all three! Anyway, it was 1975 and I was unemployed so while I spend two hours every morning making the rounds, putting in applications and checking on applications, I spend the rest of the day in the public library. Doing what? I was reading everything I could find on therapy. Well, I needed it! So I read everything Sigmund Freud wrote, then everything by Alfred Alder, then Otto Rank. The next year, 1976, I found TA (Transactional Analysis) and read every book in the public library on the subject. When I did get employed in some in-between jobs, I continued the same using all my spare time reading in the field of Rational Emotive Therapy (1977).


In that way I began a new career. As I progressed I started picking up diplomas in TA and RET and others, then later I did a degree program in clinical counseling, and later Cognitive Psychology and in that process I found NLP. Being unemployed (and without any unemployment benefits!) was a gift—it gave me the gift of time and motivation and so with it I learned another profession.

Learning and learning-about-learning is the premier career development competency. Whether you are unemployed today or in a career whose growth potential is lessening, or ready for a new challenge in life—the secret to wealth creation, to vitality in your life, to living with a sense of adventure and inspiration—is to keep learning. Pity those people who have let School and Schooling destroy the pleasure of learning. Pity those people who went to school and never learned how to learn. They are at such a disadvantage in today’s world of rapid change!


It’s funny how School prevents so many people from getting an education. Perhaps the person confuses the two, thinking that if he went to school, he’s educated. What a big delusion! Others think that what happens in most schools is “education.” Wrong again. In fact, a great many kids in urban city schools are not being “educated” there, they are being warehoused until their 16th or 18th birthday. Calling it “education” doesn’t make it so.

If “necessity is the mother of invention” being without money and a job enabled me to discover how to learn, to improve my learning-competencies and to use what was available (the public library) to invent a new career. That career lasted 20 years. My third career (modeling human experiences of excellence) began after I learned NLP and its now been another 20 years. And yes, over that time I got some degrees to validate the learnings, but getting a degree is not the same as getting an education. But more about that — next time.


L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.


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