“There are no uninteresting things; there are only uninterested people.”
– Lord Chesterton
I was sitting at Starbucks as I do every morning when I’m home and reading through a book when someone started up a conversation. He asked what I was reading. When I told him, he seemed surprised, even shocked. He asked me, “Why?” I said “To learn.” He again asked me why. I said because there are a thousand things to learn and I’m committed to learning several new things every day. He paused. So I asked him a question, “What have you learned today?”
Now if he was shocked earlier by my answer, he was even more shocked by my question. “Learned? … [pause] … learned? Well, I don’t know.” “Well, what have you learned in the last week?” What I discovered in that brief conversation is a way to induce a profound state of stunned silence(!). That was not my intention, but that was the effect.
What I learned from Maslow’s work on Self-Actualization Psychology, and what I wrote in the book by that title, is that the human unique human instinct is our instinct to learn. We are made to learn and, in fact, to be lifelong learners. Without instincts in the way which animals have instincts, we have to keep learning. And we do, whether it is formal learning or not. This is our inescapable meaning-making power which as a human being you cannot turn off even if you wanted to. So learn we do. Make-meaning we do. The question is not whether you will or will not, the real question is about what you learn, the quality of your learning, its usefulness, effectiveness, etc.
Many years ago (1970), Alvin Toffler published his bestselling book, “Future Shock”, and in it wrote this about the critical importance of learning in the future—“the future” which now has arrived:
“Tomorrow’s schools must therefore teach not merely data, but ways to manipulate it. Students must learn how to discard old ideas, how and when to replace them. They must, in short, learn how to learn.” “To enhance human adaptability: by instructing students how to learn, unlearn, and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to education.” (p. 414)
The art of learning, and the meta-art of learning-how-to-learn (meta-learning), as well as the skills of unlearning and relearning are today essential skills for anyone who wants to be on the cutting edge of business or one’s own industry. These are skills required for just staying current so that you do not fall behind. How are your meta-learning skills?
Today many of the key thinkers in the field of education can testify to the importance of something else which Alvin Tofler wrote 45 years ago: “Tomorrow’s illiterate will not be the man who can’t read; he will be the man who has not learned how to learn.” Precisely because things are changing so quickly, if you do not know how to unlearn and relearn (the meta-learning skills), you could very well be functionally illiterate in your area of focus or expertise.
Now within this area of meta-learning are the critical thinking skills which are inherent in the NLP Meta-Model of Language and in the area that enables us to recognize cognitive distortions and cognitive biases so that we can not fall victim to them. The problem with such cognitive distortions and biases is that they prevent effective learning. They distort how we input information, listen to conversations and speak as we work with conceptions and premises in our understandings. Without recognizing such, we can develop significant learning disabilities and never understand why we are not getting something.
When it comes to learning, your personal neuro-semantics either makes learning a joy and delight or a drudgery that you avoid until you just have to learn something. This goes to how you have meta-stated the primary state of learning. Have you meta-stated learning with joy, delight, and fun? Or have you associated learning with boredom and/or work. Have you concluded that it is hard and useless? Have you decided that it’s for nerds? Whatever meta-level frames you have brought to learning will govern your strategies for learning, comprehending, remembering, and integrating.
We can think about learning using many different distinctions. There is the distinction between capitalization and compensation learning. Compensation learning is the learning that a person does to overcome a weakness, insecurity, or a humiliation. The person learns to compensate for something so that the weakness does not undermine his effectiveness. Capitalization learning is completely different. In this kind of learning, you are building on your strengths.
Howard Gardner, who was the cognitive psychologists who invented the Multiple-Intelligence Model, has identified eight different kinds of intelligences. He has also created an inventory for a person to figure out one’s strongest form or forms of intelligences so that a person can compensate where one is weakest by strengthening one’s best dispositions. The NLP model does this to a lesser degree as it highlights the different sensory systems that we have and can use for learning.
What did you learn today? How committed are you to your learning? How are you recording your learnings? How well do you do in integrating your learnings into your mind-body system so they make you more effective? What are you planning to learn this year? What are the benchmarks that you are using to measure the quality of your learnings?
Ah, yes, learning. Learning, unlearning, and relearning— these are the meta-learning skills which lie at the very heart of human excellence.
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.