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Posts Tagged ‘learning’

The truth is, it really doesn’t matter!

What’s important is who is responsible for making things better and the answer to that is always the same. I am.

We spend far too much time appointing blame  when things don’t turn out the way we want them to. There is a school of thought that absolutely everything that ever happens to you is your fault, that you somehow asked for things to happen to you. Personally I think that’s a bit harsh and honestly not at all helpful. Even if, on a metaphysical level, we do create our universe, assigning ourselves blame and guilt is not going to put us in a state of mind conducive to moving forward. The answer to the question “Who’s fault?” lies in the past and there is nothing we can do to change the past. So even if we can arrive at a meaningful answer there’s not much useful we can do with it.

But it is always our responsibility to learn. If we take a difficult situation and choose to assign blame we will always be stuck in the past, wishing we can change it, which we can’t. If we choose instead to take the lessons and try to put them into action we can come out of any situation better, wiser and stronger that we started.

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Yes, OK, I know it’s not sexy but slow and steady really is what it takes to get the job done.

In this era of “Secrets” and American Idols where overnight success with seemingly very little effort is promoted as the norm, and even success coaches are constantly telling you to get out of your comfort zone and subtly implying that if you don’t you’re a wimp, its easy to feel inadequate if you’re not making things happen in a big way and fast.

But the truth is, if you look behind the stories of these “quick change artists” you’ll find a very different story. Almost without exception they have all worked long and hard and been totally focused for years and years and years on achieving their dreams. They’ve tried and failed and got back up again and tried again, and again, and again. And they’ve kept getting back up until they’ve achieved their goal. They’ve decided that failure is not an option and that the only failure is not getting back up.

Success is hard work and it rarely happens in a straight line. But if you can learn to enjoy the journey and treat each failure as a lesson you needed to learn to get to where you want to be, you will not only achieve your dreams but you will have a whole load of great stories to tell along the way. Lets face it, overnight successes are pretty boring people!

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One of the most helpful things you can learn when you are pushing forward with powerful goals is how to recognise where you are in that area between learning and consolidating that we call the comfort zone.

If we can learn to surf that wave, we maximise the speed of our progress and we minimise the levels of stress. So its a good thing to learn if you want results fast!

Firstly lets look at how it feels when we’re in flow. Flow is when your level of expertise perfectly matches the challenge of the task. Its when you do things almost automatically, you don’t have to think too hard about it, your whole system just knows what to do and gets on with it. If you’re an experienced driver you will be in flow much of the time. You don’t have to think about turning the wheel, you just think about where you want to be. When we are in flow time seems to slow down so your reactions become effortless, there’s no rush or panic, just a sense of calm focus.

Now, try to remember when you first started learning to drive. Remember how unfamiliar everything felt. There were so many things to think about. So many lights and levers and buttons and you wondered how you were ever going to master it. Things seemed to happen very quickly and you had to make so many decisions all at once and everything seemed disjointed and clumsy. You had to consciously think where your hands and feet were and what they were doing and panic was never far away! This is the learning zone.

Now imagine that your driving instructor took you out on Sheikh Zayed Road at rush hour. Now you have all the other drivers to think about as well, people are coming at you from all directions, beeping their horns, narrowly missing you, making rude gestures, and on top of that your instructor is shouting at you as well. Suddenly your mind goes blank, your hands start sweating, your heart is beating out of your chest, you have no idea what to do next and you freeze completely. This is the burn out zone.

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Now imagine the next lesson. The instructor takes you round the back roads of a half empty industrial estate on a Friday (weekend) morning. He makes you go round and round and round, practising turning, reversing, stopping, starting, speeding up, slowing down and there’s no other traffic on the road and everything is calm. Suddenly all of those complicated actions start to make sense and the more often you do them the less you have to actually think about them. This is the consolidation zone where you practice what you’ve learned until it becomes a part of you.

Now imagine the instructor tells you to do this day after day and tells you never to go on the busy roads and only to drive when there’s no one else out. You’ve practiced everything a million times and you never seem to be getting anywhere. Suddenly you start to make silly mistakes. You lose concentration. You are bored to tears and you can’t remember why you ever wanted to learn to drive in the first place. You can never go anywhere because you might come across other traffic. All of your learning is now useless and pretty soon you give up. But if anyone suggests you try something a bit more challenging, fear comes up and you remember the burn out zone and stay exactly where you are. This is the rust out zone.

Both the rust out zone and the burn out zone are places you really don’t want to spend much time. If you are pushing ahead fast and really stretching yourself you may want to foray out into the burn out zone, but don’t stay too long and try to go with someone who has been there before so you can hang on to them!  Likewise, if you are tired and stressed you may want to rest for a little while in the rust out zone. But don’t get comfortable there or you’ll be stuck forever!

Learn to recognise the signs that you’re in these zones and you can avoid their perils and achieve incredible things in less time and with less stress than you ever thought possible!

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One of the most over used phrases in coaching today is “get out of your comfort zone”. The thing is, I believe almost no one knows exactly what a comfort zone is and that the idea of getting out of it is actually very dangerous for most people. It’s what kills countless wonderful goals dead in their tracks.

The concept of the comfort zone was first described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1980s in his work on Flow. Flow is the state when your ability to do a task exactly matches the challenge of the task. His definition of the comfort zone is the area around flow where you are either expanding your abilities by stretching just beyond flow, or consolidating your learning by repeating what you have just learned until it becomes natural to you.

Outside the comfort zone are two danger areas – one, where you have gone too far beyond what you know and you are in danger of burning out or of stressing yourself to the point of breaking, either physically or mentally or both. This is called the Burn Out Zone. You can go here, but you can’t stay very long before the stress becomes too much and all learning stops. This is where people have heart attacks or strokes or nervous breakdowns! Why would anyone suggest you want to set your goals out here?

The other zone, which is arguably even more dangerous, is the Rust Out Zone. This is where you don’t take any risks, you don’t stretch beyond what you are absolutely certain of and all you do is repeat the same “safe” behaviour until you die of boredom! This is the zone of drop outs, alcoholics and drug addicts and depression and its often the place where people go after they’ve been hurt in the burn out zone!

So I think what people are really saying when they say get out of your comfort zone is “get out of the rust out zone”! The trouble is that’s not what people hear. So they set themselves tasks that are way out in the burn out zone and then beat themselves up when they don’t achieve them. Do this too often and they fall into the rust out zone where they feel safe but depressed. They feel like failures.

So your ideal state is actually right in the comfort zone! Its where your ability to learn is not compromised by stress or boredom. Surfing the wave between learning and consolidation you are at your most brilliant and most extraordinary!

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So yesterday was my 365th day of blogging continuously and yet here I am again!

So what did I learn from this little marathon?

I learned that I am much more disciplined than I thought I was. Sometimes it was very tough to write something but I did it anyway.

I learned that a commitment is important to me. On days when I didn’t feel like blogging I did it anyway because I had committed to doing it and because I said I would.

I learned that I’m much more bloody minded than I thought.

I learned that I don’t have to feel the inspiration to write – if I write the inspiration comes.

I learned that real writers write all the time whether they feel like it or not.

I learned that on days I couldn’t think of anything interesting to write about I had to go and look for something!

I learned that writing is hard work.

I learned that I love to write. Even when its hard work!

I learned that no time is not an acceptable excuse.

I learned that when I write from the heart it touches people.

I learned that it doesn’t matter if I think something is interesting – it matters what you the reader think!

I learned that I can write!

 

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Here’s a fun exercise to stretch the limits of what you know about your potential.

Is there anything you know you are not good at? Maybe you’ve always been told you can’t sing or draw, or that you’re useless at cooking or you can’t count. So your task for the next two weeks is to choose one thing you have always believed you are not good at and choose to believe that you are really an undiscovered genius. Use every possible opportunity to tell yourself how brilliant you are at art/music/cooking, whatever you like. Whenever you find yourself thinking about it smile to yourself and say “no one knows how amazing I am at…., but I know”. Now for the fun bit – once you get used to thinking of yourself as an undiscovered genius start taking every opportunity to express that genius and marvel at what happens.

Most of the things we think we can’t do are purely based on what we’ve been told by other people. Those people may have been well meaning but they were dead wrong! Every one of us has more potential than we will ever need. Its only our belief systems that are holding us back.

Playing at what you can’t do lets you see that you really can do anything you set your mind to!

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One of my favourite quotes is “anything worth doing well is worth doing badly at first”.

Think about it, any really important thing you have ever done in your life, you probably weren’t that great at to start with. From walking to talking to drawing and painting when we were little kids we were allowed to make a big mess, fall over lots and even use totally the wrong words and no one thought it was a big deal. Well apart from the time that I announced to my Sunday School teacher that our new Old English Sheepdog puppy was a Durex Dog – that took a bit of explaining from my mother although it wasn’t until many, many years later than I learned how wrong I had been – at the time there was a dog on TV used to advertise Dulux paint and another dog used to advertise Andrex toilet paper – you figure it out!

So when did it stop being OK to mess up? We only learn when we’re messing up. When we get things right its because we’ve done all the learning needed here and its time to move on up! And if you got it right the first time it was probably because you didn’t set a challenging enough goal. And here’s the great thing about messing up – not only do you get all the fantastic learning – but you get some really good stories too.

Here’s another favourite quote:

Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

 

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