Can’t seem to learn well? Maybe this is why.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” This is one of Dr. Seuss’s most iconic lines, valid even today in the context of our own learning journeys. But notice the emphasis on ‘more’. Which means we have to keep learning continuously. And that is not easy.

What factors within us prevent us from learning? Some specific thought processes that show up as learning blockages. Let’s examine them:

“I don’t like this. It’s not for me.” 

We need the interest to learn because it helps us think clearly, understand more deeply, and remember more accurately. This is also called ‘the psychology of curiosity.’ Wrote Prof. George Lowenstein, “Curiosity arises when attention becomes focused on a gap in one’s knowledge. The curious individual is motivated to obtain the missing information to reduce or eliminate the feeling of deprivation.” But unless someone is aware of this gap and wants to fill it, there is very little intellectual stimulation, and learning will not occur.

“I can’t seem to get better at this.”

Many of us stumble upon this feeling when learning something new – a skill, a language, a way of being. We feel resistant, or even subconsciously afraid of failing at learning new things. But as they say, you’ve got to start somewhere. For example, if you’ve never made an apple pie before, your first pie will be time consuming and may not taste right. But the 10thone you make will be better than that, and the 100thone would be perfect. Essentially, know that there is a learning curve that you will conquer.

“I know what I need to know.”

This is a classic with people who have expertise in certain domains. But given that skill needs are shifting fast, we need to be able to unlearn to create space for what we need to know. A story illustrates this well: A professor came to Nan-in, a Japanese master, to learn about Zen. The master decided to start with pouring tea. He poured until the tea began to spill over onto the robes of the visitor, who shouted, “Enough. Can’t you see the cup is full?” The master smiled: “You are like this teacup, so full that nothing more can be added. Come back to me when the cup is empty. Come back to me with an empty mind.”

To shift these thought processes, we need to become agile with learning. If we can do this, we are likely to get promoted twice as much, be five times more engaged with work, and lead our companies to have 25% higher profit margins. You ready for that?

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