The 4 Steps To Learning Effectively From Your Actions
Improving your ability to learn from your actions is one of the best ways to get on the fast track to success. In most jobs, your success is determined by how effectively you can accomplish similar objectives in commonly occurring situations. As your career advances you are expected to accomplish more demanding objectives in more complex situations. Then, again the speed at which you learn how to perform above expectation determines how long it will take you to get ready to take the next step in your career.
The better you are at learning from your actions, the more enjoyable your journey will be. For example, failure can actually create an exhilarating motivation instead of anxiety, if you can figure out how you can be successful the next time you get into a similar situation. You will also be less afraid of making mistakes because you have so much to gain from failing in the form of learning. By constantly learning from your actions you will strengthen your belief that talent is malleable which implicitly leads you to perform better in challenging situations.
Not only will you put yourself on the fast track to success, you will also become better at coaching your co-workers. By helping them learn faster from your common experiences, you will get their appreciation and they will be able to support you even better in the future. You will help generate a positive spirit in the team which leads to greater retention of the top performers and attractiveness for other a-players to join your team.
The way most people give feedback, actually, often has an inhibiting rather than developing effect on the receiver. Telling someone they did something well, may lead the receiver to become content and thus not challenge themselves as much. Letting someone know that they could have done something better can cause the receiver to become afraid to disappoint again which may lead to reduced cognitive performance.
Feedback occurs much more seldom than it should because people are reluctant to provide and seek feedback. Most people, feel uncomfortable with giving feedback because it may damage their relationship with the receiver.
If you are not actively engaged in learning from every significant action you make, you might be suffering from the idea that your talent is rather fixed. This typically leads people to focus on achieving short-term results rather than investing in the learning process. People that believe that talent is more fixed than malleable tend to race on to the next task rather than investing in deliberate analysis of each significant action. You may find that you blame others rather than engaging in introspection to figure out how you can be more successful in the given situation next time. You may also find that you tend to compare your abilities to others rather than trying to figure out what unique qualities everyone else brings to the table. Failures hit you hard and you need a lot of time and energy to recover.
You may also be suffering from the idea that your managers view your talent as fixed, which also typically leads people to focus on short-term results over learning. You may fear that disappointing your manager even once may cause irreparable damage to your future prospects at the company. And, if you fail, you focus on fixing the problem and getting back on track as fast as possible rather than investing in learning from the failure. You may be hesitant to ask important questions and bring up things that did not go so well. If your manager gives you feedback, your natural response will be to convince them that you are really more talented than they think instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to identify a potential for personal growth.
Commonly, people have not been taught how to learn effectively from their actions, so how could they. And, if they have not been taught this skill, they will likely have reason to believe that their talent is rather fixed which will in turn reinforce the problems described above.
So, what can you do to get better at learning from your actions? First, if you believe that talent is fixed, you need to study the basic functionality of the brain to understand that talent is very much malleable. The brain can create new brain cells and connections between brain cells throughout the entire life. Certain areas of the brain can actually grow physically when actively engaged over long periods of time—much like how muscles can grow from training. Moreover, when we learn, new connections are formed between brain cells and existing connections get reinforced. When you don’t learn from your failures, the pathways in the brain that lead you to fail are reinforced every time they are activated. Practice makes permanent—not perfect.
Second, if you believe your managers think that talent is fixed, you will benefit from changing this, because otherwise it will be hard for you to find the peace of mind to actually invest in learning instead of focusing on short-term results. Are you sure that they actually think talent is fixed? Could you change their minds? Maybe you’d be better off by changing jobs and find managers that value learning over short-term results. Unfortunately, they are rare!
Finally, you need to learn an effective methodology for how to learn from your actions. Below I offer to you a method that I developed based on my cognitive psychology studies and coaching experience. I have tested this method on hundreds of people. It works and most people love it!
The Linder Academy Feedback Method:
- DESCRIPTION — Write down the detailed relevant facts of what happened. It is critical that you avoid judgmental comments. The reason is that even the slightest hint of a judgment may cause the receiver’s brain to get emotionally charged and shut down its logical reasoning ability. Include background facts that might not seem directly relevant because they often turn out to be unexpectedly important pieces of the puzzle. Include descriptions of the feelings of the involved parties because they also tend to be unexpectedly important. Note that specifying that someone thought someone else to be incompetent is not a judgement — its a fact regarding the person’s thoughts.
- CAUSAL ANALYSIS — Derive cause and effect relationships based on the description you generated in step 1. The goal of this step is to provide our brain with input that it can use to upgrade itself to generate a more advanced behavior in a similar situation. The brain is made up of a neural network that basically encodes cause and effect relationships. Considering what ideas caused the feelings that affected the outcome typically generates some of the most important insights. Its is critical that you avoid judgments as in step one.
- PLANNING — Plan what to do next time a similar situation arises. This plan should be strictly based on the previous steps. It may be tempting to include other ideas than those derived from the previous step into the plan, but then you risk entering into a debate that is not based on facts and deliberate causal analysis.
- VISUALIZATION — Visualize acting according to the plan. The purpose of this step is to get the causal analysis and plan into your head. The brain is amazingly adaptive but it requires tremendous effort to upgrade our neural network. By visualizing, we engage the brain to upgrade itself appropriately. In this step it’s time to turn those feelings back on. Emotion is one of the most effective drivers of encoding new connections in our brain.
By sticking to the facts, we raise the quality of the discussion, reasoning and learning. By sticking to causal reasoning based on specific facts, we provide the brain what it needs to produce a more advanced response. By visualizing how we will act in the future, we prime the brain to activate our learnings the next time we get into a similar situation. It’s fascinating to watch people that go through this exercise come up with valuable insights by following the process and then suddenly a judgement comes up which causes the intellectual process to break down. Fortunately, it is typically easy to get people back on track since the rules are clear.
Instead of straining the relationship as feedback typically does, going through this process tends to strengthen the relationship. Often people are excited to figure out what actually happened and why. Envisioning what to do next time a similar situation occurs builds trust among the participants.
The Linder Academy programs have produced waves of enthusiasm through the organizations that we work with. And, there are ripple effects, since the mentors that have participated in our programs say that the quality of their mentoring sessions have gone up tremendously after learning our methods.