Holding Yourself Publicly Accountable For Learning

Each year The CP Journal has been in business, we have always established goals for ourselves personally, professionally and for the business. As an education-focused company, the end of the year usually presents a much lighter workload than the year’s earlier months, as most organizations that we’re training don’t try to squeeze seminars into what is already a chaotic December calendar. Over the last four years, I’ve come to truly appreciate that piece of our yearly rhythm, as it provides a natural break in the daily grind to take a step back, assess the previous year and think about the transition into the next.

While I’ve never made those goals public, I’ve come to realize that, if we are going to hold our students accountable to putting in the work to truly learn and integrate behavioral analysis into their lives, they should see that we also practice what we preach. In an age of self-guided education and unstructured lifelong learning, we go through the same process of determining areas and skills we need to master to be true professionals in our field. We design adaptable and personal training programs that we believe will get us to the level of proficiency we are seeking. We go through the same ups and downs that come with learning and do it all while trying to remain motivated and holding ourselves accountable to the standard we set for ourselves.

When it comes to choosing the areas I am pursuing in the coming year for personal development, I always try to consider the two axes (for clarity, this use of axes is the plural of axis, not multiple versions of the tool to chop wood) that go into lifelong learning. There is one skill that I am always looking to go very deep on, and there are a number of skills that I want to develop in order to have a broad scope of knowledge across a range of topics. If you are a fan of Brett McKay’s writing on The Art of Manliness or enjoy frequent Mr. T references, here is a great article that Brett wrote a few years back on being a “t-shaped man,” which encompasses both deep and broad skills. Thinking about development in this way has helped me to ensure that I make progress without becoming a dilettante.

The skill that I continue to focus a great deal of my deep development on is communication. At its core, all teaching consists of is finding the right form of communication that has the biggest impact on a particular student. Whether I am explaining the Tactical Analysis program during a sales presentation, speaking at a conference, writing different blog posts or books for different segments of our audience, or designing instructional videos, communication is the common thread throughout most of the situations that I find myself in. Because of this, there is always a check to ensure that whatever I am studying has some impact on expanding my understanding of what it means to communicate or how to do that in a way that engages a student.

The three development areas where I’ll be focused in 2016 are:

The first area relates to improving and expanding my use of stories while teaching and writing. There is no question that stories are one of the most effective and engaging ways to pass information, motivate, explain and inspire, but for a story to have the impact you are hoping it will, it requires some planning. The right components, the right length, the right use of humor for the audience you are addressing, if left unplanned, are all things that can go very badly for a presenter. Each month I will be conducting a story grid analysis of a different Sherlock Holmes short story. A story grid is a process created by Shawn Coyne for how you break a story down into its component parts to really understand how it was put together and to see why that particular story was either powerful or weak. In a future post, I’ll provide a more detailed explanation about why I have chosen this as something to focus on and connect it back to the role that it can play in lives or our nation’s warriors and protectors.

The second area that relates to improving how I communicate is by spending time creating more videos. Much like telling stories, there is no question as to how impactful videos can be as a way to spread ideas. Over the course of 2016, I will be immersing myself in video development for this site and will be making 50 videos for Beer in Boulder, a side venture that my fiancée and I recently started. I chose this area because, in our online Tactical Analysis program, we rely solely on animated videos or videos recorded in public spaces, but as online education continues to expand, I’d like to be able to integrate multiple types of videos into our training that will keep our students engaged with the course.

The third area I’m focusing on this coming year is learning to read and speak the Italian language. While my motives for this are slightly different than the first two (it is where I’ll be going on my honeymoon later this fall), learning to speak languages has always been my Achilles heel. In three weeks I’ll post my learning plan for this, and you will see that it will consist of at least three days a week of vocabulary development and a requirement of translating two newspaper articles per month until I reach certain milestones in my understanding of the language.

One of the reasons I mention to you the weekly or monthly requirements for each of these areas is because I will be tracking my progress with each goal each day using an app called Way of Life. This app forces me to answer a few yes or no questions each night before I go to bed so that it can track whether I made progress on my goals on that day or not. At the end of each month, I’ll get a report that tells me how successful I was or how many tasks I failed at. I’ll be posting those reports each month because I want you all to hold me accountable for the goals I’ve set. It is easy for plans to get laid aside when life becomes chaotic, to say that you will get back to it later on. Everyone has that pile of books that you have started but never finished. But being a true craftsman and mastering a trade requires that educational pursuits are not just started, but are also finished.

While I briefly showed how each of the three areas I’ve set goals for myself in this year will help me become deeper as a professional communicator and teacher, I want to quickly explain how these support the second component of learning and becoming more broad. I know very little about craft beer. I speak only a handful of words in Italian. I have never written or analyzed a fictional story. Each of these three areas are things that I am interested in, but am no where close to being even mildly competent in. So for each of these things, I have to go all the way back to the beginning, break down and determine what the fundamental building blocks are for it, and build the context for the new information as it comes in. It is more than a little nerve-wracking to be trying to learn three new wildly varying skills simultaneously, and that is compounded by the fact that I’ll be doing this learning in the public arena of this blog. The reason I am doing it is because the skills required for our nation’s protectors to defeat the adversaries has never been greater and true professionals have to always be learning and doing so proactively on your own. By taking the time to realize where you want to be the best in the world and ensuring that everything you are learning continues to make your depth of knowledge in that area even deeper, you can have the flexibility to broaden your interests and dive into areas outside of your professional realm like craft beer or Italian.

Patrick Van Horne is a Co-Founder and the CEO of The CP Journal and a co-author of “Left of Bang: How The Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life.”

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