Episode 46: How to Make It Stick – Learning Techniques You Need Now

Have you ever tried learning a new concept but felt stuck on where to start?

Or maybe you learn about a new idea, but when you try to implement the information, it just doesn’t stick.

Or perhaps someone presents you with a new perspective and because it’s so different from what you’ve done in the past, its easier to ignore it. 

Here’s the truth: when things get challenging, we often overlook the chance to do something incredible.

We overlook the incredible learning opportunity that’s sitting in front of us because we’re stuck feeling overwhelmed, confused, or incapable.

This week I want to explore a simple, 3-step framework that helps you increase your ability to learn, process, and implement new information. 

It’s a framework that you can use today to deepen your learning and finally make it stick.

Are you ready?

Listen to the episode below, or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:

Prefer to read? Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST HERE!

IN THIS EPISODE, YOU WILL DISCOVER…

  • The importance of reflecting on your learning
  • My three-step framework to make learning new concepts stick
  • How to apply a variation of the three-step framework when beginning an anti-racism practice

LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

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How to Make It Stick – Learning Techniques You Need Now (Transcript) 

Hey, everybody. Welcome to the podcast. I’m so glad you are joining me today. 

Now, in this episode, we are tackling a bigger concept that focuses on how we learn today. And it might feel a little abstract at first when we dive into the topic, but I also think it is an absolutely crucial concept because it’s all about how to expand your mind and learn new skills and ideas.

And this is a topic that I’ve have had on my mind for months. I’ve been playing around with it and thinking about it. But I hadn’t found the “perfect time” to talk about the concepts yet. I guess I’ve been waiting for the right moment. 

And given what is unfolding across the United States and throughout the world in regard to the Black Lives Matter movement right now, I think that this the perfect week to look further into the concept.

So again, this week we are exploring a 3-step framework to learning. In other words, we’re getting a little bit meta as we learn how to learn. But when I say we are going to learn about learning, I don’t mean we’re going to learn study hacks or tricks to memorize information quicker. That’s not the kind of learning I’m talking about. 

Instead, I am talking about learning a powerful framework that will help you strengthen your ability to learn and implement new concepts. I am talking about how to bolster mindset that’s willing to get uncomfortable and learn new things so that you can start exploring concepts, ideas, and messages, that might be new or unfamiliar to you.

Today’s Plan 

So today we are going to approach this idea from a couple of different angles. First, I want to talk about why it’s important to think about how we learn, and then we’ll explore what my 3-step framework is and talk about some smaller examples to put the framework into perspective. 

Then, I want to share how I am using a slightly altered approach to this framework as I start diving into my own work on anti-racism and helping to amplify the voices and the work of Black, Indigenous, and People Of Color.  

Now, on that point, I want to stress that I am not an expert on the movement, and I am not trying to lead the work in teaching anti-racism. That’s not my place. My place is to do the work. My place is to learn about what’s actually going on in our country and start taking action to make long-lasting, structural changes. 

However, I do know about mindset and learning, so for those listeners who want to begin their anti-racism practice, I want to share how you can implement a slightly altered version of this framework to help you learn from others.

Learning Stumbling Blocks and Thoughts

All right, so let’s dive In. 

Now, you may be thinking you don’t need to learn about learning. You might be thinking you don’t need this episode because you already know how to learn. You’ve gone to school. You’ve learned things before. You’re good to go. 

And I want to offer that if that thought or a similar thought crossed your mind, then make sure you keep listening to this episode, because chances are, you will really benefit from it.

And I want to explain what I mean here.

I Already Know How To Do This

There are several mindset stumbling blocks when it comes to learning, and one of the most common roadblocks is the thought: “I already know how to do this.” So: I already know how to learn. I already know how to speak in front of an audience. Or I already know how to identify my top priorities or manage my time, etc. 

So maybe you have the opportunity to attend a training, or watch a video, or go to a conference, or have a conversation with someone. And that opportunity focuses on something that you already know how to do. When this happens, it’s very easy for our brains to close down to it. 

Remember, our brain is always wanting to conserve energy. It is trying to do the least amount of work possible all of the time. So when your brain thinks, I already know how to do this, it’s simply trying to conserve energy. And I will explain why I think this can be a problem in a minute, but for now, just keep that thought “I already know how to do this” in mind as a red flag stumbling block thought. 

I’ve Already Learned How To Do This

The next thought that often holds us back when it comes to learning is quite similar, but it has a different flavor. And that thought is: I’ve already learned how to do this. And I often see this thought come up for people who had to work pretty hard to learn a new skill or concept, and when they finally think they have it mastered, they think they are done. They don’t need to learn anymore. 

So maybe you think, I’ve already learned how to manage my time. Or I’ve already learned how to use Pinterest for my business. Or I already know how to manage my mind. I don’t need to learn how to do it again.

This Is Different From What I Know

And then the last stumbling block that I often see come up is not necessarily one specific thought, and instead a general set of thoughts and feelings. And it’s something like: this isn’t how I do it, or this is different from what I know. And when you’re thinking this, you’re likely feeling resistant or closed off to this alternate approach.

So maybe you’re a business owner, and you have learned one specific social media strategy for Instagram to grow your client base. But then you heard someone else talking about a new approach for Instagram. And you start feeling resistant to what they’re saying because it’s different. It’s not what you know. And since it’s not how you learned to do it, you’re not very interested in hearing about alternate approaches. 

There Is Always Something To Learn

So hopefully these stumbling blocks make sense, and perhaps you’ve heard yourself thinking them in different scenarios in the past. And I wanted to offer them to you now so that you can watch out for them whenever an opportunity comes up for you to expand or deepen your knowledge about any topic.

Because here’s the truth, you can always learn something. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been naturally good at something and never had to learn it in the first place. It doesn’t matter if you literally wrote the book on the strategy and you can’t imagine anyone knowing more than you do. And it doesn’t matter if you are a leader in that space. You can always learn something. You can always find one kernel or seed or new idea to deepen your understanding as long as you are open and actively looking for it.

Growth Mindset

I mean just think about it. Have you ever reread a book several years after the first time you read it? I know that whenever I’ve done that, I always gain an entirely new perspective. And that’s because I’m a completely different person than I was the last time I read it. And I’m paying attention to new things, and I’m thinking about the ideas differently. 

So again, we are all constantly evolving and growing. And when you embrace and practice this open mindset to learning, that’s how you can take advantage of these constant growth opportunities that surround you every day.

Effective Questions to Improve Your Learning

And before we get into that specific process, I want to remind you of some incredibly powerful questions that you should be asking yourself every time you encounter an opportunity to learn something. And these questions include: what can I learn here? How can I apply this information to my life? How does this information give me a new understanding or a different perspective? How can I use this information to grow?

Now, I’ve talked about powerful questions in previous episodes, and I can’t stress the importance of them enough. Asking powerful questions opens up your brain up to new possibilities. They get you thinking outside of the box. And they get you expanding and growing at an incredible pace.

So make sure that any time you have an opportunity to learn – whether it’s an entirely new concept or it’s something you’ve studied before – that you’re asking yourself: what can I learn here? How can I apply this information to my life? How does this information give me a new perspective? How can I use this information to grow?

Alright, so let’s talk about learning, shall we?

Learning Through Connections

Now, when we are in the process of learning, most of us tend to make connections to something that we already know – something that’s already familiar to us. So we connect one concept or idea with another, or we put one idea into a box with another similar idea. And we often categorize and connect like items so that they make sense in our brain.

So, for example, imagine you are back in the 1990s when email is becoming increasingly popular. And as you’re learning about this newfangled technology, somebody says to you, “well it’s basically like you’re writing a letter, but you’re doing it electronically, so it gets to the recipient almost instantly.” And that connection helps you better understand the concept because your brain thinks, “okay, I know what a letter is. I can make that connection.”

Or maybe you are teaching someone to use zoom, and they’re feeling a little bit overwhelmed by it. But you say “don’t worry. It’s super easy. It’s just like using Skype. Or it’s just like using FaceTime.”

So in other words, you take something that is familiar, and you draw a connection to the new concept, which gives the brain something to grab onto.

And again, a lot of us learn through connection. And this is awesome. It’s a great way to do it when the concept is remotely accessible or familiar to you.

Learning New Information

But what do you do when the concept is pretty new, and you’re struggling to make that connection? What if something is really unfamiliar? Because here’s the truth. When our brain is up against something new or different, it has to work harder to put it into context. It has to work harder to understand. And because of this, you often feel more uncomfortable because your brain doesn’t have that reference point. It doesn’t have that feeling of familiarity, and you’re really pushing yourself to grow and step outside of your comfort zone.

Passive

Now here’s the deal; when this happens, and your brain starts getting uncomfortable, it is instinctively going to want to let the information go in one ear and out the other. It’s like, “Sure, sure. Got it. Let’s move on.” And because it’s so new, and you didn’t take the time to truly learn the concept, you go right back to your old ways in a matter of hours or days.

Discouraged 

Or maybe you try to learn a new piece of information, and because it’s completely different from what you know, and you’re having a hard time understanding what’s going on, you even feel a sense of hopelessness on top of the discomfort, because you’re thinking things like, “this is so different. I don’t understand this. Where is this even coming from? How does this even work?”

And because we’re feeling so hopeless, we often reject the concept or the idea because we tell ourselves it doesn’t make sense or it’s too difficult to learn. And rather than really diving in and doing the work, we completely miss that opportunity for growth altogether.

And it’s these last two categories – the “in one ear and out the other” and the complete disregard because you’re feeling discouraged – that I really want to talk about today in terms of keeping an open mindset to learning. Because if you’re already familiar with a concept, and you’re easily making connections between what you know and what you want to learn, you’re probably not going to have much resistance.

Resistance

But when you’re approaching something new or unfamiliar, your brain will instinctively want to resist. This is how we’ve evolved, right? Your brain is trying to protect itself by using as little energy as possible. 

Now, we know intellectually that learning new things is not dangerous or going to harm us. Our prefrontal – evolved part of our brain knows. But our lower brain – that part that has been with us for thousands and thousands of years – it doesn’t know that. 

And this is why it’s so important to be aware of what your brain is thinking and intentional about how you move forward. Because when you bring awareness to these situations, you can help stop your brain from slipping immediately into either ignoring the new ideas altogether or rejecting them after giving a half-hearted attempt at understanding.  

Three-Step Learning Framework for New Information

Okay, so let’s talk about what we can do to make sure that you continue learning and expanding into the discomfort so you can grow. And I want to talk about three different steps to do this today.

Allow the Discomfort

Now, the first part I’m going to suggest probably won’t sound super fun because it is simply allowing the discomfort of the unfamiliar, being uncomfortable, and doing it anyway. 

So for example, if you are learning something new or developing a new skill, and you’re struggling to get it right, chances are, you’ll probably feel frustrated at some point. You’ll probably think to yourself that something’s gone wrong. You’ll think that things should happen faster. And you’ll be tempted to go back to your old way of doing things since you know how that way works. You might want to completely dismiss this new idea or this new approach and just decide that it’s wrong or not for you.

It’s Completely Normal

Now, when you’re learning something new and this happens – because it will – the first and most important thing you can do is remind yourself, nothing has gone wrong here. This is all part of the process. Your brain is just trying to protect you from what it thinks is dangerous, which is unfamiliarity. But you can do unfamiliar. And you can be uncomfortable. It’s no big deal.

So rather than quitting and returning to your old way of doing things, take some time to slow down. Open yourself up to the new situation and the accompanying emotions and get curious. Give some thought to these new ideas and concepts. Mull them over in your brain. Consider them in different circumstances. Talk about them with a friend or a colleague. And then try and apply what you’ve learned. It’s okay if you don’t get it right the first time, just try and implement what you’ve learned.

In other words, you’re being an active learner. You’re actively thinking, you’re actively feeling and allowing the emotions rather than resisting them, and then you’re taking Massive Action to put these new ideas in practice.

Keep Trying Again

And when you fail the first time – because you probably will – you then repeat the process. You go back to the concept. You’ve now gathered some additional information that you didn’t have the first time. So now it’s time to give it more thought with open curiosity. And you talk about your newer understanding with a friend or colleague. And then you apply what you learned the second time.

And with each repetition, this concept gets more familiar and more accessible to you. And you recognize each of the new ideas and concepts more quickly. And before you know it, it’s no longer new. In fact, it’s become familiar, and you’ve learned and implemented the skill.

Calendar System

So for example, when I teach my calendaring system to my clients for the first time, they often have a lot of resistance. It is quite a bit different than your normal planner system, and people get a bit uncomfortable with it at first. They question whether it can really work. They question whether they can really have that much open time in their schedule.

And so I encourage them to stay open, to be curious, and to try the process out. And we talk through their questions, we create a plan, and then they take Massive Action to practice implementing it.

Then the next week, they come back to me with the roadblocks and the challenges that came up the previous week, and we talk through them. And they reassess, they learn what they need to do next time, and they try again with greater skill each time. And eventually, they are successfully sticking to their calendar, checking off all the things on their to-do list, and actually having time to themselves outside work. Crazy, huh?

Find The Opposite

Now, if your brain is really resistant to the new idea or the new approach, and you can’t seem to open up giving it a try, then I encourage you to find the opposite of the belief your brain is offering you. So let me give you an example of what I mean.

Let’s say that someone comes to you on your team with a new approach to one of the client communications that you’ve had in place for years. Everybody is trained in the old approach, and this new way is a complete 180 from what you’re used to doing. And frankly, your brain is questioning the alternative perspective. It’s telling you, “but I like my way. Why fix what’s not broken? Let’s just keep it the same.”

If you are in a situation like this, then I invite you to start finding the opposite. How could this new system be perfect? What would be really helpful about the new way? How might it work just as well if not better than the old system? Make yourself find at least 10 answers to support the opposite side. Because doing this simple exercise will help you open up, wiggle things loose, and start seeing more possibilities. And once you’ve done this, then you can begin the process we just talked about in step one in terms of sitting with the discomfort, thinking and talking through the new ideas, putting them into practice, and learning along the way.

Teacher’s Perspective

All right, the next step in keeping an open mindset to learning is to think about your teacher’s perspective. So if we stick to the last example I gave of one of your colleagues sharing a new approach to communication, and you’ve spent time sitting in the discomfort and thinking through the ideas, the next thing you can do is actually imagine their mindset. What’s going on for them in their brain?

Clearly, they are excited about this new idea. They believe in it. So what are they thinking about that has them feeling so excited? What do you think is going on in their mind that has them believing so strongly in this approach? Really try to get in their brain and figure out their model.

Because once you find that answer, you will again gain a deeper level of understanding as you start seeing things from new angles and new perspectives. And this is so incredibly valuable when you’re learning something new.

Explain It

Okay, the last step that I want to share with you to really bolster your learning mindset focuses on you explaining the concept to someone else. Or alternatively, maybe you simply speak the idea out loud and explain it to yourself. Essentially, when you can share the concept or share this new idea out loud, and you can talk about it in a way that someone else can easily understand, it often means you have reached a new level of clarity and understanding for yourself. You’ve really embraced that open mindset to learning as you expand into a greater appreciation or understanding of the concept.

So let’s stick with that new communication approach one more time for consistency. So the first time through, you sat with the discomfort. You thought about the new ideas. You talked about them and tried implementing and learning from them. You then went into the mindset of your teacher to try and understand why they are so passionate about this idea. Why is it so important to them? What do they see as especially valuable here?

And then finally, once you feel confident in understanding the perspective of your teacher, and you’re on board with the concepts, then it’s time to try and explain that concept to someone else. So maybe you take this new system, and you explain it to people who report immediately to you. And because you’ve done the work, you’re now at a place where you can explain how it’s going to fit in your company, right? You can answer their questions and explain your own thoughts about it because you’ve really internalized not only the facts and general information but also the ins-and-outs of the process.

Three-Step Recap

So as you begin learning new concepts or ideas or approaches, I encourage you to practice this learning mindset. Not only will it help you open up to unfamiliar ideas that your brain might otherwise want to resist, but it also helps you take your understanding to a new level that will help you grow and expand as well.

Applying The Work Today

Now as I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, I have been doing a lot of my own thinking, learning, and applying over the past few weeks. I’ve been learning from several amazing individuals like Layla Saad and Rachel Cargle and Andréa Ranae about how to practice anti-racism, and I have been learning a lot.

As I’ve been reading and listening, I’ve found that while some of the concepts are familiar, others are new.

Now when these new concepts come up, that is when I really called upon the three-step process to embrace this open mindset to learning. 

Step 1: Sit With The Discomfort

So again, I start by sitting with the discomfort of what I didn’t know. I allow the emotions to be there as I process the new information and the thoughts that come up with it. I talk through this information with other friends who are also doing the work and are committed to making a change. And then I implement what I’ve learned. I put what I’ve learned into practice, and I take action, and I learn even more by doing. 

This Is Important

Now as I move into the next two steps, I want to make a few really important points here. As a white person, I have absolutely no idea what people of color have gone through or continue to go through. And I will never know. It doesn’t matter how much I read or how much I reflect, I will never know. So if you’re doing this work, and you’re moving into step two of trying to understand the teacher’s thoughts or why they believe so strongly in this message, I want to be really careful and incredibly clear here. I am not suggesting that we can understand where these teachers are coming from or the experiences they’ve had. 

Step 2: Take It To The Next Level

Instead, if you’re doing this work, I am suggesting that you take your own understanding to a deeper level. So if in the first step, you are learning the concepts. You are learning about white privilege. Or you’re learning about tone policing. And you’re recognizing where they’re showing up in your life.

Then in the second step, you’re taking it to the next level. You’re now exploring why it is so important that you both recognize these behaviors in your life AND take action to make changes. You’re reflecting on why it is so imperative that you turn learning about anti-racism into doing something about it. And that you’re making it a regular practice that simply becomes a part of you. Okay? So that’s step two.

Step 3: Have A Conversation

And then in step three, I want to be careful here, too. As I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, it is not a white women’s job to take charge. Rather it is her job to amplify the work of people of color and consistently do their own anti-racism practice. 

So as we think about step three and sharing what you’re doing and learning with others, please take note that I am not saying you should go teach all of these ideas. Not at all. That being said, in terms of actually learning and internalizing new information, there is something really valuable about being able to explain your thoughts and new concepts clearly out loud rather than just keeping them inside your brain. And this is where I find so much value in being able to have conversations with someone close to you about what you’re learning during your practice. 

For example, as I work through the book Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad, I’ve been talking with my husband Ryan after reading each chapter and answering the journal prompts. I share about what I learned and we have a conversation about it. And it’s through that practice of talking clearly about my ideas and how I’m going to implement what I’ve learned that I become even more aware and cognizant of these privileges and behaviors and how I want to show up going forward.

So for those of you listening who are also learning and practicing anti-racism, I hope that this approach helps. I hope that these 3 steps to learning will help you better internalize the messages and ideas taught by your teachers so you can start putting what you learn into practice to help make a change.

Recap

Alright, so I know that was a lot of information to take in. And I know that we were a bit meta as we learned about learning. But I’m telling you, it’s everything.

When you know how to open yourself up to new concepts. When you can sit with the discomfort, and understand why it’s important. And when you have the ability to talk about these new ideas with clarity, you can take your knowledge to the next level. It’s like going from a quick cram session before the final to an entire semester of thoughtful study. You truly internalize the information and find ways to apply it in different areas of your life. 

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