How to Learn

“I cannot give you self belief. This is a bridge that only you have to build and only you can cross. The self belief comes from believing that you can explore, that you can challenge, that you can win. It’s a growing thing, all the time.”

– Frank Dick, former national athletics coach.

I use the following cycle to give people the opportunity to build self belief for themselves through the four phases of “Learn-Do-Reflect-Redo”.

I. Learn: Become a novice again

Firstly, we need a learning mindset. To face failure and make mistakes with a positive intent to improve. To learn from other people more competent that us. This is not a given. When I was 19 years old, I was working in a British bank and was having a conversation with a colleague, George, who was around 25 years old. He was a very amicable chap and was encouraging me to enjoy and make the best of my further education because he believed people stopped learning after the age of 25 years old. This really stuck with me and not in a good way. I carried this fixed mindset with me throughout most of my twenties and did not really believe that I could learn new skills. I got into a vicious cycle of starting to change and learn but then quickly getting discouraged and blaming my age as the reason I could not learn. I tried to learn Mandarin and quickly gave up giving myself a convenience excuse (“English people can only learn one language and luckily it’s the global language”). I started a postgraduate diploma with the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), bought all the books and then stopped. (“I’ll never be able to learn all these new concepts”).

It was only in my early thirties when I decided to put a stop to this cycle. I finished my CIM diploma even as I was moving into a different industry just to show myself that I could complete something challenging. Over the next ten years I improved my Mandarin up to competent fluent level, became a professional speaker, experimented with better nutrition through vegetarianism, completed Ironman races, become a husband and went back to my roots in finance to learn how to become an option trader to pick up a side income. All of these changes required the mindset to learn and acquire new knowledge, select good role models and try out new approaches, fail fast and adjust and to keep focused on the end goal – subject matter mastery.

II. Do: Focus on what you can control

The leverage you have by focusing on the clear, simple and precise behaviors within your control is captured wonderfully by author Preston Smiles when he says, “small hinges swing big doors”. Everyone has a message that is worth sharing with the world. So what is your message? How can you become a better messenger for your message? In Greek mythology, Hermes was a messenger who could move freely between the divine and the mortal worlds. Hermes had the ability to cross boundaries and make transitions. Today we live in a complex, ever changing world that requires an understanding of how to keep up with the changes, the transitions going on around us. We all have roles to play to help ourselves and the people around us through these transitions, whether it is as a business or community leader or as a family member. My mission is to help you become a better messenger for your message.

III. Reflect: Use a framework to self-assess

The curious thing about successful people is that they can’t often pinpoint the crucial contributors to their success. They speak generally about hard work, taking opportunities and building a great team. I remember once I asked the best triathlete in our club for some advice on how to become a better swimmer. His reply was, “swim faster?” . In his mind, this is what he does. He is unable to break it down. I have seen similar patterns in my consulting practice. Generalities lead to mediocre outcomes. However, for this knowledge to be passed on to someone else in a way that they can try it out for themselves requires something more. It needs to be more specific. It needs a framework. I love creating frameworks. I do it for fun. When I started participating in triathlon races, I was overweight, took the wrong nutrition and end up shuffling home on the run every race. Through research and experience, I devised a habit-changing framework that turned my results around. I’m still a fairly average triathlete but I’ve won four Sprint races and regularly compete for the podium in my age-group. It’s just a hobby but I learned that through a systematic, habit driven framework, I could radically transform my weight, body composition and athletic performance. I applied this approach in my first book The One Minute Presenter which laid out 8 steps for business presenters. I also use scorecards and models when coaching executives. They work because they are shortcuts to success. They save time by focusing on the right behaviours which reduce frustration and lower obstacles, two key barriers to sustainable behaviour change. More importantly, they consistently build good habits and create an awareness for opportunities. Just like in a triathlon race, you need to pick the right moment to accelerate or slow down, in business you need to catch moments to influence. 

IV. ReDo: Do again smarter

There is an English proverb that says imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.This concisely expresses that we learn many important skills by observing and absorbing them from the people closest to us. The Jesuit saying “give me a child before the age of seven and I will give you a Jesuit for life” recognizes this fact. As we grow up, our family, then our friends, classmates and teachers become key influencers in our life. Later, when we start our careers, a good manager can have a large positive (or negative impact) on our professional development. But as we acquire more experience and technical mastery of our roles we are tend to get into a comfort zone where we are capable of delivering effectively in our area of expertise. Keep improving through rehearsing and practicing over and over again. As a world champion of public speaking, Darren La Croix likes to say, “Stagetime, stagetime, stagetime”.

“I’d never thought I’d say this but now I can’t live without scorecards..and I’m using paper!”

  • Melissa, Marketing Director