Inspire your work

What next? Preparing for Challenge — Considerations for the learning journey

Have you ever struggled for an hour or more trying to learn or understand something, then had it suddenly make sense after you’ve gotten up to do something else? Or perhaps while you’re still struggling had a friend or colleague turn up and point out a solution? The learning process can have its highs and lows!

Some of my most memorable learnings have arisen from experiences that were somewhat bruising at the time, even if only to my ego! Getting lost in East Berlin in the mid-1990s – no smart phone, no Google Maps – on the opposite side of town to where I was supposed to be and with limited ability to speak German was a salient lesson in listening to my gut. It had patiently and persistently been suggesting I double-check the travel instructions I’d been given from the airport to my accommodation, where I finally arrived four hours late…. The episode really gave my learning a boost, and continued to remind me to stick with the learning effort over time. These days I can remember the episode fondly for what it’s taught me.

Understanding the processes of learning – in general and as they work in ourselves – can help us be more patient and open to learning from challenges.

Here are some things to keep in mind about the process of learning:

  • Learning has its own rhythm. Sometimes learning can be conscious and actively mined from our experience, while other learning takes its own time. Sometimes it takes other experiences to crystallize what’s been hovering at the edges of our conscious learning, or time and distance for the intensity or hurt from our challenging experience to subside. Be patient, curious and sensitive to your own learning process.

  • Learning is a spiral process. Sometimes we can learn and grow in leaps and bounds. At other times we find ourselves apparently back to a similar challenge, obstacle in our approach to dealing with challenge, old habit, ‘same old’ question, and wonder “didn’t I already deal with this?” … But look more closely: we aren’t the same person we were the last time we faced this, and we are approaching it from a different angle. Whether we’ve been consciously mining our experiences or letting them teach in their own time, we have changed and so has our situation. Be open to the insights of that fresh perspective.

  • Learning, not perfection, is the aim. Related to the previous point, it takes time to learn and confidently apply a new skill or thought process. Each time we try we can learn from the results, refine our understanding and adjust, provided we give ourselves space to do so. By expecting perfection we tend to focus on what we lack and how far we are from a subjective ideal, so that our achievements, our capabilities and skills can seem insignificant. We can and do learn from our failures – perhaps even more than from our successes, sharply motivated to avoid further pain or embarrassment. And we can learn from our successes, which we may overlook as we subconsciously ‘check off’ the achievement and move onto the next task, or perhaps from an unconscious belief that if things have gone well there is nothing to learn. Be open to and grateful for your learning, whether it comes from comfortable or uncomfortable experiences!

Approaching our learning with awareness of the process and patience with our own learning journey opens us to deeper and richer learning.

Over the next few days, identify three things that you learned in the last 12 months. Sit quietly and hold the three things in gratitude. Journal any insights.

The next issue will conclude the groundwork, covering tips for supporting your capacity to learn.

Please note: Many people have suffered from mental health issues as a result of the pandemic, including people who have never experienced issues before. This newsletter series is not a substitute for professional mental health support specific to your circumstances. If you have mental health issues, please access professional mental health services before attempting any of the practices in this newsletter series. Links to some Australian organisations and their online resources are below:

Beyond Blue
Black Dog Institute

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