Getting Ready to Learn

If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Hamlet spends much of Shakespeare's most famous play getting himself ready to deal with his suspicions of what has happened to his father. Many of us take a similar approach to learning.

When we are born we are clearly ready to learn. We have no preconceptions about ourselves. All our senses play on the amazing world we encounter. We watch, practice, and then walk. We listen, experiment, and then talk. Most homes provide an early learning environment that is good enough for us to walk, talk, and acquire a range of other useful skills.

As we grow up, we somehow become less ready. Other pressures bear down on us. We learn to worry and doubt. We can lose confidence. At home and at work, we can easily find our environment less conducive to learning than we would like it to be. We gather learning "baggage" around us, which begins to weigh us down.

But, unless we are ready to learn, we won't be able to realize our potential. When French scientist Louis Pasteur wrote that "chance favors only the prepared mind," he might have been talking about many "nonlearners" today, whose minds have become deprogrammed from the naturally receptive state in which they started life.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why when you go on a training course so little of it sticks? Or, if you have teenage children, why they often seem to be unready to learn? The chances are that you will probably have begun to appreciate that it is nearly all to do with your emotional or physical state. If you are tired or angry, hungry or distressed, too cold or too hot, you will not be in a state to learn. If you are being forced to do something when you are overwhelmed by some other issue, it can be hard to be ready to learn. If your body is out of condition, that also may have a bearing on your performance.

Being ready to learn is the part of the process of learning to learn that is most often overlooked. It is what Dr. Javier Bajer, chief executive of the Talent Foundation, calls being "primed" to learn. The analogy could not be clearer. When you are painting bare wood you need to smooth it and prepare it—prime it—before you start painting. If you don't, the paint won't stick properly. It is the same with learning: You need to be primed to learn or the learning won't stick. In fact, it will roll over you like water off a duck's back. This is why so much conventional training is a waste of money.

Recall the day in the life of Annie's brain and the way that Annie settled people at the start of the meeting. She was consciously trying to put them in the right emotional state from the beginning.

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The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave several of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness too much to do and not enough time; the pressure to produce and check off items on our to-do list by each day’s end seems to decide the direction and quality of our existence for us.

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