When did you learn the most?

Think about the times when you have made changes in your life, the times when you have needed to acquire a whole new set of skills, the times that have followed or preceeded milestone moments. As you think about one of those times now, allow yourself to become highly aware of the learning you were doing. Move your attention through the things you learned to the process you used to learn them. Now notice how much of that learning you did without teachers.

Through our years of formal education, we are conditioned to think of learning as something that is done with the guidance of teachers. Most of us remember that our most significant learning - even in school - was done without teachers. We learned all the unspoken rules of the playground and the classroom without teachers. We learned most of what we know about relationships, personal and professional, without teachers. We learned most of what we know about how to simply get things done - whether that meant raising a baby or taking on a new management position - without teachers.

We are experts at learnning without teachers. The vast majority of how we learn to do things, to make decisions and take action, takes place without teachers. We observe the world, model different experiences by imagining ourselves doing them, and then do them. We take action, notice the consequences, and take more actions. We talk to other people; we do research; and then we notice when we have hit our personal criteria for knowing enough to do something and we do it.

Here's the catch: attention underscores the effectiveness of what we do. When we pay attention to our goals, we are more likely to achieve them. When we pay attention to how we actually learn, we are more likely to develop new learning skills. When we pay attention to how we pay attention, we get more information and we filter it better. When we pay attention, attention pays off in tangible ways.

When was the last time you noticed how much you were noticing? When did you stretch your senses or your ability to choose words to pull in more meaning or to send out meaning with more precise impact? When did you let yourself become aware of a particular gut feeling or sensation that is a reliable guide to your learning?


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