How to learn new skills the easy way – Pancho Mehrotra

It is as astounding how many people struggle to learn something new. But, just like a toddler starting to walk, we are all capable of mastering new skills if we go about it the right way. Pancho Mehrotra of Frontier Performance explains.

I have often seen trainers getting people enthusiastically involved in the training, yet when these people leave the seminar they fall back into their old habits almost immediately, despite having the best intentions.

That’s because people are often in the right mindset when they start to learn something new and are open to it; then suddenly, as if someone has flicked a switch, they turn off and become resistant to what they are learning without even being aware that this has happened.

In fact, as humans we often tell ourselves we are open to learning, but the moment learning something new becomes difficult we shut down.

Why does this happen? How can we stop it? To understand why we struggle to master something new, we need to understand how we learn. You may have heard of the four stages to learning. They are:

  1. Unconscious incompetence: ‘I don’t know what I don’t know’
  2. Conscious incompetence: ‘I know about it but I don’t know how to do it’
  3. Conscious competence: ‘I now know it and do it deliberately when I need to’
  4. Unconscious competence: ‘I know it and do it automatically’

Think about the time you first learnt to drive: how excited you were, and maybe nervous of getting behind the wheel of the car. Can you remember the first time that you drove by yourself? Perhaps you were a bit nervous and on edge. However, within a matter of months, driving became second nature; you could drive without having to consciously concentrate on the task.

So you learnt something new, which was difficult but you managed to master it within a few months. Why? Because your level of motivation to learn the skill was high; learning to drive was a necessity, not an option. Simply put, you do whatever it takes to learn to drive and get your licence.

In this case, you were:

  • Open to learning something new
  • Open to learning even with discomfort and fear
  • You persisted in learning
  • You mastered the skillI.

In the illustration, the learner started at the unconscious incompetence stage and moved very quickly and steadily to the unconscious competence stage. It just required some repetition, to put themselves in stressful situations, and they came out of it totally confident in their abilities.

This applies to every learning situation. Learning something new requires a level of discomfort, and to be able to master learning requires a high level of internal or intrinsic motivation.

Often the need for immediate gratification (of having the comfort of doing the same old thing) overcomes the desire to learn something new.

In one way, not having a reference experience to judge what you are learning, or in simple terms a memory that has not been created, is a blessing in disguise. It is sometimes easier to learn something entirely new than to relearn something you have been doing for some time. This is why at times new real estate agents can outperform the established agents.

The challenge for many people when learning is that they refer everything new to what they have known before. Unconsciously they create arguments in their head that what they are learning is not right for them or that they have heard it all before. With this limiting outlook, how can they possibly pay attention to what is being taught? They are learning new things, yet struggle to see the relevance to their position or job function, which means they create barriers to learning.

To counter this, be aware of what you know, put it aside and then think about what you are learning and adapt it for your needs.

When we are learning something new, our attention needs to be on learning, not on debating the learning.

Behaviours to be aware of during learning:

  • Be aware of your attention drifting from the task at hand. You might start to look at your phone, email, social media.
  • Check out your own body language. Are you habitually looking around the room, fidgeting too much, maybe yawning?
  • Show flexibility. Learn to accept other points of view, or at least pay due respect to them. Not everything has to be either black or white.

Three forces – technological, social and economic – are jointly changing the real estate industry rapidly, along with every other sector. To keep up with this transformation, we need to have an open mind and embrace change.

Past familiar practices provide emotional security, so it is understandable that, from a behavioural point of view, you may not like change. However, to progress we need to learn and to learn we need to embrace change.

One way of embracing change is to ask different questions of ourselves.

Instead of ‘I can’t see how this is relevant to what I am doing now’, ask ‘What can I learn from this information?’ or ‘What or how can I adapt this information?’ The simple process of asking yourself better questions will help to stimulate better answers that allow you to re-engage with yourself mentally, emotionally and physically. To learn something new, we must adapt our behaviour to change the way we interpret the information.

Have you ever wondered why children learn so fast and enjoy the process? One of the reasons is that they don’t have any reference experiences or memories of old knowledge or ideas. They don’t judge; they soak learning up like sponges.

I do not advocate totally discounting the past in the work environment, but I’m an active campaigner for an open mind. Don’t let the past impact your future learning and development.

What can you do to be a better learner?

  • Seek out new knowledge and skills
  • Be motivated to learn
  • Have an open mind
  • Ask better questions of yourself
  • Apply the knowledge before discarding
  • Enjoy the process of learning.

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Pancho Mehrotra

Pancho Mehrota is the CEO of Frontier Performance and a recognised leading expert in the area of communication, influence and the psychology of selling.