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How to Cultivate a Learner’s Mindset

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” Richard Branson

I am a reader – a very keen one, I’d like to add, and a book I found particularly fascinating whilst doing my research is the Talent Code by bestselling author Daniel Coyle. 

The book uses cutting edge neurological research to “crack the talent code” and provide the reader with the three key factors behind the development of every talent: deep practice, ignition (or motivation) and master coaching. Now, I must add that the book goes heavily into the link between neural pathways and our learning process. 

Coyle states that talent is directly linked to myelin growth, which is the insulation that wraps around our neural circuits. To stimulate myelin growth, you have to practise at the very edge of your current abilities, in order to willfully make mistakes and correct them. 

Still with me? Cool, now, here’s the next step. Practise is not enough: talent is formed when deep practice is encouraged through long-term motivation and enforced through master coaching, or what I’ll call, for the sake of the book, mentoring.

Why am I breaking down the code for talent? 

Because talent comes from practice, and practice allows us to learn. 

Among all the habits I highlighted and studied in my first book Make an Impact, the power of learning is one of the ones that both highly influential people and social influencers agree on. Instagram creative Marisa, from Miss Marzipan, shared with me why learning is so important for her: 

”I try to work on the things I love and need. Learning programs and so on has always been a means to an end to me. I have an idea about what I want to create and learning the process of making that vision a reality is what keeps me motivated to try new things. When it comes to programs and technology, the only way I can learn is by doing. I am not interested in the mechanics of things generally, so technology in and of itself bores me. But if I imagine that a computer and program are no different to a sheet of paper and a pen (i.e., tools to create), then I can deal with it.”

From reading this, it seems like Coyle was onto something. In order to learn you need to make mistakes, you need to be motivated and you need to get guidance. 

I talked about failing and making mistakes before, but it’s something I do not think can be really stressed enough: if you want to practise anything efficiently, don’t shy away from your mistakes, but focus on adjusting them until you improve. Especially, I’d like to add, when it comes to things that do not come naturally to you. I am the artist. I am the maverick, the hyperactive creator who learns from doing. 

University settings have been incredibly hard for me, especially when I was learning by repeating mechanically some long elucubrations from literary critics, or the Lithuanian cases – how my teacher thought that was going to benefit me later in my life is beyond me.

As I came to the UK for my year abroad, I did open myself up to a whole new way of learning: enter the essays. Needless to say – I loved essays. They are basically mini-books that allowed me to get obsessed about a specific topic (see a pattern here?).

 I learnt how to write essays without having had any sort of teaching (the perks of going abroad and having to accustomed to a new education system), but that was the first instance of me learning about my limits and the challenges in my way of assimilating information.

As I mentioned in a previous example, my most challenging learning environment was during my PT course – there I faced another incredibly hard hurdle. The theory. The science. The body.  I simply could not get it in my head. I would look at the diagrams and illustrations and eventually figure out how my heart works. You probably would have not wanted me to perform CPR back then. 

Nevertheless, I was an absolute star at coaching my fellow colleagues, figuring out how machines worked, creating programs.  Anatomy and physiology kept me awake most nights.  I had to write things five times in five different ways, I had to wait until the proverbial penny dropped from a six-stories building before I could even understand some of what I was reading. Did I pass my exams? Yep, all at the first attempt (once again, geek). 

Was it an easy feat? Absolutely not. You’ll have to get out of your comfort zone to keep your brain active and learning, and challenging itself.

The importance of practise

Practise is such an important aspect of learning. As I mentioned before, Nobel laureate Herbert Simon argues that it takes around ten years to become an expert in a subject. 

After ten years of practice, around 50,000 chunks of knowledge become internalised in the brain, meaning that we can process them automatically. This knowledge becomes readily accessible to the brain without us having to really think about it – just like an expert football or tennis player would do.

 I am not advocating it being a done science, neither would I say the outcome of the study is going to be objectively true for everyone. However,I do feel like it took me 10,000 hours to figure out what the heck the aorta is doing on a daily basis. 

As I keep saying ‘repetition is the mother of skills’.

By practising beyond the limits of our current abilities we encourage what Coyle called deep practice. Why does a practice need to be deep? 

In The Talent Code, Coyles argues that even the skill required to perform the simplest action demands thousands of nerves firing in perfect synchrony. The more we repeat a task, the more precise and quick the action will become, because the myelin layer surrounding the relevant circuit thickens.

So how can you create a practice around learning? What can you do to make the time to implement a new skill, find accountability and support to upskill in your life. Turning a simple act like learning into an art can enhance the experience and make the journey a lot more valuable. By embracing the learner’s mindset, you can truly enrich your life every single day. All you have to do is take the first step to crack the code.

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