Orienting ourselves to Learn

By Celeste Dean

Lead Trainer-Business Skills, PurpleLeap

Let me carry forward my discussion on achievements from my previous article, ‘How good is good enough’. I was talking about how important it is to celebrate achievements however big or small they are. But sometimes it takes a little longer to achieve anything. As a child I had to train myself for many years to ride a bicycle whereas my brother and other friends learnt it way before I mastered riding a cycle without trainer wheels. As I grew up it took me a long time and effort to count money when a shopkeeper gave me change, so much so that there are still stories in my family about my currency counting abilities. As a young girl I remember I was demotivated and usually embarrassed when I was unable to do certain things that my peers and juniors were able to do. While there are still many things I am striving hard to achieve, when I look back I find that sometimes we just need to be patient with ourselves to learn. Pushing too hard can lead to frustration and even destruction of self-esteem.

The idea here is to shift our focus from the result to the process. The frustration is because the quality of end result is not in line with our expectations however if we shift focus to what we learn in the process of achieving this end result we can change the way we look at achievements completely. Learning orientation is what brings about this change in perspective.

The definition of the word ‘orientation’ in psychology means the knowledge of one’s own temporal, social, and practical circumstances in life. Therefore, if I put this in perspective of learning, it really means learning to compose my reactions in temporal, social and practical life circumstances. Now this is much deeper than just learning to write a software program or create a new architecture. And much worse this way of learning takes a lifetime to give results and if this was not enough, only if we are ‘oriented’ to learn we will be able to acquire knowledge and skills as well.

For example, if I always had someone in my family to tell me which subject to choose, which bike will be better for me, which shirt color suits me; my learning to compose my reaction to life circumstances will come from what others’ decide for me. Therefore, when I am learning a new skill I will be dependent on others to create an environment and force me to acquire a particular skill. This may be true for some of us in some areas of life if not all. Some of us may be good at researching which motorbike is best as far as the technology and pricing is concerned on Indian roads, yet we may find it a daunting task to select a shirt off the shelf. Some of us may be really good in advising people how to run their lives but we may find it difficult to organize a few books on our book shelf. Such instances in our lives will tell us more about our individual learning orientation in one or more life circumstances.

The most conducive environment to test our learning orientation is to see ourselves react in difficult situations. Yesterday’s newspaper read, ‘14yr-old kills herself over study pressure’. It’s disturbing to see how many of us will react in extreme ways to stress and pressure. There will be others who will look at difficult times as an opportunity to learn something new. The difference in the way we look at circumstances and situations is based on how we have been able to ‘compose our reactions’. The same rule applies to learning a new skill or acquiring new knowledge.

Sometimes composing our reactions may take us a little longer than what we expect of ourselves. Like in my case, I still do not trust myself while counting currency change but yet, I have become better than before and devised innovative ways to add and subtract.

Learning is a process and so is the orientation to learn. Usually learning has little to do with what is achieved at the end because in its essence achievement is the process of learning itself. As a student or even as a professional, while we are extremely worried about the quality of result in the form of numbers on the score card or the pay cheque, we need to give more thought to how this process has added more to our ability to learn.

 

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