How Mindfulness Shapes Learning

July 17, 2019

The simple process of noticing new things makes you sensitive to context and perspective

I have a career coach and she is the best! She is a great listener who challenges me to think about who I am and how I show up. I get a lot of value out of our discussions. Over the last year, I have spent time discussing my Gallup CliftonStrengths with her. During these sessions, we have focused on developing a deeper understanding of my top 5 strengths, while also focusing on my “blind spots.” Blind spots are how my strengths may work against me.

One of my top 5 strengths is Learner. When my coach and I reviewed my “learner” strength, something struck me. When someone has Learner, it’s not just about the outcome of learning; it’s actually more about the journey to get there. That’s me. I love the process of learning and I’m truly excited to learn new things. I love change and the challenge that comes with improvement. I ask a ton of questions, often to the point of annoyance. Sometimes I repeat the same question (my wife would tell you I do this because I don’t believe or more likely don’t “agree” with the answer).

But during my coaching session, I began to wonder: Am I deliberate about learning? How do I learn? What are my assumptions about learning? How do I become better at it?

Context enriches learning

After a coaching session during the fall, I was on a business trip and popped into a bookstore looking for something to read. I stumbled onto a book called The Power of Mindful Learning. It was right up my alley – not only was it about learning, it was only 135 pages – so I picked it up.PB-US-Blog-Inline-Mindful-learning

The book was about assumptions, behaviors and ideas that undermine learning. It tapped into my interest in “blind spots.”

To me, the book emphasizes the point that to learn effectively, you need context. All learning is enriched by context. After talking about the book with my wife, she shared an article with me from The Atlantic called Why American Students Haven’t Gotten Better at Reading in 20 Years. It supports the notion that context is valuable to learning, especially if your need for context stems from a desire to understand, rather than a desire to judge or prove someone wrong.

Learning at a deeper level

The book has a lot of valuable points and the author lays out 7 myths that undermine learning. I would like to share two that have influenced my own way of thinking and learning:

  • Myth 7: There are right and wrong answers. The author focuses on removing judgment and evaluation from learning. This frees you to see others’ perspectives and perhaps envision different paths. It also forces you to see variability in ideas, rather than certainty.
  • Myth 2: Paying attention means staying focused on one thing at a time. The author asks, “What does it mean to be distracted?” She suggests it means you are “attracted” to something else. I love this point of view. These small attractions may be very valuable. They may help leaders see what is emerging as they try to implement what was intended. This is very true and valuable as it comes to understanding changes in markets and customers.

Both the book and the article made me really pause and ask myself if I am mindful learner. Honestly? Not always. I learn from my context. I ask questions from my context. I do judge and I am not always open to alternatives. It is good to be a learner, as you focus on continuous improvement, but it is great to be a mindful learner because you learn at a deeper level. You see more alternatives and perspectives and you can chart unseen paths.

In business, we need leaders who are not just learners, but truly mindful learners. I am making a conscious effort to be more of one. This little adjustment may mean the difference between noticing incremental opportunity versus chasing an often-unachievable “unicorn-style” opportunity.

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    Al Chiaradonna