Let’s start with a premise: When you are not growing, you are shrinking.
It’s that simple. If you aren’t learning new things, or even working on maintaining your current skills/knowledge/awareness then you are in-fact deteriorating. “Use it or lose it” would be an apt phrase to use here.
So that means, we need to keep focus on maintenance (at the very least), or growth (ideally). This is assuming you have a choice. If you are in a career/life where you need to constantly learn new things – whether because your job demands it, or your relationships demand it and you don’t want to screw up either – then you have to find ways to keep growing. One of the ways to do that is to improve your learning agility.
What is learning agility?
Exactly what it says: an agile learner.
Usually when we say someone is agile, we mean physically. That a particular person is able to move their body fluidly, is quick on their feet. But at some point you must have also heard that so-and-so has a very agile mind. What does that mean? That their mind makes connections quickly, and is able to apply the insights and knowledge gained to unrelated problems.
So learning agility is your ability to learn quickly, seemingly randomly, and apply the knowledge gained in a wide variety of ways. Their ability to learn and apply isn’t hindered when faced with changes. They can process the changes, shift mental gears, and find ways to assimilate information faster, and create solutions. Imagine someone leaping over strands of thoughts, collecting information as they do so, and remembering it well enough to be able to apply it, whether directly or indirectly. That is the essence of learning agility.
There are numerous ways to become an agile learner, but I want to focus on how you can use journaling to improve your learning agility:
Take time, regularly, to brainstorm in your journal. Do this without a set topic. Just go where your mind takes you. You can start with a book you are reading, ideas regarding your job, things you want to focus on in your personal development. You may find that often thoughts from one area of your life connects to other areas of your life. Follow these patterns. Whether or not they produce immediate results isn’t important. The important thing is to let your brain get used to making these connections, and giving your mind the freedom to just explore because you don’t always know what gems are lying in wait.
2. Explore Your Attitude Towards Change
How do you handle change? Do you get stressed out? Panic? Hide and hope everything returns to normal? Do you just grin and bear it? Do you face it head-on? Or do you even look forward to it?
Explore this in your journal. Be honest with your self. Don’t just say I handle change well, but write down examples of when you have done so. You may find that you have a slightly skewed opinion of your ability to handle change. It maybe useful to ask your friends/colleagues/family who may give you honest opinions. See if their opinions match with one another, and with your perception of yourself regarding change.
This isn’t a one-off exercise. You should explore this regularly in your journal for a period of time so that you can get an accurate measure of your attitude towards change.
Responding positively or at least productively to change is a key criteria for becoming a more agile learner. If you dig your heels in and refuse to move with the changes then that’s likely to be a deterrent in your learning agility.
3. Identify Risks You Can/Should Take
It’s part of our survival instinct to want to be safe. It’s part of our modern living to want to be comfortable. I am not against either. I like both safe and comfortable. However, if you keep yourself in that cocoon that you are not going to grow. In developing nearly all skills, from learning a language to improving physical fitness, you go through a steep learning curve and then you plateau and have to push yourself more if you want to keep improving. The same principle applies to learning agility. You can’t expect to grow, to be more agile, to be the best you can be, if you just settle in one comfy spot and refuse to stretch yourself further.
Pay attention to your comfort zone, and how much time you spend out of it. By journaling, gain awareness of your relationship with risk taking. Are you completely risk averse? Completely reckless? Or somewhere in-between? Again, you may not an accurate judge of your own behaviour, so try figuring it out from your journal, and by discussing it with people close to you.
4. Active Learning
How much time do you spend on learning? Really, actively learning? Whether it’s by going for traditional education, vocational courses, reading books/articles/blogs, watching information and educational videos, or practicing a hands-on skill, does learning feature in your schedule?
To become an agile learner, you must first become a learner. You have to expose yourself to new knowledge, to get used to continuously assimilate new information. You need to be able to merge new and existing information and find unique ways to use it. It is much easier to become an agile learner, or even a competent one if you actually enjoy the process. Try different mediums, and different techniques. Find ways to enjoy the learning process.
Your journal can be a record of how you learn, what you find pleasant, what seems like a chore, and how you are able to apply that information. Keep a log of your learning, and your methods of learning.
5. Active Reflecting
Reflection is a key element in any form of personal development. It doesn’t matter how much new information you put in your brain, what new skills you develop, what life experiences you go through – if you don’t reflect on them, you are not going to get the most out of them. Journaling is the perfect tool for active reflecting.
First, let’s understand the difference between passive reflection and active reflection. Passive reflection is when something just occurs to you. Active reflection is when you make deliberate effort to reflect on things – thoughts, life, work, just general randomness of the world etc.
Journaling, by its nature, is a form of active reflecting. You are picking up a pen and writing things down. You are performing an activity that is reflective. Whether you are just writing about the minutia of your day or writing about specific topics/aspects of your life, you are forcing your brain to engage with those thoughts, which are then transferred – usually in at least semi-coherent manner – on the paper. You may then choose to reflect further on it, by reading it back, looking for patterns of behaviour, and picking up lessons from it.
Active reflection enables you to speed up your personal development process, particularly self-awareness, which is a key if you want to become an agile learner. Active reflection enables you to play to strengths (because you now know what they are), and overcome or sidestep your weaknesses (because the reflection process makes you both aware, and hopefully honest about it).
By using the above five steps in your journaling, you can considerably improve your learning agility. It’s a great asset to have, and something that you can utilize not just for work or study, but for all aspects of your life.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE TODAY:
Journal about why improving your learning agility would benefit you. If you can see the benefits, then your motivation to work for it will strengthen.