My grandson has spent the last several weeks learning how to walk. This new risk comes with a lot of bumps and bruises. He has bumped his chin, bitten his lip, banged the side of his head, and fallen repeatedly on his little bum. But he just gets up and walks again. It doesn’t occur to him to stop. After all, to stop would completely arrest his development.
Risking Failure to Master New Things
As children we go through this process repeatedly, learning to walk, to run, to climb. We fell and bled and fell some more. Children try again and again, failing repeatedly on the way to success. This differs greatly from adults. How many adults will risk repeat failures in pursuit of an important goal? And when did we change from inspired children to risk-averse adults?
There’s Still So Much to Learn
Most of us are in business because we are particularly good at or passionate about something. But to take that passion and turn it into cash, we need to learn new things: CAD/CAM, production techniques, business software, social media, internet marketing, selling, hiring and inspiring, and analyzing and managing finances.
Learning new things can be uncomfortable. It doesn’t feel good to try something new and realize it’s harder than we thought. Like a person who settles for dog-paddling with his head sticking out of the water rather than actually learning to swim, many small business owners learn marketing, or selling, or production management, or how to analyze the books just enough to get by.
We Tried That
When we try something new and fail we say, “Well that didn’t work!” Even worse, we say, “Well, that didn’t work. Let’s not do that again.” Trying one more time could result in measurable improvement. Trying two more times may result in success.
I hear the we-tried-that excuse several times each month. “We tried that a few years ago, and it was a complete failure.” “I tried to learn that, but it was like learning Greek.” “We tried that, but we didn’t think we made any money.” “We know other people do that, but we tried that and it doesn’t work for us.”
I always follow up with the question, “Well, how many times did you try?” and in most cases, they look at me as if I am from another planet. After all, if something didn’t work once, why on earth would you try it again?
What Stops Us from Learning?
Think of the things you’re good at—really good at—right now. Did any of them come without any effort? Did you just try once? Of course not. We happily pursue knowledge of the things we love. We hit that small white ball over and over again, just trying to land it a few inches closer to the hole each time. When it comes to doing things we love, we persevere.
Why do we try so hard for things we love, but throw in the towel quickly on things we don’t? Motivational science has discovered that the parts of the brain that deal with emotions are closely connected to the parts of the brain that deal with cognition, which is the process of acquiring (and remembering) knowledge. When we are excited, confident, and happy, we tend to learn more effectively than when we are frightened, pessimistic, or irritated. If you want to learn more effectively, you must manage your emotions.
It’s true that we all have natural gifts that make certain things easier for us to learn, but unless you have a specific cognitive deficit, you are capable of learning anything you need to know to make your business more successful. What gets in the way? Dread. Distaste. Fear that you won’t be able to master the new skill.
Of course, the consequences of not knowing the things you need to know can be very distasteful as well. As a new client recently said to me, “I am very motivated now to learn how to manage our finances, because I never want to experience the panic of a surprise $14,000 tax bill ever again!” Or, as another client asked me last year, “Why did I put off (implementing new business software) for so long? Now that I’ve done it, I see that I could have been miles further down the road by now! I left a lot of money on the table.”Get in the Right Mindset
Make a list of the one or two (or three) things you really need to learn to be a better business person. There’s a 99.9 percent chance that you can master everything on this list. Remind yourself of this.
Write next to each item the tangible benefits you will gain from learning each thing. Your list should include both how your business will benefit and how you will feel once you are on the other side of the learning. This step will help you cultivate positive emotions about investing in knowledge you may not otherwise be excited about.
Next, prioritize. Set aside a reasonable amount of time to learn each thing on your list, and focus on only one new knowledge acquisition at a time.
Finally, develop a training plan. What will you read, who will you go to, and how will you study and practice each new skill until you have mastered it?
This simple activity will help you manage both your emotions and your expectations, setting you up for more effective—and more joyful—learning, and ultimately for greater success.