Saturday, June 16, 2012

5 Powerful Forces That Are Keeping You From Learning

Are you a lifelong learner? Given that you are reading a blog like Goodlife Zen, I’m betting that your answer to that question is a resounding ‚”Yes, of course!‚” But here’s an important follow-up question:

Are you always a successful lifelong learner?
Do you always achieve the learning goals you set for yourself? I know I don’t. Happily, many of my failures are of the good kind, the ‘pick yourself, dust yourself off, and try something different next time’ kind. But occasionally I find that, even though I am going through all the motions, I don’t seem to make any real progress.

Why do we get stuck in ‘learning ruts’ like this? Here are five powerful – and often hidden – forces that can hold us back in spite of our desire to learn.


Developing strong, consistent habits can be a very positive part of personal growth, but as Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested long ago, our lives are full of routines and rituals that we unconsciously adopt and that often blind us to our real passion and purpose in life. This sort of foolish consistency is what he famously labeled the ‘hobgoblin of little minds’.
Take a close look at even the most trivial of habits in your life. How did they become part of your routine? Are they truly yours, or did you borrow them unconsciously from others? Do they serve a higher purpose for you, or are they actually barriers to using your time in more rewarding ways?  
Step outside of them and you will open the doors to new learning.

Common Sense

On the surface, following common sense sounds like a great idea – and often it is. Looking both ways before crossing a busy road, for example, is a simple bit of common sense that could save your life. That you are unlikely to achieve major goals without motivation and hard work is another example of common sense that has proven true again and again.
But common sense, along with its fellow traveler – conventional wisdom – can sometimes lead us to accept ideas and beliefs that deserve to be questioned. For centuries, common sense held that the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around it. On a more personal level, we may find ourselves trapped by conventional ideas about what counts as a “real”  job or education.
What ideas and beliefs have you unconsciously accepted as common sense in your own life? Start questioning those ideas and beliefs, and learning will follow.


As Judith Sills argues in her bestselling book Excess Baggage, we all have aspects of our personality that cause us to get in our own way. Maybe we always need to be right. Or we dread rejection. Or we hold on to unnecessary anger. These types of personal ‘baggage’ create blind spots for us that can make it difficult, even impossible, to realize our full potential.
Shedding baggage is far from an easy task, but it begins with honest self-assessment and regular reflection. Sills discusses five ruling passions, or drives, that are connected to particular personality styles:
  • The drive for control
  • The drive for self-esteem
  • The drive for security
  • The drive for attachment
  • The drive for justice
Each of these can be very positive and motivating, but taken too far they can also cause us to shut out opportunities for new knowledge and personal growth. Does one or more of these “drives” ring a bell with you? Are any of them a source of baggage that holds you back or causes you to act in ways that are harmful? Shed your baggage, and you make room for new learning opportunities.


In addition to our friends, family, and colleagues, many of us now use tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn – and yes, blogs – to communicate with vast networks of people. Throw mobile phones and “old” media like television, radio, billboards, and print publications into the mix and it’s easy to see that we are constantly being bombarded with new information.

As wonderful as the learning opportunities are, however, the flood of information can be so overwhelming that it actually becomes detrimental to learning. Our minds can handle only so many inputs at once, and we need time to process new information and move it from our short-term, “working” memory into our long-term memory.

Take a look at your inbox, your RSS reader, your magazine subscriptions, your to-do lists, and any of the other signs of information run amuck in your life. Where could you simplify and cut back on the noise? Open up some quiet space and the learning will flow in.


To borrow a turn of phrase from bestselling author Seth Godin, If there is no learning, look for the fear.Often it’s there and we are not even aware of it.

How can this be? In his most recent book, Linchpin, Godin pins the blame on what he calls the lizard brain, a tiny part of the human brain – part real and part metaphor – that controls primal instincts like fight or flight. We are rarely conscious of the lizard brain, but it’s always there, and it can interfere mightily with other parts of our brain that value learning.

The lizard brain doesn’t care about exploring new ideas or mastering new skills. It cares about staying comfortable and staying alive. Period. If you’re paying attention, you can feel the rumblings of lizard brain whenever you hold back on sharing an idea, or asking a question, or finishing that article, or painting, or poem that could take you down a rewarding – but unknown – new path.

The only way to overcome the deep, instinctual fear of the lizard brain is make sure you are paying attention. When you feel the rumblings, when you start to yourself retreating into comfort, push on. Real learning nearly always comes with risk.

Stay Alert

One of the main reasons that the lizard brain and the other forces are so powerful is that each tends to operate at a hidden, unconscious level in our lives. We simply don’t notice the degree to which they act upon us. By staying alert and reflective we can diminish the power of these forces and get so much more out of our lifelong learning efforts.

Here  are the themes we’ll explore:
  • Why should we forgive?
  • How forgiveness can be a journey of healing.
  • How you can learn to forgive yourself.
  • How to forgive: the pathway of compassion.
  • How to find peace

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