Pretty much everyone I’ve ever asked about this would say they would like to be smarter. And that goal of being smarter, stated or not, is common regardless how confident people are, their level of self-esteem, and even their actual or perceived level of “smartness.” It starts when we are very young — we want to be smart — even if we might not all define “smart” in the same way.
For our purposes today, my definition does not include being able to win at Jeopardy, recite poetry from memory, or remember all the Popes by name and in order. While some of the strategies below might help in these areas, my goal for this article is to give you tangible ways that you can learn things every day that help you live your life more effectively and with greater satisfaction and happiness.
Decide What You Want to Be Smarter About
What do you want to be smarter about? Do you want to be a better project manager? Do you want to listen more effectively? Make better decisions? Decorate cakes? Speak a foreign language? Decide on something that interests you and matters to you — when you have more than a fleeting interest, you will be more focused and disciplined. The point: Find your learning focus.
Take Tangible Actions
Once you have a learning focus, find a step to take. One member of my team decided she wanted to learn Italian, so she found tools at Duolingo to help her. Maybe you need a book. Maybe you need to bake some cupcakes. The nature of your learning focus will help you determine what your actions are. If the goal is to get smarter every day, then you need to take some action, however small.
Too often when people find a learning focus, they start with a flourish. They make gains in their knowledge or skill quickly, then they plateau and get frustrated. Gains won’t always be large or noticeable, and they don’t have to be. Nearly nine years ago I wrote one of my favorite, and I believe most important posts ever. It is called The Power of Incremental Improvement. It challenges us to think about getting just 1% better each day. If you do that, you will be amazed at your growth.
Once you have a learning focus, start noticing the world through that perspective. If you are focused on being a better decision maker, for example, you will see examples of good strategies, and not-so-good strategies all around you. Open your eyes, ears and mind to what is going on around you that connects to what you are getting smarter about.
At the end of each day, reflect on your progress that day. Ask yourself two questions:
What did I learn today that applies to my learning focus?
How (or when) will I be able to use that?
If you missed a day, don’t worry about it; just ask yourself this question:
What will I do tomorrow?
And remember the next suggestion …
Rinse and Repeat
Once you have the steps down, do it again tomorrow, and the next day. Maybe you will miss a day — don’t bemoan it, beat yourself up about it or use that as “proof” that you can’t do this. You can. Just like the shampoo bottle says, “rinse and repeat.”
If you can read this article, you can do any or all of these things. And if you will move from “can” to “will,” you will be smarter tomorrow than you were today.
And if you are reading this as a leader, these all apply to you personally, and also in your role as a leader. Living these strategies makes you a more powerful role model and coach to those you lead too.
About the Author:
Kevin Eikenberry is a world-renowned leadership expert, a two-time bestselling author, speaker, consultant, trainer, coach, leader, learner, husband and father (not necessarily in that order).
Kevin is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group, a leadership and learning consulting company that has been helping organizations, teams and individuals reach their potential since 1993. Kevin’s specialties include leadership, teams and teamwork, organizational culture, facilitating change, organizational learning and more.
By Kevin Eikenberry