What is Smarter Learning?

I always thought I was an avid learner because I was a good student. But what I did not understand was that being a good learner is different. I got frustrated when approaching new tasks, which discouraged branching out. Uncharted territory was daunting, so why would I go there if I was only going to end up frustrated, right?

It was not until much later in life that I realized the reality of my situation. Despite my contentment, marriage to the ideals of perfection, performance, and outcome was crippling my personal and professional growth. Learning is not simply an action, but a skill to improve one’s mindset. A mindset of curiosity, goal setting, asking questions, and receiving feedback. A “growth” mindset. 

Allow me to illustrate…

Recently while video-chatting with a friend’s daughter, Ava (an extremely talented artist), I was reminded of this topic. Through a whim of curiosity, I asked her if she would show me how to use Posca paint pens. She kindly obliged and toured me through her art supplies, including painting pens, traditional markers, and inks, followed by her sketchbook, and her process. 

While showing me, Ava mentioned her past self-consciousness about her sketchbook. She had focused on needing everything to look perfect. This perfection mindset even caused her to rip out pages deemed unworthy of this high bar. However, with professional maturity atypical of an eleven-year-old, identified the self-sabotage of this debilitating mindset. It was preventing her from growing as an artist. Now, she treats each new piece indiscriminately, and reserves judgement to empower her creative process. In other words, upon reaching the end of the sketchbook, she can now look back and see her progression.

In these sketchbooks, she has created a visual, time-stamped record of her growth and development. She was not just showing me her magnificent sketchbook, but rather the active-learning tool she has transformed her sketchbook into. An invaluable tool for anyone’s tool chest.

Creating your masterpiece

Growth and development is an essential part of being human, craved like water in a desert. As outlined by Maslow’s motivational theory, reaching your ultimate potential is only possible by fulfilling your self-esteem needs first. Mastery of any craft is a process, and one that is often difficult to observe in real time. That is why having a progressive mindset is so important. Otherwise, you might look back on your career in twenty years unfairly judge early decisions. But it’s okay to make mistakes. The important part is learning from them and growing in the moment.

Recently with other people, I have discussed the importance of hobbies, such as sports, art, or activities outside of work. Often seen simply as a method for mental relaxation and fun, we forget their role in personal growth. As Ava pointed out, this is your safe space. A comforting space to take risks, even if they are small. A space to apply your growth mindset, try something new, and fail with no consequences. 

A culture of learning

Our workplaces, our cultures, our world is innately progressive. To succeed, you must embrace the ideals of a “learning culture”. Because of the ever-changing workplace, the skills you learn in college or university will be outdated 18 months later. And this phenomenon only appears to be accelerating over time. In order to keep up, we must be smarter at what and how we learn. As it turns out, this particular skill, the skill of learning, is most often not what we learn in school. It is what we learn in life. 

As shown by Ava, you can use your hobbies to enhance your learning skills. You may even find that along the way, you unlock interests and skills in new activities. Definitely a sure-fire way to avoid burnout symptoms. And I think that’s a pretty good tradeoff, don’t you? So get out there and learn. To quote my favourite teacher of all-time, “take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” – Ms. Frizzle

Ava’s 10 Tips for growing as an artist:
  1. In your sketchbook, draw something special on the inside cover that will inspire you. Make this something that you love in a lasting way (not a passing fancy). 
  2. On the first page, state a clear goal or intention for the sketchbook. Maybe it is to learn how to draw people, or an animal or mushrooms. 
  3. Break down your goal into smaller pieces. Just practice eyes on one page, noses on another. 
  4. Start to create your own drawing process. Draw from still life. Think about the shapes you are drawing and try to think about how it feels to draw these shapes. 
  5. Develop a visual vocabulary for shapes that you can pull from.
  6. Once you get the hang of drawing the thing (say a cat) in this way, build on this, experiment and play with other poses. Try to consciously think about the feeling of drawing the shapes of the cat.
  7. Watch some (but not too many) videos to get inspired and learn new techniques.
  8. Practice every day (she draws for 2-4 hours a day) but even 10 min a day will help you grow.
  9. Date your sketches.
  10. When the sketchbook is full, go back and reflect on your development. 

Smarter Learning is the bedrock of Skillpod’s 7 Skills. To discover more about how we can help you or your organization learn smarter and faster, sign up for our newsletter or contact me directly.

All artwork copyright Ava R. 2021 (contact agent Kathleen Traynor for commissions)