It's as easy as riding a bike
Chris muses on the conditions for learning something new and just how easy it is (or isn't) to ride a bike.
You're a little on the late side so you walk past the free papers, thinking you'll just read some news on your smartphone/tablet/A N Other device. The train arrives and you get on. You reach in your bag to find only a notepad, a pen and half a pack of Minstrels. No smartphone or iPad...
What to do? A one hour train journey to the city with no news, sport or inane celebrity gossip. First logical step - eat Minstrels; all good so far. Next step, read random train advertisements. Next? Strike up a conversation with man opposite - he participates reluctantly for five minutes and gets off at the next stop. What next? Hmmmm - ah, I remember - listen to other people's conversations. Yes, I am that guy. Now, before you tut and cast judgment on me, can you really say you haven't done it yourself? You try so hard to ignore it and shut it all out but, the harder you try, the louder the conversations become. It's just too difficult. Don't listen I tell myself, which simply programmes me to listen even more intently. I try to focus on other things but I just can't do it; until, that is, I hear the phrase, "It's as easy as riding a bike."
Yes, it's as easy as riding a bike! A fairly benign and oft-repeated phrase to express just how easy something is but it started my mind racing. How easy is it to ride a bike? Now, if you can already ride a bike, then it is clearly going to be easy but it negates all of the effort that went into learning it in the first place. A more appropriate question is how easy is it to learn to ride a bike? Take yourself back there. What were you doing? What happened? How many people helped? How many times did it go wrong? Now I work in learning & development so I clearly think about this stuff all of the time but I still found myself reflecting on how much desire and effort is needed to become competent in new skills. A few key things sprang to mind that seemed worth noting (this is where the notepad and pen proved their worth, albeit in a slightly different way to the Minstrels).
A purpose - Yes we all need a purpose, a reason to learn. How often do you find yourselves trying to learn new skills in order to make your boss happy or because you feel like you should? Why do we want to ride a bike? To get places faster. To get exercise. To experience a new sense of freedom that our own bodies can't give us on their own. So many reasons all leading to a fairly compelling level of intrinsic motivation and determination. Learning for the sake of learning doesn't lead to new skills, simply more knowledge. It might not even lead to that if you're don't have a really strong reason for wanting to acquire the skills.
A mentor/guide - Who can help? Remember learning to ride a bike? Mum, dad, big-bro, sister. There was always someone to stand next to you, offer tips and shout encouragement. Who helps you learn to do new things now? How much easier is it when you have that voice of experience and encouragement there with you?
Sense of fun and enjoyment - A destination, direction or objective is a great thing to aim at but so many people fall short of these through not planning enough fun into their journeys. When learning new things, it doesn't have to feel like hard work. Chances are, if you're enjoying yourself, you'll keep going back for more and learn even faster.
Taking a risk - When do we stop taking risks? When does that fear of failure really take hold and stifle all of those learning experiences we could be having? Is there a moment when we suddenly say, "I'm a grown-up, I can't take risks anymore" or is it more gradual than that? When I look back at my more formative experiences, I've probably learnt most from making some fairly spectacular mistakes. Had I not taken risks, I'd never have learnt how to wheely, bunny-hop or even got as far as taking the stabilisers off. If I stopped taking risks now, I'd surely be saying that I don't want to learn anymore. No thanks!
So the big messages - aside from the obvious of being sure to pick up a paper to prevent boredom on train journeys; find a reason to learn, get some help, take a risk and have some fun. It's as easy as riding a bike!