So what is learning, anyway?
Dan Kahneman suggests that it is informing our intuitions. Intuition, as you may recall, is “fast thinking”. We use fast thinking when we apply what we believe to be true. One plus one equals? You don’t need to reflect in order to come up with the response. That is fast thinking. When we stop at strategic moments during our lives and reflect on what is going on, we can update our intuitions. We can educate how we think fast. Perhaps that is the best way to think about what learning is all about.
This requires an “open mind”. But what is that? Perhaps it is a willingness to suspend our preconceived notions of how things work in the world and who we are within it. The stronger the intuition, the less open our minds are. The less we can learn. For this reason, strong emotions can cloud or vision. They give us tunnel vision.
So how do we open our minds? Meditation? Free association? Exercises that take us out of our routines such as these can help. But on a more basic level, opening our minds comes down to what we value. How much do we value what we know versus how much we value learning.
I have experienced this balance many times in my own life. When I was focused on a single powerful belief, it was difficult to open my mind to things that were not directly relevant to it.
For that reason, I like the distinction between “collecting things” and “collecting experiences”. We value things based on their past or present value. What we think we know. So a house is our home because it has been that way and because we use it now. The more we think of it that way, the less we want to experience leaving it behind, even if it is a burden financially or otherwise. We value experiences because they create new memories. That might be just going for a walk, or it might be competing for a gold medal or it might be playing the role of parent.
This suggests that keeping track of our experiences — especially what we learn from them — is valuable. It brings us closer to having an open mind about what we do. What does this look like? Well, it does not look like a “to do” list, where you cross off tasks one at a time. Nothing wrong with “to do” lists, but they do not elevate tasks into experiences.
How do we elevate tasks to the level of experience? I like to call this using a “to learn” list with a “learned” list based on a log of experiences. You can think of it as a series of translations. From event (a task or obligation) to experience (what happened) to expected learning (building a thread) to actual learning to learning agenda. Notice that there are fives steps. Quite a lot actually, which means that you need to selectively use this tool.
Can we learn to do it better? Of course! Stay tuned!