Did you ever think about our skills as being muscles? Mind muscles, actually, because, ultimately, it’s all wired there, inside our brain.
I had this epiphany after I ran my first half-marathon some years ago. I’d been constantly running on the treadmill my 5 km twice a week, and it was this regular exercise that had my muscles trained and ready to run 21 km when I decided I’d give it a go. And it worked – as in, I survived! And that’s when I thought that the things we ‘train’ for everyday, the things we have a habit of doing, are the ones that make us prepared to face the unexpected in our life. You can hear all about it in my TEDx talk on How our skills muscles change the way we deal with Change.
Back to this article, as adults, we train our body muscles when we want to be fit and feel healthy. We also tend to train our skills muscles when the company we work for sends us on a training session or when we need that training for progress in our career. And so the entire perception on learning is that it is an event we go TO, spend some time there and then, it’s over, we don’t have to do anything about it anymore.
Now, the whole point of learning is seeing it as a process, not as an event. Let me explain: during a training session we learn ‘about’ new things, or theories, or concepts. We do not learn them (as in master them), we learn about them (as in find out about them). Training is where we become aware that certain concepts exist which we can use.
But it is the aftermath that makes the difference between full learning and learning ‘about’. It’s the practice. Being aware that you can give feedback in a way that doesn’t harm the other, for instance, is not the same with actually giving it properly. So what I do after a feedback training session is, often, more important than the training itself. It’s ‘how’ and ‘how often’ I use that information that matters. And it’s that kind of exercise that will take me to master that particular topic.
Think about cooking – when we learn how to cook something for the first time we usually go for the recipe. We read it (or watch it), that’s the formal training side of things. That alone doesn’t mean we now know ‘how’ to cook that recipe. So we get down to work, follow the instructions and start cooking. Now, depending on how many skills we have and which we can use in the process, the result will be a better or, let’s say, an average one. And then, we cook it again and again until we’re happy with the result. That’s the practice, which leads to full learning. Once we’ve cooked that recipe enough times, we start to contribute our own ideas to it. We start playing and improvising, using less of one spice and more of the other. That’s mastery. That’s also the point where it starts to be difficult to return to the beginner’s mind we had at the beginning of the process and unlearn the whole thing, but that’s another discussion. Idea is: it took practice to get to the mastery bit.
Why, then, do we think that we are going to be master communicators once we’ve attended a communication training?
I think we need to look at our skills from a different perspective and have an honest discussion with ourselves.
- What are my strong skills muscles?
- What skills am I comfortable using and why?
- How does that make me feel?
- Can I still improve my strong skills muscles?
- What are those skills muscles I’ve left asleep and haven’t used in a long time?
- What could they do to help me?
- How can I train them now so they serve me later?
- And how can I do that regularly?
Well (apart from working with me, of course:)) the good news is half of the job is done by answering some of these questions and becoming aware of your own skills muscles. Actually seeing them, feeling that you use them and seeing the difference they make in your life. And then, constantly deciding to practice, to train them.
If I want to improve my listening skills, the first thing to do is be aware that this is the skill I want to improve. And then, I shut up more and speak less. I pay attention to what people are saying to me instead of thinking about what I’m going to say the second they’ve finished their sentence (oh, and maybe even sooner than that, why wait?!).
And then you may be surprised to see that the practice payed off. Because one day you have a talk with a client or team mate or even friend. And you stop thinking about your list of questions, stop ticking points off that list and start having a real conversation. One that lands you a happy client, team mate or friend. One real dialogue that ends with them saying: ‘yes, that’s exactly what I meant, thanks for listening!’. All because you’ve trained that skill muscle until you don’t even realize you’re using it anymore, while it does its job brilliantly.
So, is it worth training our skills muscles? My wild guess is, well, you’ve guessed… Point is, they’re very much attached to us and yes, they can make us look good, too:). So train them on and show them off!
If you want to get more inspiration on what skills and awareness around them can do for you, listen in to the All Personal podcast, for some thoughtful conversations with entrepreneurs and professionals like you. And be my guest to join the conversation, all you need to do is email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll podcast your All Personal skills story.