There's a ton of advice out there for those who are committed to becoming lifelong learners, from science-backed study strategies and guidance on getting more out of what you read, to tips on squeezing learning time into even the busiest schedules.
But none of these is going to do you a bit of good unless you realize one fundamental fact about learning -- in order for a new idea to really take up residence in your head, you very often have to admit that an old one is wrong.
Learning faster is often about getting better at admitting what you didn't know or got wrong before. Humility matters just as much, if not more than, strategy.
Out with the old, in with new
Mark Bonche, founder of coaching company Shift Thinking, recently explained how this works within organizations on the HBR blogs.
"In every aspect of business, we are operating with mental models that have grown outdated or obsolete, from strategy to marketing, to organization to leadership. To embrace the new logic of value creation, we have to unlearn the old one," he insists. "Unlearning is not about forgetting. It's about the ability to choose an alternative mental model or paradigm. When we learn, we add new skills or knowledge to what we already know. When we unlearn, we step outside the mental model in order to choose a different one."
Bonche goes on to cite specific examples in management and marketing, as well outlining the three key steps to "unlearning" (if you're curious, they're recognizing the old model is no longer effective, finding a better new model, and growing new mental habits). It's a thought-provoking read if you're concerned at all about how to encourage more learning among your team.
"Unlearning" in life, as well as business
But even if you're not in a management position, it's worth spending a few moments considering this concept of "unlearning." It's not just in business that we often rely on outdated mental models that no longer reflect reality (ask just any TV political pundit). And it's not just in business where the key to populating our brains with new, more effective ideas is having the courage to admit, "this is not working. If I was ever right, I no longer am."
It's a pretty simple idea, but one you come across a lot less than nitty gritty strategies for memorizing more vocabulary, better note-taking, and the like. So it bears repeating -- none of that will do you any good if you let pride take over and refuse to accept that your old ways of thinking about the world might be far from optimal.
The bottom line: if you want to call yourself a constant learner, get used to saying, "I was wrong." A lot.
Prove your intellectual humility: what's one mental model or concept you once subscribed to that you no longer believe?