This week I have been thinking a lot about how we learn. Often we leave school or formal education thinking that we already know everything we will need to get by. The reality of things is so far from this. My greatest experiences of learning have mainly occurred in the years since I left formal education.
More specifically, most of my learning experiences have involved Brazilian Jiu Jitsu; through that lens I have learnt more about myself, others and the nature of the world. I am mainly a kinesthetic learner: meaning I learn in a tactile way, by doing and physically working on something rather than listening. I can work out details, understand techniques and grasp concepts far quicker by doing them or have them done to me. I have tried to extend my ability to learn in other ways, as it is sometimes not enough just to rely on the one dimension of learning to carry me through (especially if mastery of the art is the goal). I have focused on developing my ability to Listen.
A training partner, whom is a very talented practitioner, is a profoundly gifted auditory listener. I have sat and watched her receive instruction on a technique only once and then perfectly apply the technique from only these verbal instructions. Because of my tendency towards tactile learning, I may never be able to get to the stage of precision she can achieve through auditory learning, but I can develop habits to improve the way I listen and learn from that as a result.
Many of us, despite what we may tell ourselves, are actually horrible listeners. When receiving instructions, we may be effective at absorbing the instructions and information being presented to us, but when it comes to engaging in conversations or engaging with that information, we are often too busy thinking about our responses to reflect on what we have just been told.
In my opinion, the most crucial part of listening is reflecting on the information we have just received. Is this new information to us? Does this inform or shed new light on concepts we already knew about? It should take us some time to digest what we have been told and we should always look to listen more when we are learning than speak. I reflect back to early conversations or instruction I received from my coaches and mentors as a brand new practitioner in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I was not a good listener. I did not absorb what was being said on a meaningful level. Superficially, I was listening, and to all it would seem that I was indeed a good listener, but I was not practicing any reflective habits on what I was being told. I wasn’t digesting that information and letting it inform or change my way of thinking.
I like to think of listening as an analogy: We are either The Rock, or The Sponge.
The Rock interacts with water, but only on the surface. It allows the water to brush up against it and run around it, even be completely surrounded by it. But the water never enters the rock. Just like when we do not practice good listening habits, information will not enter our minds.
The rock can be worn away or even be split by large forces of water however. I like to think of this as when we are presented with information that is so impactful that it forces us to change our perspective or it completely smashes our current perceptions. This is not as desirable as it sounds, as it often leaves us completely intellectually vulnerable for long periods of time afterwards.
The Sponge also interacts with water, but on a different level. It not only allows the waster to brush up against it and run around it, but absorbs it and allows it to pass through it too. The water can be retained by the sponge, or be released when unnecessary. When we practice good listening habits, we are like the sponge and the water is information passing through us and being absorbed.
The sponge does not have the same challenges of the rock. New information that is forced upon the sponge will not destroy it, no matter the impact. A person with good listening skills is not left destitute after their current perceptions or beliefs are shattered by new information. Instead, the listener is able to absorb this information; if it is useful, it strengthens their form, if it is not it will simply pass through.
Just as water has extreme force, so does information. We can build resilience and learn to use new and insightful information if we learn to listen. We can brace ourselves against the massive forces that information can carry and even harness it to help us grow.
In a world full of water, learn to be a sponge.