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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Stop putting yourself down now. 3 principles from learning science.

Stop putting yourself down now! 3 principles from learning science

Do you catch yourself saying mean things to yourself? “I’m so stupid”, “I’m so lazy”, “I always get it wrong”…

Our inner-critic may be trying to help us but it is often clumsy, brutal and ignorant of the full picture. If you notice it and recognise it fully once, you can start to shrink its hold on you and make decisions that are more aligned with what you really want. I see this happening with my clients after about three to six months. It may never disappear fully (it evolved over tens of thousands of years, likely from the moment one of our ancestors first tried to subdue another by force and language) but, with consistent commitment over time, it can find its place within your inner-world as a helpful force rather than a destructive one.

The truth is that most of us would be horrified if we heard someone speaking to another person in the inner-critic’s voice – especially if it were a person we loved…

From a learning and behaviour change perspective, teaching by humiliation does not work. The most recent scientific evidence shows that positive reinforcement and rehearsing are the best way to learn in the long term. No need to break people into submission!

In my 24 years of education, I learned best when I was encouraged and recognised.

Of course, I was willing to put in the hard work.

If you’re not willing to work at something, then, rather than beating yourself up, it may be more productive to find out what conflicting motivations are operating and make a decision when you’re clearer about them…

We know it’s harder to learn new facts and concepts if you’re hanging onto old ones. Not only do you need to let go of old, out-dated facts, you also need to shake up the WAY you are thinking (that’s also when you get that dopamine kick of having understood something new – the “aha moment”). In other words, a new perspective emerges when you’re able to let go of an old one (whether consciously or subconsciously).

But most people have a hard time with that because it implies that their old perspective may have been “wrong” and no one likes to be wrong…The adage of “to learn, you must suffer a little (ego) injury” applies.

What happens when you take learning out of a classroom and into the real world?

It turns out the same principles apply.

To create a change in life: a new career, a new relationship, a new level of health and fitness, you need to change the way you think about yourself (and your place in the world). In other words, your self-concept or identity needs to change.

Here are three principles to help you facilitate this change process. They’re based on a review of the scientific evidence presented in a lecture by Dr Michelle Ellefson, a neuroscientist at the Cambridge University Faculty of Education:

(Watch the video below or read on)

1) Exercise:

- Yes, physical exercise helps you learn and change. There’s a reason some scientists see exercise as the panacea to all modern ills. Just think of the mental training and resilience you develop by breaking through the wall of pain when you run, for example. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a number of my coaching clients run marathons and half-marathons, or exercise regularly. - It’s one of my top recommendations when people start coaching (alongside meditation and journalling): to get their energy moving in healthy ways and reconnect their minds with their bodies through the discipline and fun of regular exercise.

2) Balance consuming with producing:

- Traditional learning focused on ingesting information but it’s the least effective way of learning (and treacherous because it lulls you into a false sense of confidence that you are learning). - The most effective way of learning is producing/generating information for yourself by retrieving the information through exercises (retrieval practice) and doing this in small amounts over a period of time (distributed practice). Even better, do this in groups and have fun with the process.

3) Slow down:

- High performers and high functioning individuals tend to process information very fast. So taking time to retrieve the information, repeat it and implement it over time appears to slow the learning process down which puts off high performers who like speed. - However, the learning outcomes are ultimately superior when you slow down this way. This is why coaching works, because you can’t just read about stuff or listen to podcasts. You know the information intellectually (so when someone tells you the information you say: “I know that”. But while you know the concept, if you haven’t implemented it through action, you don’t really understand it fully. It’s the difference between reading about heart surgery and doing heart surgery. - You have to apply it and go through a full learning cycle that embeds the knowledge. That’s how you can break your old self-concept/identity a little bit at a time and enable a new one to emerge. As you update your self-concept/identity to something you choose for yourself (rather than something you were taught as a child), the way you think and act changes, your decision-making improves and your career and life transform for the better.

Legend in the making: One of my very first clients, Ms E, is a brilliant ophthalmologist. We’ve kept in touch after she completed long-term coaching that took her from overworked, frontline medic to national specialist and service lead in a prestigious teaching hospital. To start with, she had the tendency, like many doctors, to overgive and carry too much on her shoulders because of the rescuer identity many of us have. Over time, she saw that the rescuer identity including the beliefs and thoughts that go with it were destructive as they stopped her from saying “no” and prioritising effectively. As these lessened in frequency, she opened up to new opportunities and was headhunted to lead a department in a prestigious teaching hospital. Through repeated action and informed risk taking over time, she is increasingly embodying an empowered way of being. Today, she influences decisions not only with her immediate team but also with departments across the hospital, to radically transform the service she inherited into one that delivers a highly specialist service to exceptional levels of safety and quality for patients. She has outgrown the good student identity and learned the ways of being of a world class leader. She’s also just completed her first Marathon…

So, will you stop putting yourself down and step into the school of life? What major insight have you had lately that you need to put into practice? Identify three ways this insight could change your behaviour and take repeated action.

(Excerpt from The Success Trap book draft) Amina

Are you done with reading and willing to step out of your comfort zone to transform your career and have more influence and impact? If you’re ready to get clear on what you want, address your fears around action and be inspired to live from passion and possibility, request an introductory coaching conversation. I’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

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