3 Simple Ways to Master Learning and Make Things Happen

Years ago, a dear friend of mine asked me what my biggest disappointment was with my career. That thoughtful question motivated some real self-reflection. I realized that what bothered me most was that my work was not having lasting impact. While my books were widely read, many people were not following through on the concepts and using them consistently in their day-to-day work. Most managers seemed content to merely talk about leadership practices, rather than to actually implement them.

My friend said, “You’re trying to change people’s behavior only from the outside. Lasting change starts on the inside and moves out.”

I knew immediately he was right, because all I had been focusing on were leadership methods and behavior. I hadn’t focused much on what was inside people’s heads or hearts.

Armed with this new insight, I teamed up with Paul J. Meyer and Dick Ruhe to write Know Can Do, a book about how to close the learning-doing gap. Together we developed three simple ways to help people make the leap from knowing to doing.

#1 – Learn Less More (and Not More Less)

While it’s fine to spend energy learning new skills and knowledge, you also need strategies to retain and apply all the helpful information you take in. For example, perhaps you love reading books and attending seminars. There’s nothing wrong with that—unless you do those things so often that you don’t pause to integrate your new know-how and put it into action.

The fact is, we retain only a small fraction of what we read and hear only once. Instead of gobbling up new information, focus on a few key concepts and study them deeply. Then repeat what you’ve learned over time, which is called spaced repetition. This way, the new knowledge becomes firmly fixed in your mind and you become a master in those areas.

#2 – Listen with a Positive Mindset

There’s nothing wrong with thinking critically; in fact, it’s essential for survival. However, many if not most of us did not receive unconditional love and support when we were young. This gives us a tendency to doubt ourselves and others. Self-doubt causes us to filter all information—whether in book, audio, video, seminar, or conversation format—through our indecisive, closed-minded, judgmental, fear-ridden mindset, which leads to negative thinking.

Negative thinking causes us to learn and use only a fraction of what we see and hear. As a result, we achieve only a small percentage of what we could achieve. We accept too little too soon.

A positive, open mind ignites creativity, ingenuity, and resourcefulness. Instead of trying to find what’s wrong with new information, be a green light thinker who actively seeks out what’s right. Practice saying to yourself, “I know there is something of value in what I’m reading or hearing; what is it?”

#3 – Use a Follow-Up Plan

Doing what you’ve learned cannot be left to chance. To keep and apply the knowledge you’ve gained, you need a follow-up plan that provides structure, support, and accountability.

For example, suppose you’ve been out of shape most of your life, but thanks to your newfound positive thinking, you just finished a session with a personal trainer at the gym. You’re feeling proud of yourself—but you don’t have a follow-up plan. What do you think is going to happen in the coming weeks and months? Chances are good to great that you’ll revert to your old ways.

Follow-up plans can take many forms, but the best ones include someone who can tell you, show you, observe you, and praise your progress or redirect you as you practice the new skill. Don’t let your teacher skip the praise part of that sequence, because accentuating the positive motivates learners. Soon you’ll be able to praise and redirect yourself. Over time, you’ll become a master in that skill.

And what’s the best way to maintain that mastery? By teaching what you’ve learned.

So, put the knowledge you’ve just gained into action by reviewing this blog with a positive mindset, practicing these steps, and sharing them with others!

Blessings in the Rubble

Last week marked the ten-year anniversary of the massive fires in San Diego that took our family home. When Margie and I reflect on that time, we try to focus on the good things that came out of it. You might not think that makes sense. Of course, it was a tragedy—but there were many positives. One of our biggest blessings was realizing the difference between the value of people and the value of stuff.

Only a month before we lost our house, I received a copy of a new book called When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box written by my friend John Ortberg—a wonderful author and the senior pastor of Menlo Church in Menlo Park, California. I was so taken by one section of John’s book, I sent everyone in our company a voicemail about it. John wrote about how in life, some things are forever and some are temporary—and how easy it is for us to get the two mixed up. He suggested everyone do the following exercise.

All you need is a pen and two pads of sticky notes. Write TEMPORARY on each note on one pad and FOREVER on each note on the other pad. Then go around during your day and distribute them. Put a TEMPORARY note on your car, your house, your furniture, your checkbook, things in your closet, your TV, your cell phone, etc. Put a FOREVER note on people in your family, your friends, your boss, your coworkers, the stranger behind the counter—and don’t forget to put one on yourself. Because everything else is just temporary stuff. No one will remember what clothes you wore, your bank balance, or the kind of car you drove. When the game is over, all that’s left is love—who you love and who loves you. Everything else goes back in the box.

A week after the fire, we decided to have a memorial celebration for our house—so many people in our company had been there for get-togethers or holiday parties. And over the years a number of our salespeople and consulting partners and other friends and colleagues had come to stay with us, sometimes for days or weeks for various reasons. And even though there was nothing left of the house now, all of those memories remained—so about 100 people gathered and shared their memories with us. It was a wonderful, healing experience.

One of the blessings we hadn’t thought of—and one of the biggest laughs—came at the end of the memorial celebration. Our daughter, Debbie, said, “I’ve been having a lot of mixed feelings about the house burning down. Of course it’s very sad. But I remember not that long ago walking through the house and seeing all of mom and dad’s stuff in the garage and the closets—they never threw anything away. I had the thought that if something ever happened to them, it would probably end up being my job to clean the place out—to go through everything and figure out what to do with it. Now I won’t have to do that!” Everyone laughed but they had to admit that Debbie had a point.

Shortly after the fire, a wonderful friend of Margie’s and mine named Tom Crum told us about a sign in his home written by a Japanese poet. The message on the sign translates to “Now that my barn is burned to the ground I can see the moon.” It was yet another reminder—there’s always something to be thankful for.

Rekindle, Reinvigorate, and Recharge—It Works at Any Age

Ken BlanchardOn May 6, I turned 75 years old. In today’s society, most people would be retired at 75—or at least thinking about it.

But did you know that the very practice of retirement was designed for the industrial world? During that era, people were physically tired by the time they reached 65 and needed to rest.

Things are different now—we have more options. My goal in life is to be a loving teacher of simple truths. I’ve always searched for methods to improve the skills of leaders and to communicate those methods in a way that makes it easy for people to understand and practice. That doesn’t make me tired—it refuels me. So, I’m adopting a different approach. I’m focusing on an attitude of refirement instead of retirement.

I first heard this word from Zig Ziglar, the great American author and motivator. When he would run into friends who hadn’t seen him for a while, they would ask if he had retired. He always answered this question the same way.  “There’s no mention of retirement in the Bible. Except for Jesus, Mary and Joseph, David, and a few others, nobody under 80 made an impact. I’m not retiring, I’m refiring! I’m not gonna ease up, let up, shut up or give up until I’m taken up. As a matter of fact, I’m just getting warmed up!” Zig lived his life that way until his death in the fall of 2012.

Norman Vincent Peale was another of my mentors who helped shape this idea. When I first met Norman, he was eighty-six years old. What most amazed me about him was that he was excited about every single day. Why? He couldn’t wait to find out what he might learn. He often said, “When I stop learning, I might as well lie down because I will be dead.” He was learning right up until he passed away at age ninety-five.

Learning is more important today than it’s ever been. In the past, if people were loyal to their company and worked hard, their job was secure. Today, the skills you bring to the party constitute the only available form of job security. People who are continually learning and upgrading their skills increase their value—not only in their organization, but also in the overall job market.

So don’t count the days until you retire. Start refiring now and look for new ways to rekindle, reinvigorate, and recharge your relationship with others. I guarantee you’ll have plenty to celebrate each and every day.

Contentment, Happiness, and Living in the Moment

Business Man At Starting Line Road PathI was on the phone with my friend Phil Hodges the other day talking about contentment. Phil believes that contentment can only happen in the present, and I think he is right. Contentment doesn’t happen in the past by remembering the good old days.  Having nice memories is pleasant but doesn’t necessarily offer contentment in the present. Also, contentment is not in the future because we don’t know what that will bring.

Real contentment, enjoyment, satisfaction, and happiness happen when we are fully present and living in the now. If you have a positive feeling that you are exactly where you are supposed to be, doing what you are supposed to be doing, then you experience true happiness.

Spencer Johnson, my coauthor of The One Minute Manager, also discusses this in his brilliant parable The Precious Present. In this story, an older man’s wisdom launches a young boy on a lifelong search for the precious present. Eventually the young man discovers what the old man was trying to teach him all along: what you have and what you do in the present is a gift. Living in the past can be destructive or demotivating and can hinder your journey to happiness. Likewise, planning for the future is good but it is impossible to live there. And if you focus only on the future, you miss opportunities right in front of you.

Living in the present allows you to focus on the important and to cherish the moment. I encourage you to consider moments when you were at your best. I’ll bet you’ll recall that you were right there in the moment, fully committed and fully present. If you dwell on what was—the past—or what will be—the future—you’ll miss the power of contentment, happiness, and success in the present.