Don't Die Dumb! 7 Tips for Improving Your Learning

Why do we make mistakes?  We are human--that’s how we learn.  Hopefully we learn not to make the same mistake again, but do we?  Many times there are situations when we don’t know what we are doing because we can’t see clearly or understand how to fix the situation. 

In college as a prank, a few friends and I painted the windows black of a girls’ apartment late one night.  Evidently none of the girls had set their alarms because they all slept in until 4:30 p.m. the next afternoon.  Because they were all in the dark, they didn’t know they were in the dark.  It’s similar with us.  Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know because we don’t know it. 

On the other hand, we often have a lack of awareness of the obvious.  A few years ago on July 3rd prior to our Independence Day celebration, the neighbors in our cul-de-sac invited a large group of friends over for a barbeque and fireworks.  The fireworks sent sparks high into the air and the breeze carried them beyond the cul-de-sac into the dry grassy hill behind our homes.  In a matter of seconds, the hilltop was ablaze and threatening a nearby home.  Quick action by the neighbors, three fire trucks, and several firemen kept the fire from spreading to the adjacent home.

Amazingly, on the following night, the same family lit more fireworks.  As our house is right across the cul-de-sac, we turned on our sprinklers and my wife sat on my chest for the remainder of the evening to keep me from crossing the street to hold what would have been a difficult conversation.  We were mystified that they would so quickly repeat behavior that caused such negative consequences.  We mistakenly thought they had learned a lesson.

To improve our results, we must improve our learning.  Follow this pattern to improve the quality of your learning:

Observe – Take note of the outcome of your behavior. This is usually one of the most difficult things to do, objectively examine how our behavior creates our results. But this is critical. We must overcome the security that our thinking is correct and truly look to learn.

Identify – Select one thing you can do to change your results. Once you have identified something that is worth changing, select a different approach and implement it, and then assess your results.

Act quickly – By acting promptly, you increase how quickly you learn.  The trick is not to make the same mistake twice.  Sometimes people hesitate or don’t go all in. When that happens, it is difficult to assess whether your half-hearted attempt at trying something new is the reason that you did not achieve the desired results.

Find the gap – This isn’t easy, but if we are engaging in the same behavior and getting the same results, it’s a good indication that something is missing. Be sure to explore all facets of your behavior in an attempt to identify what is working and what is not.

Be humble – We often resist anything that is outside of what we think we know.  Humility increases flexibility and openness so that we can observe, learn, adapt, apply, and assess the subsequent results.

Be deliberate – Learning is enhanced when we make a conscious attempt to do just that. Being deliberate requires a focused effort to execute and assess in a timely manner.

Learn from those who know –Asking questions and gathering information from those who have gone before you saves time and effort.  Having an outside perspective can help us make needed changes. Don’t hesitate to ask for help and assistance from those who have more experience than you do.

Stupidity is defined as the inability to learn.  It’s easy to become so absorbed in what we are doing or what we think we want that we switch the learning button off.  Improving our endeavors to achieve better results requires conscious, intentional effort. These small changes will help us see beyond our current field of vision, avoid making the same mistakes again, and improve your results.

If you would like to improve your emotional intelligence, visit and check out our online course, entitled "REAL EQ: Managing Emotions to Improve Results."