How to Learn: 3 Keys and 3 Biggest Blocks to Get Really Good at Learning

By: Jim Murphy

Special note: At the end of this email, there are two special bonuses:
1. How to be an ally in the fight against racism (short ideas/tips)
2. An opportunity to be an early reader for future books and articles 

Summary: Three things to help you get really good at learning:

  1. Ask good questions (gain child-like curiosity).
  2. Develop non-judgmental awareness (see beauty first, before the ugly).
  3. Master your ego (and the constant desire for acceptance).

Three biggest blocks to learning:

  1. Critic (judging everything)
  2. Monkey Mind (over-analysis and clutter)
  3. Trickster (the negative voice of self-rejection)

To learn requires a sense of humility. We must admit that there are people out there who know our field much more deeply than we do. Their superiority is not a function of natural talent or privilege, but rather of time and experience. – Robert Greene, Mastery 

 If you could have a $10 million ocean-front home and all the typical concerns and anxieties of a person with that life, or live paycheck-to-paycheck, but be filled with deep contentment, joy and confidence the rest of your life, which would you choose? 

This is the question I asked myself in the summer of 2018 on the top deck of the Bainbridge Island ferry leaving Seattle. I was looking at a beautiful house on the water, wondering if I had to choose one or the other, which would I choose? If I chose the house, but nobody else could ever see it, no one would ever know I had it, and I could never sell it and take the money, would I still want it? 

The answer to this question tells you where your heart is. Where your treasure is, your heart will be also. This is crucial because your heart is the source of all your decisions and actions. When you’re squeezed, what’s in your heart will come out. 

To learn what to learn is just as or more important as how to learn. A life spent chasing temporary, unstable things will be a life of instability. 

Inner Excellence is the pursuit of extraordinary performance and living the best possible life, one filled with deep contentment, joy and confidence, independent of circumstances. Extraordinary performance without love, wisdom, and courage, for example—is it worth pursuing? What if you could have both?

In performance and in life, the Inner Excellence goal is the same every day: get a little bit better. Learn and grow. So how do we learn so we can grow? 

One of the biggest keys to enhance learning is to develop non-judgmental awareness (NJA). NJA is the ability to see beauty first, to come to the solitary moments in your life with curiosity, to imagine possibilities, rather than deliver a negative verdict on the circumstance, yourself, or someone else. Most of us have spent most of our lives judging everything and everyone we come across, so much so, that it happens without our conscious awareness. Its become like breathing. We’ve done it so often and so naturally, we don’t even notice it.  

To see beauty first, we must surrender our attachments. We are only free to dream big dreams, to imagine the impossible, when we don’t have pressing fears and needs we’re attached to.

Finally, the third important key to learning is to master your ego. The part of our minds that is always comparing and always wanting more (success, acceptance, money, awards, etc.) is the ego. It’s endlessly pursuing shiny but empty concepts and imaginations (if I have this or get that, I can relax because I’ll be successful and loved). 

When we master the ego, or more accurately, when we pursue ego-mastery (since it is a daily challenge), we can let go of looking good and all the self-conscious, self-preserving limits we place on ourselves. We can take the risks necessary to improve. We seek out better competition and bigger challenges because we’ve learned that failure is necessary for growth. We get comfortable being uncomfortable.  

Without the fear of failure, or loss of acceptance, we’re free to dream great dreams. We can ask great questions. We can learn and grow. 

I’d love to hear what has helped you the most when it comes to learning (and teaching so that others can learn optimally). 

Love Jim  

Bonus section 1 – How to be an ally in the fight against racism 

Some Q and A: 

Why what your Black friend who said X, Y, and Z may not be relevant 

I’m 1/2 Japanese. Does that make me an expert on Japanese history? Hardly. If I was full Japanese, what about then? Not a bit. Your Black friend may know as much about American history and systemic white racism as my Chinese friend Deanna knows about rabbits (she’s taken over care of my rabbit Charlie after my house flooded). He or she will of course have their own experiences but that’s all we can be sure of.  

Why being color blind is not helpful 

Often times us white folks (meaning people treated as white) say “I don’t see color.” This is meant to be a positive assertion that “I’m not racist and I embrace all people.” Instead, however, it says, “I am unaware of the history of systemic racism in the United States. It hasn’t been a problem for me, so I don’t see a problem. For example, I don’t recognize how slavery/lynchings/Jim Crow laws/redlining has created disadvantages that continue today. I have never had to warn my kids about getting pulled over by a police officer and so I don’t see why people make an issue of color.”  

Bonus section 2 – Be an early reader 

If you’re interested in being an early reader of Inner Excellence books, articles and podcast ideas, reply to this email and I will send you the info (an early reader provides feedback on writing before it’s published). Thanks so much for helping me learn and grow!

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