Learning is a meta-skill for thriving, growing, and doing better. When you don’t learn, you stay stuck and repeat the same mistakes. We often work harder and longer to get through our never-ending task list.

We might think we’re too busy to learn. Or that learning is a form of procrastination. But while learning might not be as urgent as performing tasks, producing output and meeting deadlines, it’s just as important.

Constantly performing is counterproductive, says Eduardo Briceño, a global keynote speaker who helps organizations develop cultures of learning and high performance. He notes that “chronic performance,” is “the constant attempt to get every task done as flawlessly as possible, and then some.” He says more hard work doesn’t lead to better performance due to the performance paradox. If we’re constantly performing tasks and getting things done, but not learning from our efforts, our skills plateau.

Whether you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset affects your capacity to learn. If you have a fixed mindset, you believe your intelligence or ability is predetermined. Your basic belief is I’m not good at this and I never will be. You tend to think that if you can’t do something now, your effort will make little or no difference. This leads you to avoid challenges, give up when you face setbacks, ignore feedback, and focus on looking smart.

If you have a growth mindset, you believe you can improve or acquire a skill with deliberate effort. Your basic belief is I’m not good at this yet. This allows you to embrace challenges, recover from setbacks, learn from feedback, and set stretch goals that move you out of your comfort zone, but don’t overstress or burn you out.

Psychologist Carol Dweck and author of the book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, says people with a growth mindset usually have more success. This is because they put more effort into learning skills and worry less about innate talent.

Welcome to The Incrementalist. My name is Dyan Williams and I’m your productivity coach who will help you make big changes in small steps.

When it comes to building knowledge and skills, it’s better to have a growth mindset than a fixed mindset. But knowing that you can improve or change is not enough. You also need to know how to improve or change, while getting things done.

Your performance is at its lowest when you’re purely performing or purely learning. You’re most likely to succeed when you have the ideal mix of both.

To break out of chronic performance, apply these 7 big ideas from Eduardo Briceño’s book, The Performance Paradox:

Big idea #1 is constant performance does not improve performance. Progress toward success is rarely a straight line. As we apply our skills and execute tasks, we also need to reflect and decide what to stop, start, continue, and do more or less of.

When we have limited time and a limitless number of tasks to do, we feel pressured to work harder and faster. But to get out of the performance paradox, you need to do less, slow down and ask yourself: Is this working? What am I learning? How can I do this differently to get the desired results?

Big idea #2 is to integrate learning into your work and life. The Learning Zone and Performance Zone are two states of mind for different purposes.

In the Learning Zone, the goal is to improve. You engage in activities for improvement, focus on what you don’t know, expect mistakes, and benefit from growth and future results.

In the Performance Zone, the goal is to perform. You engage in activities for performance, focus on what you have mastered, avoid mistakes, and benefit from immediate outcomes and short-term results.

If we stay only in the Learning Zone, we never get anything done. If we stay only in the Performance Zone, we don’t get any better. But by balancing the two mindsets, we improve our medium and long-term outcomes.

Big idea #3 is to combine the Learning Zone and the Performance Zone so you can learn while doing. This is different from learning by doing, which is repeating an experience without reflecting on it. While learning by doing can help you improve when you’re a novice, it doesn’t work once you become proficient.

To benefit from experiential learning, you try new things, observe and reflect, form a hypothesis on how things work, test the hypothesis, and repeat the cycle.

When you’re learning while doing, you solicit ideas, learn from mistakes, ask for feedback, reflect on the tasks you’re doing, and step into the learning zone. You don’t learn to perform a task well by doing it badly.

Big idea #4 is to use different learning strategies to improve performance. Here are 6 to try.

Learning strategy #1 is engage in deliberate practice, which is a term coined by the late Anders Ericsson, a psychologist and researcher on expert performance. He and his colleagues defined deliberate practice as “considerable, specific and sustainable efforts to do something you can’t do well – or even at all.”

Start by breaking down the abilities you need to acquire into subskills to build and develop. Pursue challenges, iterate, and adjust between each iteration. Work with a skilled teacher, mentor or coach to help you pinpoint your mistakes and level up your skillset.

Learning strategy #2 is learn big by experimenting small. Avoid overcommitting and scaling up too fast. Instead, test ideas and tweak things in small-scale experiments.

Learning strategy #3 is work smarter, not harder. Think about what’s working, what’s not and what to do differently. Observe and learn from others with expertise, such as by reading articles and books or taking a course

Learning strategy #4 is build habits that develop your “air sense,” which is the knowledge, expertise and experience that form your intuitions. Define your priorities and set learning goals that target areas to improve. Tap into high-quality sources of knowledge, like listening to informative podcasts, reading insightful newsletters, and collaborating with mentors and colleagues. Establish a brain trust by learning about your colleagues’ expertise and interests and sharing your own so they can ask you for your insights as well. You can also use your alone time to reflect on your own experiences that make up your intuitive knowledge.

Learning strategy #5 is don’t bulldoze, which means spending too much of your time to do one thing as much as possible. Deliberate practice requires high focus that you cannot sustain all day. So, engage in resting and doing creative hobbies that recharge you, rather than work too long on a hard project.

Learning strategy #6 is to ask why. Briceno says the cornerstones of change include three things: first is the growth mindset - believing we can learn; second is the Learning Zone – knowing how and when to learn; and third is the why – having a reason to learn. You’re more likely to put in the effort if you get a sense of purpose from the activity, you enjoy it, or you have strong support from a learning community.

Big idea #5 is to know the different types of mistakes and how and when to make, avoid, and respond to them.

To grow and evolve, you embrace mistakes, even though they are not all good. Briceno divides them into four types: Aha-Moment Mistakes, Stretch Mistakes, Sloppy Mistakes and High-Stakes Mistakes.

Aha-moment mistakes bring new insight. They occur when we do what we intended to do, but later realize this was a mistake because it was the wrong thing to do based on what we know now. An example is when we give advice to a friend when what we should have done is just listen to what she had to say.

Stretch mistakes help us grow when we do difficult things and take on new challenges to improve our current abilities. We want to make these mistakes when we’re performing tasks beyond our current knowledge and skills.

Sloppy mistakes can be harmless and even be a source of laughter. Or they can bring serious consequences, especially when they are repeated. They are made when you know how to do something, but you do it wrong because you’re distracted. An example is replying to all, when you meant to respond to just one person. If you make too many of these mistakes, it’s time to improve your focus, habits, processes and environment.

High-stakes mistakes are to be avoided in potentially dangerous or high-consequence situations. Surgeons aim to make zero mistakes when they perform surgery. Pilots do the same when they fly an airplane. Besides life-threatening situations, there are other high-stakes activities, such as competing in a championship game or making a sales presentation to an important client. It makes sense to view them as performances where you minimize mistakes. Like surgeons and pilots, you should use detailed checklists and clear processes in the Performance Zone and train hard in the Learning Zone.

Aha-moment and stretch mistakes provide the highest learning opportunity because you can learn from them with fewer side effects. They are both positive. Aha-moment mistakes are unplanned and mostly happen in the Performance Zone. Stretch mistakes are planned for especially in the Learning Zone.

Sloppy and high-stake mistakes also provide a learning opportunity, but are less ideal. They bring negative effects. They are not intended and usually occur in the Performance Zone. Reduce sloppy mistakes by being more careful in performing tasks. Avoid high-stakes mistakes by moving out of the
Learning Zone and focusing instead on what you do best.

Learn from your mistakes, good or bad, or whether you succeed or fail. Don’t use mistakes as excuses for quitting or as reasons for giving up.

Big idea #6 is to understand the realities of having a growth mindset and integrating the learning process.

Briceno explains 6 common misconceptions.

Misconception #1 is that a growth mindset means positive thinking and working hard, which magically leads to growth. But a growth mindset doesn’t mean that anything is possible or that hard work always pays off. It doesn’t mean that genes, natural talent and innate abilities don’t play a role. And it’s not enough to believe that you can change. You also need to take action and apply learning strategies to change.

Misconception #2 is that learning hinders performance. While learning can impair short-term performance, it’s essential for long-term improvement. Hold yourself accountable by tracking how your learning affects your performance, instead of assume that it automatically makes a difference. If your performance does not improve, examine why, adjust your approach and try a different strategy.

Misconception #3 is that all praise is good. It’s not helpful to get praise for effort if you’re not really improving performance, you don’t really believe you can change, or you’re doing things for approval instead of from deep interest.

Misconception #4 is that you either have a growth mindset or you don’t. Mindset depends on the context and can change from time to time. I can have a growth mindset when it comes to writing, and a fixed mindset when I’m doing advanced math. While you won’t necessarily become an expert, you can learn basic knowledge and skills in almost any area with the right learning strategy.

Misconception #5 is that a growth mindset is about responding to setbacks and mistakes. While it’s good to have a reactive growth mindset, it’s better to have a proactive growth mindset, where you’re actively taking on challenges to improve and evolve.

Misconception #6 is that we can encourage others to grow, but only they can take action to achieve results. Leaders, managers, parents, and teachers can design Learning Zone environments that foster a growth mindset.

By applying a growth mindset in the Learning Zone, you can develop abilities that move you forward.

Big idea #7 is to build a strong growth propeller by attending to five elements: identity, purpose, beliefs, habits and community.You can have one integrated identity with different responsibilities or multiple identities that involve your different roles in life. Ultimately, they should all encourage learning. Instead of finding your purpose, you develop it through experiences.

When it comes to beliefs, form positive ones about competence, agency and transparency. Believe you can learn, you can take actions to help create what you want, and you can share your thoughts and feelings with others. Create proactive, responsive, and stable habits that fuel constant evolution. Build a community that fosters trust, belonging and collaboration. Apply the five elements of the growth propeller to improve on any domain of your life.

For more on how to focus on the vital few to learn and get things done, check out my book The Incrementalist. You can find it on amazon and leanpub. The links are in the show notes.

I’m also making an online course that will help you gain clarity and reduce chaos, whether in the learning zone or performance zone. It’s currently titled The Busyness Trap: How to Escape Overload and Focus on What Matters. For updates on the course, subscribe to my enewsletter at dyanwilliams.com or The Incrementalist YouTube channel or podcast.

To dive deeper on the incrementalist approach to productive living, you may reach out to me for coaching or speaking events.

If you have feedback or topic ideas, drop them in the comments section of the YouTube channel or send me an email at dyan@dyanwilliams.com.

If you found value in this episode, hit the like and share buttons. And if you want to keep learning how to make big changes in small steps, be sure to subscribe. These things will help the show grow and reach you and others. Thank you being with me and join me again on The Incrementalist.

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