The Art of Learning Informally

Tai Lung: *gasps* The Wuxi finger hold!
Po: Oh, you know this hold.
Tai Lung: You’re bluffing. You’re bluffing! Shifu didn’t teach you that!
Po: Nope. I figured it out. Skidoosh.

The Wuxi finger hold

Most of us go through life feeling the need for someone to teach us, guide us and show us the way forward. And the need for that is undeniable. Especially for any niche skill. And we feel stagnant when we don’t find the right way to learn or the right teacher.

But I feel that once we have the basic knowledge, there are many things that can be learned through observation; that can be learned by just figuring it out.

This is especially true for soft skills when one is grappling with things like interpersonal skills, responding to emergencies or sensitive matters, or communication that requires more practice than a formal training.

So, while not giving up on finding your Oogway, I have found three informal ways of learning that are very helpful-

Observing others

Observing Others Kung Fu Panda

There is a wealth of learning all around us and we can be so much more, simply by observing others around us. Be it seeing how your manager behaves in a tricky situation, or seeing them give an opening introduction in pre-sales, or watching your mom handle conflicting personalities and opinions, or seeing your friends with their spouses. You can learn from them about behavior, attitude and ‘what kind of response’ is suitable in situations that you have either not experienced or don’t know well enough.

All of us know some people of whom we admire certain qualities. They don’t necessarily have to be role models- we can just admire some of their qualities which we value. Observing them in action, seeing what they do in particular situations helps us learn far more effectively.

Putting yourself in the shoes of protagonists or character in books/movies

Putting yourself into another person's shoes

Don’t think I am nuts when I say this, but right from childhood, I would play a game with myself of ‘What would I do, if that had been me’.

Meaning, that whenever I read some book or watched a movie that reflected conflicts and choices one could potentially have to deal with in life (duty over relationships? easy way or hard way? to do or not to do? stay or leave?), I would ask myself and introspect on what I would have done in their situation.

Putting yourself in the shoes of your favorite character gives you a chance to ask questions without being limited by your reality. It helps you to get to know yourself better. But the best one is that it gives you a chance to ‘practice’ situations that have not yet happened in real life.

Sounds familiar? It’s popularly known as Roleplay when done to an external audience in a workshop. Or internal dialogue when you do it mentally.

Learn from Nature

Kung Fu Panda Practicing in nature

This may sound somewhat philosophical and whimsical, but Nature is a treasure house for learning. The lessons are immense and innumerable.

One of the most helpful lessons from nature is to understand the paradoxes of life. Many of us get tired or disillusioned by the conflicting schools of thought. It leaves us stranded and stuck.

Tired of racing, soaring high all the time? Look at the Eagles, they too come down at night after a long day of the flight. Feeling like a square in a round hole? See how water flows and takes the shape of that which holds it. Struggling to see ‘your’ impact on a big team? Observe the ants working together day and night knowing that the fall of one is the fall of all.

Whatever your question, if you take it to Nature and observe what’s happening around you mindfully, something will catch your attention – and that will be your lesson.

I hope you will take some of this and put into practice and make the best use of Life’s ‘free offers’!!

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