My ultimate goal with the Engineering Career Coach website, podcast and other resources is to inspire as many engineers as possible to create extraordinary careers and lives. In order for engineers to create the careers and lives they desire, they will most likely need to learn new things. Based on many one-on-one coaching sessions, seminars (above photo is from IECD Austin Meetup in April), blog posts and podcast episodes that I have prepared and given this past year, I have learned a lot about how people learn.
Since I believe the key to improving yourself is learning, here are the top 5 things I learned about learning in 2014 in hopes you can utilize this information to create positive change for you and those around you in 2015.
- Learning Requires Focus – In order to learn new concepts you must focus on the material. I have learned that most people don’t focus. When I say focus, I mean put all of your thoughts and energy into one thing for a period of time, whether it is 10 minutes or 3 hours. To learn new things, you MUST block out periods of time (ideally 2 or 3 hours at a time) in order to learn and implement these new concepts. This is something I started doing recently thanks to a book I read called The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan (affiliate link). If you can focus for long periods of time on one thing, you can learn.
- Reading is Only One Step in the Process – I used to think that I could learn anything by simply reading a book on the topic. This is not true. I do believe you can learn to do just about anything, but reading about the topic is only one step in the process. For example, if you want to learn how to do structural design of timber bridges, you have to read about the topic and learn the equations, but then do actual design work and problem solving to really learn it. If you want to become a ballroom dancer, you can read about the origin and steps of the dance you want to master, but ultimately you have to practice the dance over and over. Many people do the reading and research, but then fail to take the next step.
- Learning is Action – Another misnomer about learning is that it is more related to brain activity instead of physical activity, however in reality it is a combination of both. So when you say to someone I am learning to speak Spanish, they immediately think you are studying in a classroom type setting. When in reality you are probably studying written documentation, but also doing pronunciation exercises and having conversations with people who speak Spanish. To learn something you need to take action and physically do the thing you want to learn, consistently and repeatedly. Don’t think of learning as simply soaking up information, think of it as taking action and doing things you never knew how to do before.
- Habit Creation is Key to Learning – I mentioned above that learning is taking action, however I have also learned that while it is virtually impossible to learn something without physically doing it consistently, it is also really hard to do something new consistently and make it a part of your regular schedule. This is called creating a new habit, and it is probably one of the hardest things to do. Luckily for me, years ago, I found Leo Babauta and his wonderful blog Zen Habits through which he focuses on helping people create new life changing habits. The biggest takeaway I have learned from following Babauta is that in order to create new habits successfully you shouldn’t focus on more than one habit at a time. While this sounds like it wouldn’t facilitate much change in your life, just imagine that you focused on building one new habit per month in 2015. You would create 12 powerful habits!
- Learning Can and Should be Fun – As with most things in life, if you are not enjoying them, then you probably won’t be good at them. The same goes with learning. You must enjoy what you are trying to learn or else the chances of you actually learning the material will decrease dramatically. That is why teachers often use games to teach kids letters and mathematics. You should apply the same idea when you try to learn new things.
Overall, I have had a great year, achieving my number one goal, which was to re-write my book Engineer Your Own Success that was published a few weeks ago. This required a ton of focus.
This year, I am going to focus on helping engineers make measurable change in their careers and lives. I don’t just want engineers to come to this website and read articles or listen to podcasts, I want them to learn new things and make lasting positive changes, and everything I do under The Engineering Career Coach umbrella will be focused on that.
To that end, I will be giving a free webinar on January 7th, 2015 entitled Engineer Your Goals: 3 Steps to Setting Clear Goals that Will Give You a Career and Life Plan. Reserve your seat here: www.EngineerYourGoals.com
I am here to help you make 2015 your best year as an engineer yet, as long as you are ready and willing to take action!
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE
The Engineering Career Coach
Author of Engineer Your Own Success