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The Learning Mindset (1)

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

Forget about results

August 21st, 2022

Michael Landau

The greatest part of our days, we are busy using our abilities and skills to achieve specific goals. We wash the dishes because we need them cleaned. We shower and brush our teeth to maintain our personal hygiene. We usually behave in predictable ways to sustain our important relationships. We do our job, whatever it is, using a set of skills that we became experts with. We must perform well and get the expected results.

Most of our conversations are executive: we talk in order to come to some agreement or conclusion, fix a date, decide who does what; we collaborate, cooperate and negotiate because we need specific things to happen. Or we have a conversation just to be nice, show interest and keep a relationship alive and healthy. In that, too, we mainly do what we’ve done before many times, what we already know how to do.

In short, we need certain outcomes and we use the skills that would make them happen.

We have millions of such skills, and we use them constantly. We weren’t born with any of them. We have learnt them all at some point of our lives. Mental skills like reading, calculating, talking, thinking logically; motor skills like standing, walking, grabbing, driving, typing; social skills like expressing ideas and emotions, waiting our turn, holding back anger etc., etc.

During the first years of our life we are potent learning machines. We absorb like sponges and create enormous amounts of neuronal connections. We constantly face new situations and must find ways to deal with them. We are fascinated by these new things, and if allowed, we enjoy trying new things. Most of the things we try don’t work. It doesn’t matter. We are fascinated anyway. And we keep trying new stuff. When we find what works, we avidly absorb the information for future use.

There is one important element that is often overlooked, which allows us to be such efficient learners: we are not expected to perform very much. Our time and energy are invested in new things. We can play with new skills without expecting immediate results. This process works at its best if the adults around us let us experiment and don’t hurry to correct us and show us the “right” way to do things.

This element constitutes our first component for creating a learning space: Lower the stakes.

When you need specific results, you don’t try to learn new skills; you use the skills you have. A learning situation, on the other hand, allows you to play with different options, try things that might, or might not, work, and make mistakes. The stakes are low, mistakes are welcome and you don’t pay a price for them. Results are secondary.

Curiously, this essential component is missing in many supposed learning spaces: children in school are expected to perform, answer correctly and get good grades. My memories from the early school years, at least, are of one type only: a teacher standing in front, telling us what we needed to know. They had the answers, we didn’t, so we just had to listen and remember. Curiosity, experimentation, playing and trying, or even just moving, were totally missing, or strongly discouraged.

Many movement classes, be it martial arts, yoga or workouts of all sorts, are designed for results. You’re encouraged to perform well and fast, and don’t get enough time to play around and get familiar with new material. Usually, you’re expected to imitate the teacher, who already knows how to do it well. More often than not, these situations don’t create an environment that favours learning.

We grow up in a society that values success and is intolerant to mistakes. We become afraid to fail, self-demanding and judgemental, and, at a very early age, we are driven to forget how to learn.

Feldenkrais was a genius in creating a learning space. He observed children in movement and managed to create optimal learning conditions for adults, based on his observations. One fundamental premise is a constant throughout the Feldenkrais Method®: You completely forget about results. You are not expected to accomplish anything; you don’t expect to do things well; there are no external goals. You just explore. You move and observe yourself. That’s all.

It is amazing how revolutionary it sounds. Children do this all the time. This is, precisely, how they learn. This is how learning works. This is what learning means: you don’t have the answers. You play with the unfamiliar, with the not yet known.

This is a mindset where new things may arise. You welcome them, you marvel at them, you take what you need and let go of the rest. This is fun! Learning can and should be fun.

When was the last time you played without expecting results, fascinated by the vast space of unexplored possibilities, like a child? For too many of us, it’s been years.

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Want to read some more on the subject of learning, and much more? An extensive interview I gave to Authority Magazine has just been published:


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