Two learning myths that stifle careers

(1) Your intelligence is fixed

The most common learning lie is also the most harmful.

So many of us believe, deep down, that intelligence is fixed. Even if we don’t admit it, it comes out.

We are obsessed with born genuises. We praise our kids by saying, ‘Wow, you’re so smart!’ And we all carry around an internal evaluation of our own intelligence.

These are the hallmarks of a ‘fixed mindset’; the belief that we cannot improve our intelligence.

But this mindset is a handbrake on learning. The unfortunate truth is that if you think that your intelligence is fixed, it probably is.

Research shows that people with a fixed mindset give up more easily, try to look smart all the time, and end up becoming the biggest obstacle to their own learning and development.

But if you believe you can improve your intelligence over time, then you are likely to succeed.

Just ask Jim Kwik, the world-renowned Brain Coach who overcame a serious brain trauma to become an expert in learning. Jim reads (and remembers) a book a week, and regularly performs great feats of memory on stage, such as learning and then recalling the names of over 100 audience members.

“There is no such thing as a good memory or a bad memory. There is only a trained memory.”

(2) You can do two things at once

Multitasking is a lie. And it’s the second big myth that stifles our learning.

It has never been easier to convince ourselves we are productive whilst doing nothing at all. Maybe we’re listening to a lecture while scrolling through instagram. Or replying to emails during a professional education seminar.

The reality is, doing two things at once is an illusion. We’re actually doing almost nothing at all.

Productivity psychologist Dr. Melissa Gratias says that multi-tasking is actually better described as task switching. The brain cannot actually focus on two things at once, so it switches quickly between stimuli.

But this switching has a repercussion, which scientists call ‘switching costs.’ It takes time for your brain to become fully engaged in what you’re doing, so each time you switch, you are losing concentration on the task at hand.

One study found that it takes 64 seconds, on average, to resume a previous task after checking email.

Imagine it takes you one minute to check your email, and you check every five minutes. That means you are losing at least 2+ minutes of focus every five minutes. You have less than three productive minutes to pay attention to whatever you intended to learn. In a 60 minute lecture or seminar, you lose at least 24 minutes of focus — assuming you only check your email for one minute at a time!

If you really want to learn something, you should give up multitasking and instead pick just one thing to focus on, says best-selling productivity author James Clear:

I haven’t mastered the art of focus and concentration yet, but I’m working on it. One of the major improvements I’ve made recently is to assign one (and only one) priority to each work day. Although I plan to complete other tasks during the day, my priority task is the one non-negotiable thing that must get done.

Imagine what you might achieve if you set the intention to learn one thing every day. What could you learn about a client, an industry, a new area of law or policy?

Narrow focus is a critical ingredient in the recipe for success. But to get there, you must first give up the belief that we can multitask.

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Sam Duncan

Sam Duncan

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