In the classic tale of the Tortoise and the Hare, the tortoise wins the race because he is steady and consistent. While the Hare, who sprints and is frantic in his quest to win, burns out, stops, and falls asleep to rest. Leading us to the well-known moral of the story, "This is a marathon not a sprint," or, phrased simply, "Slow and Steady wins the race." But in the age of endless Zoom meetings, how do you keep it slow and steady when science indicates we’re exhausted from spending all day on virtual calls? A recent Stanford University survey tells us in fact, we are more fatigued than ever before.
In the age of virtual meetings, we’re all operating at the speed of the Hare - our brains are not running slow nor steady. So how do we find time to inject the curiosity, growth and learning we all crave to keep moving forward on our path?
At Decker, we’ve worked with thousands of executives from all types of industries, both in-person and virtually. I've seen hares, tortoises, and sometimes a mixture of both. There are some clear patterns that show up regarding what separates those that find the time to learn that new skill they desire, and those who don’t start or give up quickly.
Here are three ways to keep a solid pace, and finish your learning journey with energy to spare:
1. Break Down the First Step Until It's Laughably Easy
Many times when we’re excited about learning a new skill, we commit to the lofty goal of learning the big skill all at once. Then, as we can’t keep up the grand momentum we promised ourselves, we start to tire and fade in our commitment, leading us to feel terrible about ourselves for doing so. Instead, take on the idea of starting small and compounding.
As Darren Hardy discusses in one of my favorite skill-building books, The Compound Effect, it’s about starting small...so small you think it's easy to start. And then let the habit and momentum build.
Consider the all too familiar workout resolution - you want to get back in shape, so you decide to go to the gym every day of the week. Come weeks 2 and 3, you’re exhausted - you’ve become the hare, and you fall asleep. What works best is pacing ourselves - easing slowly into a new routine so that within a few months, the habit kicks in without all the mental anguish of a big task bogging you down
"Exercising" your brain requires the same intentionality. If you come home from work feeling Zoom-fatigued, commit to just 10 minutes of practice. At the end, whether you’re inspired to go for 20, or decide to call it a day, you’ll still feel accomplished. Repeating this process, you’ll have strong momentum behind you. As the saying goes, "Inch by inch it’s a cinch. Yard by Yard, it’s hard"
2. Stop Using Motivation, Use Existing Habits and Behavior
Why do you brush your teeth at night? Is it because you are super motivated to do it? Or is it because you are triggered by a habit? Science and human behavior tell 70% of what we do is habitual. In his book Tiny Habits author and Stanford Professor, BJ Fogg, tells us behavior is much more reliable than motivation. Behavior connects our present abilities with our future possibilities. So, why do you brush your teeth? Because this behavior is triggered by walking into the bathroom at night.
How does this relate to learning a new skill? Studies find that of all people who start a self-directed course to learn a new skill, 90% don’t finish. Why? Because they overestimate their motivation to do it. Instead, create a trigger from your already existing, everyday behavior. When beginning a new course, make starting your computer every day be your trigger to hop on and learn for 10 minutes. Or, make it a post-dinner habit to go learn, read, or study. Now you are using behavior instead of motivation.
3. Bring a Partner or Team Along for the Ride
Maybe the hare would have actually won his race if he had a great partner or team reminding him to stay humble, not overdo it, and keep the pace. I can’t give you a book or a scholarly article for this tip, all I know is that in years of working with executives on their development, those who learn together with a colleague, coach, or team, have a much higher success rate of learning a skill faster, with more impact. By nature, we are beings who long for community, we enjoy peaks and learn in the valleys much more when we are riding through them with others by our side. We are slower when we do it alone. We all can help each other be better- it’s the human condition.
Next time you decide it's time for growth and learn a new skill that builds toward your ambition, remember these three principles to stay steady in your efforts. It makes me think, in this day and age, the Hare would never actually stop to take a break, he would be running all the way home because he remembered he had a zoom meeting to attend.
At Decker, we know these principles are key to growth. That's why we created a proven course on communication skills; Decker Digital: Communicate to Influence. You can take it at your own pace, in only 10-20 minutes per day (or week). We’ll help you use simple behavior to stay consistent. Our course has one of the highest completion rates in the business and we guide you through taking it with your team for the best learnings and success. And we’ll be with you every step of the way, as it should be.