Train Your Brain (and Avoid Brain Drain)!

By on October 13th, 2019 in Uncategorized

As a learning practitioner, I often think about what I do in my life outside of work to learn new things and keep myself ready to apply what I have learned quickly and easily. A few techniques that really make a difference for me are recurrent, quick touchpoints and contextual reflection. I have a few great “Train the Brain” tips that really make a difference for me and allow me to be in “everlearn” mode in a way that doesn’t fry my grey matter.

I enjoy getting regular reinforcement of things (that matter to me) through mobile messaging platforms. It’s content, that I don’t have to work for, saved to my mobile device in case I can’t get to it immediately. It’s content I want or need regular connection with. Currently, I am opted into Shine and receive thoughtful messages and inspiration every day. Find what you are interested in and check out what messaging platforms are out there to inspire or change your current way of thinking or doing. Don’t be afraid, opt in and see what happens. Never fear, you can always type STOP to end the experience if you need to.

Another great tip is that I look for ways to quickly apply what I learn. Outright memorization will only get us so far when we’re learning. We need to be able to make connections to our own experience. My friends laugh at me – I refer to it very simply as “thinking about stuff,” to link what I have learned to what I already know and what it means to me going forward.

Here’s an example… When I prepare a new recipe, I think about how I might modify it based on my own preferences, experience and knowledge. I also think about what I might serve it with, which informs how I may modify the new recipe. I consider taste profiles like salt, fat, acid and sweet. This connects that recipe directly to my own experience. I also think about which wine would complement the full plate. Again, this connects what I am learning, a new recipe, to my broader knowledge and experience. As a direct result of “thinking about stuff,” I am far more likely to prepare a new recipe in a way that I will remember, enjoy and be able to reflect and share with others. If I simply followed the step-by-step instructions, I wouldn’t have made the meaningful connections along the way. This is what makes learning so powerful.

Are you ready to train your brain? Here are three simple things you can do to apply some of my methods to keep learning simple and fresh:

  1. Simplicity matters. The more complex we make it, the less likely you will be to use it long-term.
  2. Easy touchpoints work. Check out how cool messaging apps can drive you to think differently about what matters, not just give you more information about it. For every interest, there’s a messaging app that can ride as a sidecar and keep meaningful things quite present and available for you.
  3. Reflection and application count. Think about how to add a reflection element to the things you are learning about, making those connections to you – in your role in your life, helps retention and organic application

Ann Rollins

Looking for the Connections

I LOVE MY JOB! The process of untying difficult knots for my clients, and getting better with each repetition thrills me. I take the skills and knowledge learned with each rep on to the next challenge, becoming a quicker study, agile problem navigator, and solver. However, I wasn’t always this way.

How exactly did I get here?

My evolution from instructional design order-taker to bigger system thinker (about many things, not just instructional design) began on October 3, 2000. My charmed life was shattered in a moment while my family was on what should have been the vacation of a lifetime. On day 3, my father died of sudden cardiac death a mile offshore, while scuba diving with my mother in Barbados. He was only 55. He. Was. Healthy. Any sudden death is traumatic, but an emergency at sea in a third world country adds a dimension of horror that thankfully most will never experience. There is plenty more to the story, bad and good, but that is for another time.

I slept-walked through the months that followed, trying to make any sense of how and why it happened. When the fog finally lifted, I spent so much time rethinking the last months, looking for the connections, and I struggled because I couldn’t make sense of it all. I felt like I was in my own darker Groundhog Day film: wake, grieve, rinse, repeat. In that experience, my problem solving acumen evolved. I learned that looking across a situation and revisiting an experience over time, while it may not change what is, allows me to search for, plan and change what is next. You see, humans typically try to problem solve by focusing primarily on changing what is. Sometimes, you simply can’t change what is. Death taught me that lesson about non-negotiables. And her lesson helps me solve problems much more effectively today.

When we experience a singular event, our brains are hard-wired to make sense of it, to fix it. As new information comes in, and we are presented with new problems or challenges; our brains quickly make the associations, and then connections to create the jump needed to assess and respond in better, more effective ways with each pass. This is closely related to how I approach the business problems that our clients bring to us. Their challenges are real; they have problems that they cannot solve. These problems are costing them money and mindshare; they hurt. When they bring these problems to us, our job is to look at the problem, and revisit similar challenges that we have seen in the past. When we revisit situations that have some commonality (because they all do, frankly), we evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and what tools should be at the forefront of our options for solutions for them.

I’d like to think of my own experience with all of my clients as a network that gets bigger and bigger with time. Client industries, size, and tenure with GP Strategies all vary, but we shouldn’t use those imaginary “partitions” that separate one from the next to keep us from thinking across the wide span of solutions that we’ve provided to our clients. However, in order for my network to grow as fast as I want it to, I need to keep my head up, and constantly survey what is happening with my peers and counterparts on other projects. Like my network of clients and projects, I also have a network of peers that I have forged and nurtured during my five years at GP Strategies, and a network of folks outside who have traveled my career journey with me. I regularly reach out to get new thoughts on my ideas, brainstorm with people in different capacities, collaborate in different ways, and allow those experiences to pull me out of my comfortable ID space and into others. I want to know what they see, because with each additional “rep” we can make our work better, and solve client problems faster and in more innovative, creative ways.

I hope you enjoy the resources below, and look forward to connecting with you! Become part of my network on Twitter: @AnnibabyCan
Ann Rollins

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