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Published on August 15, 2018

How Observational Learning Can Have a Huge Impact on Productivity

How Observational Learning Can Have a Huge Impact on Productivity

Someone walks over, introduces themselves and raises their hand out in front of you. How do you know what you’re supposed to do next?

If this were the first time you saw this behavior, you wouldn’t have a clue.

If you were from an Eastern culture, you might go to bow toward this person. But you know what to do because since childhood, you’ve observed many adults shaking hands.

Observational learning is a learning theory in psychology that describes how we learn by watching and imitating others.

In this article, we will look into what observational learning really is and how it helps you learn and grow.

Observational learning in a nutshell

Children learn many of their behaviors and expressions through observation. We pick up things as fundamental as walking, playing, gestures, facial expressions, and body postures via observational learning.

In the 1970s, psychologist Albert Bandura outlined a four-stage process of how observational learning occurs:

  1. Attention: Notice something in the environment.
  2. Retention: Recall what was noticed (memory).
  3. Reproduction: Copy or mimic what you noticed.
  4. Motivation: Get reinforcement from the environment for completing the behavior (or punishment for not).

Pretty simple, right?

Neuroscience provides further evidence. Mirror neurons fire when one animal acts and another animal observes as if the neurons in one brain are mirroring the patterns of another brain.

The result?

You make a funny face at a baby. And the baby makes the same funny right back at you.

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What influences observational learning?

Observational learning doesn’t always occur, so it’s essential to understanding the conditions in place when it does.

So when are we more like to imitate others? It happens when:

  • You doubt yourself and your abilities.
  • You are confused or in an unfamiliar environment.
  • You’re in a position of authority, like a boss, leader, or celebrity.
  • Someone is similar to you in some way: interest, age, or social class.
  • You see someone getting rewards for their behavior.

For example, let’s say four people go out to an upscale restaurant. One person frequents this type of restaurant while it’s the first time for the other three individuals.

The person who is comfortable in this environment knows what to do: when and where to place the napkin, how the place setting works, and how to communicate with the wait staff. Because he knows what to do, in this situation, he’s the authority.

The rest of his company are in an unfamiliar environment. And when we don’t know how to behave, we tend to look around and observe the behavior of others.

Somehow, we know who to observe by picking up subtle cues. So without having to think about it, the rest of the party subconsciously looks around and begin to discern who the “expert” is and what he’s doing. And this sort of process frequently happens throughout our development and the rest of our lives.

How to use observational learning to perform at your best

Observational learning usually occurs subconsciously in social situations. That is, our basic need to belong, or “fit in,” drives us to adapt our behavior to the actions of others.

But the real power of observational learning comes from making this process active and conscious.

What does this mean?

Once you understand how observational learning works, you can choose to apply it in ways that support your personal and professional development.

Modeling

Modeling

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is another term for observational learning. Let’s say you want to become an expert presenter. No problem. Find a few presenters that you believe are highly skilled and watch what they do.

Pay attention to everything:

  • How do they hold themselves?
  • When do they pause?
  • How do they emphasize specific points?
  • Do they use slides? Imagery? Sounds?
  • What gestures do they make as they communicate?

Modeling the success of others is perhaps the fastest way to elevate your game and make rapid progress in your development.

Shadowing

In the workplace, observational learning is often called shadowing.

By shadowing an experienced employee for a period, you’ll naturally learn how to perform the tasks this person does each day. This process works effectively in sales environments too.

Apprenticeship

If you study the masters of any field, you quickly learn that they had great teachers or masters from whom they learned.

In Mastery, author Robert Greene points out that those who reach the level of mastery in any field submit to a rigorous apprenticeship to absorb the secret knowledge of those with many years of experience.

Similarly, in The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle highlights that anyone who cultivates talent has a master coach who knows how to break things down and teach things in a way that accelerates learning.

So if there’s any area of your life that you’re seeking mastery in, with who can you form an apprenticeship?

How observational learning can hijack your behavior

Our brains, in many ways, are like sponges. We absorb what we observe.

While this observational learning can be a powerful tool for our personal growth and development, it can also be a destructive force.

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How?

Consider all of the bad behavior we witnessed when we were kids (and still today):

  • Poor attitudes
  • Nastiness and rudeness
  • Passive-aggressive behavior
  • Neurotic tendencies
  • Addiction
  • Dishonesty
  • Deceit and lying
  • Judgementalism
  • Greed
  • Procrastination
  • Tryanny
  • Negative self-talk

The list goes on. And yes, we observed and absorbed these behavioral patterns too from our parents, teachers, family members, and friends.

We also adopt behavior we observe on television and in the media. Studies show, for example, that teens who watched a lot of sexual content were more likely to start having sex soon after.[1]

Does this mean that watching violent movies will make you act violently? Not necessarily, but these images are imprinted in our unconscious and often later express themselves under the right conditions.

Here’s the bottom line:

Be very conscious of the media you consume and with who you spend your time. Our minds are like computer hardware and what we observe is like the software. So choose positive and life-supporting software if you want your brain to mimic it!

5 tips on how to use observational learning to your advantage

Here are five tips to make observational learning work for you:

1. Be highly selective on what, who and when you observe

Remember, observational learning is taking place whether we want it to or not. To harness this powerful force, consciously select who you are observing and in what context.

For example, if you know someone who’s highly productive in their work, ask to shadow them as they work.

But this individual may be an entirely different person when they aren’t working. So be mindful of what behavioral patterns you’re absorbing.

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2. Pay attention to the details

Those who achieve mastery in any area of their lives do so by mastering the fundamentals and then continually improving on more subtle levels. To the inexperienced eye, it’s often difficult to notice what they do differently.

In the case of negotiations, for example, a skilled negotiator knows how and when to disarm the other player. Sometimes these skills express themselves instinctively, so you may pick up on details in behavior the individual doesn’t even know they are doing.

3. Maintain a playful attitude

Many of us are conditioned to believe that seriousness is a valuable quality for learning. Psychologist Abraham Maslow, however, found that self-actualizing individuals,[2] or individuals with positive mental health, tend to have a more innocent, playful attitude when they are learning and developing.

Research also shows that we learn up to ten times faster in the areas that interesting to us.[3] So stay curious, open, and ready to learn.

4. Rehearse What You Observe in Your Mind

Studies show that rehearsing specific patterns of movement in our mind’s eye can help our brains encode desired actions and behaviors.[4] Many peak-performance athletes and musicians use this form of creative visualization training.

Visualization practices are extraordinarily powerful when you do it right before bedtime so your subconscious mind can process in the images while you sleep.

5. Don’t just observe, do

To make observational learning stick, you must also do whatever it is you’re observing . Many companies combine shadowing experienced employees with hands-on training to accelerate the learning and development of new employees.

Put observational learning to work for you

In the personal development space, observational learning is often called modeling the success of others .

Perhaps as you’re reading this, you’re already getting ideas of who you can start modeling.

Here are three questions to help you get started right now:

  1. What skills and behaviors to you want to learn?
  2. Who already possesses these skills and behaviors?
  3. How can you start modeling these individuals right away?

Now, make it so!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Scott Jeffrey

Business Coach, Writer, and Mind Voyager

How to Get Motivated When Depressed and Frustrated How Observational Learning Can Have a Huge Impact on Productivity What are MBTI Types and How Can They Affect Your Career Choices?

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Last Updated on January 2, 2019

Better Alternatives to New Year’s Resolutions to Reduce Your Stress

Better Alternatives to New Year’s Resolutions to Reduce Your Stress

The end of the year is the time when everyone tries to give you advice on how to live healthier, look better, and earn more money.

It’s understandable if you find yourself lost among all the tips and opinions. Sometimes you no longer know what you truly want to achieve next year – and what’s just imposed by society.

To help you out, we’ve made this article about the things you should remove from your new year’s resolution list – instead of adding to it – to make your daily life more harmonious and peaceful.

So just make sure you cross these off your New Year’s to-do list – your body, mind and soul will be thankful.

1. Stop Buying Meaningless Gifts

We all know the sense of obligation – when we have to buy a gift for an event or celebration that’s already tomorrow, but we still have no idea of what to give.

Take these tips close to heart for all upcoming holidays, including birthdays, weddings, graduations, etc.:

Stop focusing on the material objects

Instead of focusing on what material object to give, think about the emotion you want to evoke[1] in the gift recipient, and then pick a symbolic gift that can support or represent that emotion. For example, you can gift coziness by presenting a “comfort set” with warm socks, tea, candles, etc. Or give motivation by presenting a beautiful planner or notebook.

Plan gifts in advance

We know this is easier said than done. But if you try to plan which gifts you’ll need in the upcoming months (try making a list three or four times a year), ideas will more likely come to mind and you’ll avoid that last-minute shopping. Not to mention, you’ll be able to keep an eye on sales to get the best prices.

Suggest a better way

If you’re tired of exchanging gifts for birthdays and holidays, initiate a different approach. For example, draw names among family members and agree that each one only buys a present to that one person they got. Alternatively, you can agree not to share gifts among adults, and only give presents to kids of the family. Or, ask friends to donate to charity instead of buying a gift for you.

Go for common experiences instead of exchanging gifts

You can agree (with your partner or the extended family) to go on a common trip, dinner or another activity, instead of spending money on gifts.

Sometimes you’ll have to be the one who initiates breaking the rules that have been accepted in the family for years. But if you suspect that you’re not the only one in the group who’s tired of gift-hunting, you’ll surely find support for your suggestions.

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2. Don’t Exaggerate with Diets and Fitness Resolutions

It’s no secret that TV shows, article headlines, and ads (not to mention our healthy diet-obsessed friends) make us feel like we need to look better, slimmer and younger than we actually are. But going on yet another diet or starting a fitness plan with the wrong motivation rarely leads to great results.

If you are like many people, you have probably signed up for an annual gym membership at least once in your life – only to drop it one month later.

How do you balance a good resolution for a healthier life without pushing yourself into commitments that won’t last?

Here’s what you can do:

Set a healthier pattern

For example, do meat-free Mondays or reduce meat consumption to three days per week (less saturated fat for you and better for the environment). Or choose to eat only healthy food at least three days a week or only on weekdays (e.g. make sure your meals contain vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy products, and protein). This way you’ll already have a healthier diet while still being able to treat yourself with a snack on weekends or parties.

Get a fitness watch

Fitness watches like Fitbit or MiBand are tiny accessories that will count your steps, calories burnt and will serve as an excellent motivator to move – or to take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Find a physical activity that you enjoy

Even if you are not that fond of doing sports, you can definitely find an activity that you’d do with pleasure. Think about what you’d like – from taking up Nordic walking to pilates or even exercising at home.

Try intermittent fasting

This is an alternating cycles of fasting and eating. For example, stop eating at 8 pm and restart not sooner than 12 hours later. This approach has been proven to have numerous health benefits, in addition to weight loss.

Skip cabs or driving to work and opt for cycling or walking instead

You’ll burn calories, breathe some fresh air, and save money – win-win!

3. Put a Cap on Your Daily To-Do List

In today’s busy world, planning your day in a stress-free way is actually an art in itself. It’s natural to want to be a loving parent, a diligent employee, an active member of the local community and probably several other individual roles.

But playing all these roles requires energy and meticulous planning. How not to lose yourself amidst all the appointments and responsibilities? And – most importantly – how to still find time for relaxing and recharging yourself?

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These daily planning tips will help you have more stress-free days:

Leave bigger intervals between meetings

If you schedule too many appointments or chores in a day, you’ll probably end up late at some point, and as a result – more stressed. There are many different reasons why people are late, but poor planning is a major factor too.

Plan time to relax

As weird as it may sound, you should try and schedule your resting time. For example, if you only have one free evening this week, and a friend tries to squeeze in a meeting, feel free to say no. Don’t feel obliged to specify the reason for your refusal, just say that you are busy.

Try to be a little pessimistic

We’re often packed with plans or running late for errands because we tend to be overly optimistic – about the traffic, the time it takes to do things, etc. Instead, try an opposite tactic — assume you’ll hit traffic or the meeting will take longer.

Try waking up earlier

Sometimes even waking up 30 minutes earlier can give you the much-needed head start for several errands of the day. But remember to get enough sleep every night, even if it means going to bed earlier.

Plan your day the day before

Chances are your day will be much better organized if you pack a lunch and lay out an outfit before going to bed.

Designate a time for checking emails and social messages

If you start checking your messages between appointments, you risk getting lost in a sea of messages that need replies. Designate a time for this activity or do it in case you arrived early to a meeting.

4. Let Go of Unhealthy and Time-Consuming Habits

If there’s one thing we should get rid of in the new year, it’s the habits that steal our time, provide instant gratification but don’t offer any value in the long term. Or even worse, leave a negative impact on our health.

Here are some common (and pointless) habits along with tips on how to get rid of them:

Binge-watching TV series

Even if most online television platforms offer you lists of “Best TV Shows to Binge Watch”, being addicted to series is a major time-waster.

You can manage this addiction in several ways, for example, watch one episode per day (or a few per week) as a reward, only after you’ve finished an assignment or done a house chore. Or try replacing this habit with exercise or reading a book – this will be hard at first but should stick after a few weeks. You can also try to track how much time you spend on TV or movies – seeing how much of your life you are wasting might urge you to do something about it.

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Running on coffee

Being a coffee addict is kind of a stylish addiction nowadays, but it’s not that innocent as it may initially seem. Besides addiction being a problem in itself, drinking too much coffee (more than 500-600 mg of caffeine a day) may lead to nervousness, insomnia, an upset stomach, a fast heartbeat, and even muscle tremors.[2]

As a solution, try switching to tea or edible coffee – a more sustainable, healthy, and productivity-enhancing alternative. For example, Coffee Pixels are solid coffee bars that generate a more even energy kick throughout the day without the coffee-induced abstinence and dehydration.

Procrastination

Fighting procrastination requires some serious willpower. If it is a problem in your daily life or work, try ”eating the frog” in the morning – get over your biggest or hardest tasks first, then tackle everything else.

Alternatively, use time tracking software to monitor exactly how much time you waste on unproductive actions, websites or apps. Once you know exactly how much time you’re spending unproductively, try to limit your time on social media, for example to just 20 minutes per day.

If nothing else works, try bribing yourself — promise yourself to do something fun or pleasant when you finish your assignment.

Whichever habit you want to give up, consider using some habits building tools to make a contract with yourself and reward yourself for milestones achieved.

5. Stop over-consuming

We live in the age of consumerism – huge manufacturers with their promise of a comfortable life on the one hand, and growing environmental threats – that are the direct result of our modern lifestyle – on the other hand. There’s only one solution – try to consume less whenever and wherever you can.

Before making additional purchases, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I really need it? Did I need it yesterday?
  • Can’t I buy it used or borrow it from friends?
  • Can I rent it?
  • Can I make it myself?
  • Am I buying the most sustainable version of this product?

For example, check if the brand you chose is conscious about the environment, for example, are the products they manufacture energy efficient? Do they try to use less packaging?

Also, if you often find yourself buying too many groceries, promise to buy only the amount that fits in one shopping bag (that you bring along). If you often forget to take your shopping bag with you, get yourself a 2-in-1 wallet with a built-in shopping bag for more eco-friendly shopping.

6. Learn to Unplug from Your Phone

Today’s world is crammed with information, and many people struggle to keep focus on what’s truly important. There’s just too much going on in the world – too much to read, to watch, to know, too many conversations to participate in.

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But how to refuse the temptation to check the phone and start using social media in a controlled, not a compulsive way?

Some tips for managing your phone-dependency:

Spend only a limited amount of battery per day

For example, start your day with 50% battery life, and manage your phone usage so that you’ll make it till the evening.

Block distracting apps and notifications on your phone and computer

Choose one-hour, two-hour or longer blocking sessions and enjoy the positive impact this will have on your mood and productivity.[3]

Set your phone on flight mode

When you start doing an important task that requires full focus, set your phone on flight mode so that nobody can disturb you.

Leave your phone at home or in the office when you go for lunch

You’ll see that the feeling of being unreachable for a moment is actually very liberating.

The Bottom Line

As a new year begins, we’re all excitedly looking forward to what adventures await ahead of us.

But this year, promise yourself this:

Instead of having a never-ending list of tasks and commitments, focus on the truly meaningful ones. And cross-out all the rest without feeling guilty.

Less is more. Make this year count. We’re all rooting for you.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Lark via unsplash.com

Reference

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