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Last Updated on June 27, 2019

How to Use Observational Learning for Your Best Improvement

How to Use Observational Learning for Your Best Improvement

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.

What Is Observational Learning?

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]

  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.

Performing Your Best with Observational Learning

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?

Here in this article, you can learn more about apprenticeship at work: What Is an Apprenticeship and What Value Can It Bring to Your Career?

Hijacking Your Behavior

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

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

How?

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

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.[2]

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 Ways 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.

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

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,[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.

The Bottom Line

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!

More About Learning

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Scott Jeffrey

Business Coach, Writer, and Mind Voyager

How to Use Observational Learning for Your Best Improvement How to Get Motivated When Depressed and Frustrated What are MBTI Types and How Can They Affect Your Career Choices?

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Published on July 22, 2019

The Secret to Success Is Failure

The Secret to Success Is Failure

You see a job that you’d love to do; and, you decide to go for it.

You submit your application, and then are pleased to find a few days later that you’re invited for an interview. This goes well, and you begin to have quiet optimism that a job offer will be coming your way soon…

It doesn’t.

Instead, you receive a letter saying thank you — but, they’ve decided to go with another candidate.

At this point, you could allow yourself to feel defeated, sad, and perhaps even a little angry. These are normal responses to bad news. Yet, it’s not wise to let them fester and disrupt your goals. Successful people don’t let failures kill their dreams.

Sure, they might temporarily feel deflated. But, very quickly, they pick themselves back up again and begin planning their next steps towards success.

How about you? Do you currently feel embarrassed or guilty about failing?

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Don’t worry if you do, as most of us have been programmed since childhood to see failure as a bad thing. Yet, as I’m going to show you in the next few minutes, this programming is dead wrong — failure is actually an essential part of success.

Don’t Be Tempted by Perfection

The first thing I want you to think about is this:

Resisting failure is, at its core, seeking perfection. And, perfection doesn’t exist.

That’s why perfectionists are also likely to be chronic procrastinators.

As Psychology Today noted in their article Pitfalls of Perfectionism, people who constantly seek for perfection stop themselves from engaging in challenging experiences.[1] That’s because these perfectionists are less creative and innovative than the average person — plus they’re less likely to take risks. Add these factors together, and you have someone who is overly focused on their own performance and is always quick to defend themselves. Unfortunately, these traits prevent them from having the necessary focus when it comes to learning new tasks.

Let me be clear: Striving for perfection is not the same as striving for excellence.

The former is a fool’s quest for the unattainable; while the latter is really just about doing our very best (which we can all obtain).

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And, there’s another problem that perfectionists have to deal with. Namely, when they fail to reach their ideal, they feel dejected and defeated. And — as you can imagine — repeat this often enough, and these people can end up feeling bitter and depressed about their lives.

So, forget about seeking perfection, and instead, focus on always doing your very best.

Why Failure Is Good

I recently came across a Forbes article Failing Your Way To Success: Why Failure Is A Crucial Ingredient For Success[2] that helped explain why most people are opposed to failure.

The article referenced the work of two world-renowned psychologists (Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky), who were awarded a Nobel Prize for their work. They discovered something very interesting: the effect of a loss is twice as great as the gain from a win.

Have you ever thought about that before?

What it means is that failure has a far greater negative impact on us than the positive impact of an equivalent win. It’s no wonder then that most people are afraid to fail.

And, here’s where it gets interesting…

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Amazon (which along with Apple, Facebook and Google, is considered one of the Big Four technology companies) has a culture that is tolerant of failure. And Jeff Bezos — Amazon’s founder and CEO — believes that this culture is one of the main reasons for the company’s big achievements over the last 25 years. In a letter to shareholders, he said:

“Failure comes part and parcel with invention. It’s not optional. We understand that and believe in failing early and iterating until we get it right.” 

The truth is, failure can open up a world of exciting opportunities for you.

How does it do this?

By constantly showing you new avenues to travel on. And, by helping you learn from your mistakes — so you can be better next time around. It also helps you identify what’s not working for your life, and what is.

So instead of seeing something as detrimental to success, you should see it as a tool FOR success. A tool that will help you to continually refine your journey in life.

If you still need some convincing that the secret to success is failure, then take a look at the following excerpts from our article 10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On:

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• J.K. Rowling encountered a catalog of failures shortly after graduating from college, including: being jobless, the breakdown of her marriage, and living as a lone parent. However, instead of giving up on life, she used these failures to propel her to write the Harry Potter fantasy series — the best-selling book series in history.

• Walt Disney didn’t have an easy start either. He dropped out of school at a young age in a failed attempt to join the army. Later, one of his early business ventures, Laugh-o-Gram Studios, went bankrupt. He was also fired from a Missouri newspaper for “not being creative enough.” (Yes, you read that correctly.) Was he defeated by these failures? Just ask Mickey Mouse.

• Michael Jordan had this to say about the power of failure: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Embrace Failure, and Prepare for Success

I hope this has been an eye-opener for you.

Failure has long been branded a leper; but in reality, it’s a healthy, essential component of success.

The trick of course is to develop the mindset of a winner. Someone who sees failures as stepping stones to success — and defeats as important learning experiences.

So, are you ready to embrace your failures and take the proud road to success?

I sincerely hope so.

Featured photo credit: Bruce Mars via unsplash.com

Reference

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