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10 MORE ways to create a breakthrough in your life.

10 MORE ways to create a breakthrough in your life.

Here—again in no particular order—are 10 more ways to transform your working life. Maybe you should try them.

  1. Slow down. Give yourself time and space. Never be in more of a hurry than you have to be. Allow time for thinking, musing, just noodling around in your head with no apparent purpose. Give space in your thinking for ideas you haven’t had yet; allow openings for sniffing out the ideas of others. Haste is the enemy of creativity. Being busy all the time is a great way to stop any possibility of breakthroughs. You won’t break out of your old habits by rushing. When people are under pressure, they don’t have energy to try anything new. They reach for whatever they’ve done before, or for some supposedly “tried-and-true” answer. They don’t believe they have time to take risks with change. As a result, they rush headlong down the same old paths into the same old messes. Refuse to be hurried and surprising ideas and opportunities may present themselves.
  2. When you think you’ve gone absolutely as far as you can, keep going. You’ve just reached the starting point. Breakthrough can’t happen until you pass the boundaries you believe are there in your life and thought. If you find a boundary, be happy. You’ve just found what you need to break through. Learning and creative thinking are your only sources of sustainable competitive advantage. Never let anything close them down.
  3. Take your mind and thinking on trips away. Deliberately step outside your comfort zone. See what you can find. You may come back a changed person. Conservatism is the philosophy of always sticking with what you have and trying to defend it against change. It’s a hopeless attempt. The best, longest-lasting and most valuable ideas remain because they continually adapt to the times. There’s a word for things that don’t change . . . dead. The world is bigger, stranger, more wonderful, and less predictable than you imagine. You won’t find it limited to programs on your TV, or what you can find on the Internet, or what the media present to you. Go out there and look for yourself.
  4. Listen. Listen to everyone you can. Really listen. You don’t learn by talking about yourself and your own experience. You learn by listening to the ideas and experiences of others. By listening to the ideas of those around you, you can pick up whatever’s useful. Even the things you reject have taught you something—if only what to avoid. Everyone you talk with can bring you learning opportunities you might otherwise have missed. Never be snobbish either. The best lessons come in unexpected packages. One of the hallmarks of the fool is that he or she thinks learning is restricted to the “right” situations and people. Like birds of a feather, fools flock together, reinforcing their foolishness by deciding they’ll only listen to one another. Wise people know they can’t predict who or what will provide the best lessons in life. Sometimes it will be the voices all the “right” people have rejected.
  5. Delight in metaphors and analogies. Every object or idea can stand for something else, or suggest an unexpected link. Dull people restrict their thinking and reading to what seems obviously relevant. Clever ones peer into what isn’t. You’ll maybe discover far more about working life from poetry, philosophy, or good novels that you ever will from business books and self-satisfied self-help writers.
  6. Run away from any kind of dogma. Dogma is the product of a closed mind. It’s an idea with a threat attached. If you suffer from dogma, get it out of your life. Let it go. Kick it out. Try thinking the opposite. Treat it like a crazy joke. Do anything you can to get rid of it. It’s the greatest source of barriers to breakthrough.
  7. Never aspire to be fashionable. Fashion is the foolish imitating the arrogant. Being cool is fear of change dressed in designer clothes. Following fashion is a sure way to prevent any kind of breakthrough in your life. Free yourself from barriers like this. Be who you are, not who everyone else is pretending to be.
  8. Stand on the shoulders of those who went before you. You’ll see so much better and farther. Never imitate the past. Use it to understand better and provoke questions in your mind. History is too often neglected as a source of breakthroughs. By learning from what has already been done, you can make faster steps towards what hasn’t. Innovation is mostly sticking things together in unexpected ways. To create unique ideas and stimulate breakthrough thinking, hybridize from what you have already. Fresh combinations of old ideas can yield entirely new avenues of exploration. It’s simply not true that creative people come up with ideas from nowhere. Even the most startlingly innovative people need material to work with.
  9. If it’s habitual, consider dumping it. Habits are the iron bands that hold you in your current ways of thinking and behaving. No one ever made a breakthrough without letting go of whatever has become habitual and automatic. Breaking those tough old habits won’t be easy. You may have to endure some “cold turkey.” It will be well worth it.
  10. Begin anywhere. There’s no right place, nor any better place to start from that where you are right now. Waiting to find the right time and place to begin on your quest for breakthrough is a sure way to induce paralysis. New ideas arrive unexpectedly. Whenever they do, allow them to be heard. Learn to be alert always for good ideas and opportunities for breakthrough. Be flexible. Grab opportunities when they come. Don’t sit back and expect another one to be along in a moment. The universe isn’t like that. The idea or opportunity you just chose to ignore may have been the best one you’ll ever have. Begin anywhere. Begin now. Just do it.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and working life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.
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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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