Learning takes time and can be scary, especially when you are supposed to know what you are doing!

When Grace and I entered our agility class last week, it immediately hit me that learning takes time, repetition, and patience. I was walking around the agility room in familiar territory, feeling good about that. Yet I was simultaneously starting to worry if Grace and I would do well – or would we falter? Would we remember what we had learned from last year? Did I know when to do the front cross instead of the back cross? All sorts of questions started running through my head. I was feeling the pressure.

It was a bit scary. And all this for a fun agility course! In some ways, coming back was even more intimidating to me than when we went to our first lesson last year. At that point, expectations were low. Grace and I had no idea what to do and we relied on Rachel to instruct our every move. We were given lots of time to learn and pace our progress, without a specific deadline for mastering a particular skill.

But this time, I could feel an artificial expectation I had placed on us. It was clear that Grace wasn’t bothered by any lofty goal-setting. She wore a big smile and easily made her way around the equipment, prancing over the A-frame and skipping over the hurdles, whether she was supposed to or not! She was having fun and it helped me to remember not to put pressure on the situation.

With practice, she gracefully hops through the circular shape!

When we train others in the workplace – in fact when we are being trained – do we put unnecessary expectations on where we should be? I do believe we need goals, which are critically important to know where we are going and to stretch us past our comfort zone. But I also see, far too often, situations in the workplace where a manager has an unrealistic expectation for what a person should be accomplishing when they are learning a new behavior or skill. It takes time, repetition, and patience. (Oh, I already said that. But I think it bears repeating.)

Often, our training efforts get off to a great start because there is a strong focus and commitment to the effort, and we start to get lulled into complacency, believing the person being trained is all set. However as reinforcement and encouragement begin to wane, results suffer. Lucky for me and Grace, Rachel continued to provide that much-needed support. Having that guidance calmed my nerves and settled me back into having fun, which gave me the environment where I could learn openly, without being afraid of making a mistake. It is a big help to think of that now when I see someone moving through a new phase of their learning. In what ways can you encourage yourself, and others, to learn new behaviors?

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  1. didiwright on April 6, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Really nice post, Robin. I’m one of those people who put a lot of pressure on themselves over pretty much anything. Somehow, I manage to let ‘always try to do your best’ turn into ‘always try to be the best’, which adds pressure to whatever I’m doing. It must be a remnant of my competitive days (I used to be a professional athlete), and I’m working on it. I’ve got better at concentrating on the fun aspect, but there’s still work to do.
    Your posts always make me think and I love it!

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on April 6, 2011 at 3:33 pm

      I know exactly what you mean, Didi. I do feel like we should always be striving for our best and that can lead to undesirable behaviors, unintentionally. Competitive sports is another area that has a ton of organizational lessons. We watch a lot of sports in this household and I always have an eye for the individual or team perspective; my husband is incredible when it comes to remembering the statistics and knowing every rule and nuance of the game. What was your sport a team activity or individual? Curious how that component added to your experience? With Grace, I was feeling this responsibility to make sure I was helping her rather than holding her back. I’m not quite as graceful and flexible as she is! 🙂

      • didiwright on April 8, 2011 at 8:13 am

        I was a martial artist (practiced Shotokan Karate) for 14 years, up until I found out I was pregnant with Brianna. It’s kind of an individual and team sport at the same time, as there are different types of competitions you can enter. It taught me discipline, respect, how to play by the rules and how not to give up when things get tought (pain, etc.), but also how to be a team player. It also made me very competitive, but not to the point where I’d do anything just to win.

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on April 8, 2011 at 4:34 pm

      That sounds fascinating, Didi. Do you have any interest to return to the sport? I definitely think that athletic endeavors are strong teachers of important traits and skills. Not to mention just the physical benefits of being in shape (I could improve on that one!).

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