Contact your inner child and watch your learning grow says Lindsay Taylor

I’m basing this article on the fact that the average shoe size for UK women is a 6. I’m also basing this article on the experience and knowledge I personally have of 6 year olds. I have a son (now 15) and a daughter (now 8) so I’ve been there. Twice. I studied child psychology and I’m a trained nursery nurse.

In a society where our schools and parenting styles value individualism and “every child matters”, I appreciate that there is no one “normal”, cookie-cutter and stereotypical 6 year old. Just like there is no one “normal”, cookie-cutter and stereotypical Executive Secretary Magazine reader of course.

I repeat – I have experience of 6 year olds and I know that my 6-year-old son was a very different character to my 6-year-old daughter. We’re all unique and that’s something I truly value – diversity and the excitement of different personalities and characters in our lives. For the most part however and as a basis for this article, a child of 6 will demonstrate characteristics and behaviours synonymous with theoretical understanding from some of our much revered and quoted experts and psychoanalysts. One such psychoanalyst is German-born Erik Erikson (1902-1994) famed for his theory on psychosocial development in humans and a former Professor at American niversities Yale and Harvard.

It is those characteristics of a 6 year old identified by Erikson that I want to unpick. I want to emphasise that these characteristics and behaviours are things we can tap into as adults (based on the very knowledge that we now have as adults). I am going to highlight the advantages of “acting your shoe size and not your age” to aid our own learning, development and ultimate success. By “stepping in” to your 6-year-old self again you can approach learning with a renewed, regenerated enthusiasm and love of learning.

So, what is Erikson’s theory on a child of 6?

According to Erikson as a child of 6 you enter the stage of “Competence”. You pick up a multitude of new skills, learning and competencies and thus develop a “sense of industry”. You have the desire and the enthusiasm to want to learn. Positive reinforcement is essential to you at this stage in order to promote your own self esteem. As a specialist trainer of PAs and Administrative Professionals across the world, I am (of course) an advocate of life-long learning and believe every opportunity is a learning experience. We are picking up new knowledge and skills every day of our lives – sometimes without realising it.

Take just a few minutes at the end of the day, every day, and ask yourself “what have I learned today?”, “what can I do with this new knowledge or with this new skill to benefit me and those around me?”.

Take ownership of your own skills and learning achievements. If you could go back to your 6-year-old self and give yourself some advice on the skills and learning that would be really useful to pick up for your older self – what would they be? It is never, ever too late to pick up a new skill and if you’ve identified something on answering that question that you would like to have now – how can you go about gaining it? Who do you know who can help you gain that skill or earning? What has held you back in the past (or is holding you back now) from gaining that skill? How can you overcome this obstacle or barrier? What is the first step you can take in ensuring you can, and indeed will, gain this skill?

Your 6-year-old self had a love for learning and picking up new skills and information – imagine that enthusiasm now for you, as an adult learner – “step” in to being 6 again to ensure you approach every new learning experience with curiosity and energy. Imagine having that real enthusiasm for learning that you had at age 6.

Erikson believed that at age 6 positive reinforcement was a major factor in building our self-esteem. It is true to say that positive reinforcement is a motivator to us all.

Admittedly some rely more heavily on feedback from an external source than others – but ultimately that pat on the back, that affirmation that you’re doing a good job is a big boost to you and your ultimate success. If that’s something you’re not getting at your current workplace – go out of your way to get it. Have the conversation with your peers and let them know that for you to be motivated you would appreciate and value their feedback on how you’re doing. And remember, the highest quality feedback is given for your personal development and effectiveness. As a 6 year old you thrive on knowing you are doing a great job – it boosts your self esteem – the same can be applied to you, as an adult learner, now.

The Competence Learning Ladder

I’m going to share with you a really useful model around competence which acts as a simple and very helpful explanation of how we learn. Essentially we work our way up a ladder of learning from Unconscious Incompetence to the top rung of Unconscious Competence.

Unconscious Incompetence

You are not aware of the existence or indeed relevance of the skill or learning. Before any development can happen you need to be conscious of the skill. Trainers and teachers play an essential role here in helping you identify a deficiency in your skillset and making you aware of the benefit to your personal effectiveness in gaining that skill or learning.

Conscious Incompetence

You become aware of the relevance and benefit to you of the skill or learning and ideally embrace the need and want to gain this skill in order to improve your effectiveness. Having a clear idea of the extent of the deficiency and what level of skill is required is essential for you to move to the Conscious Competence stage – as is your commitment to learn and practice the new skill.

Conscious Competence

This is when you can successfully and personally perform a skill without assistance – but still have to concentrate on applying it – it is not yet “second nature”. “Practice makes perfect” applies perfectly here if you are to make the move to Unconscious Competence.

Unconscious Competence

This is when you become practiced at a skill so it is “second nature” – a good and common example is driving. Because the skill has become in effect more instinctual, you can perform that skill at the same time as doing something else – for example, you can hold a conversation whilst driving a car. A great friend and trainer of mine describes this as “in the muscle” – the skill you are performing has entered the unconscious part of your brain.

Importantly, now you are at the top rung of the Competence Ladder, it is essential to “not take things for granted” – very often we can become complacent here and fall in to bad habits or consider ourselves to be expert in a particular field, skill or learning to the detriment of ourselves and others. To be at the very top of your effectiveness may necessitate you moving down a rung on the ladder and taking stock of your unconscious competencies. Put into practice conscious competence and consciously concentrate on practicing the skill or learning. Check in with yourself on your level of complacency and ask yourself how up to date your skills are too.

Understanding the Competence Ladder and “acting your shoe size and not your age” means you can harness the enthusiasm and the desire to learn. Ultimately you can take ownership of your own learning journey to ensure the success of you.”

Lindsay Taylor is the Director of Your Excellency Limited. A former EA herself, she appreciates the challenges and diversities of the role. Lindsay is a preferred training provider with The Institute of Administrative Management (IAM), one of the oldest ... (Read More)

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