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Attention Deficit Disorder Association

What Do You Want to Learn This Year?
By Linda Walker

If you're less than ecstatic about the way your life is unfolding now, this is the time of year that lends itself well to making changes. Taking stock, making resolutions and setting goals for the New Year are all things we'll hear much about in the next little while. However, while we may wish we could win the lottery and so solve all our problems, the surest way to change your life is through learning. I'd go so far as to say, learning is the path to improving your life, so...

What Do You Want to Learn This Year?

Choosing what you want to learn begins with a question; how do you want your life to be different? Do you want to be a certain way? For example, would you really love to feel more in control, more competent and more reliable? Or are you striving for a goal or chasing a dream? What change would motivate you?

When you examine the person you are, and you imagine the person you want to be, or when you look at what you've accomplished and consider how far you have left to go, you'll see gaps. You fill those gaps through learning. I often hear people complain that they've made resolutions and set goals before but nothing changed, and they wonder why they should bother. The problem is rarely with the goals or resolutions; rather it's a learning problem. If you've grown cynical about your ability to change, you may have fallen into a learning trap.

Overcoming Learning Pitfalls

Make recognizing and knowing how to extract yourself from these learning pitfalls, the first thing you master this year. If you don't recognize these traps for what they are, you may feel stuck, thinking it is impossible to change your life. However, the reality is, with the right approach to learning, an approach adapted to your own unique style, you can transform your life and realize your dreams. Here are three of the most common learning traps, along with some suggestions as to how you can overcome them.

  • You feel overwhelmed by how much you have to learn. People often make the mistake of seeing everything you don't know as everything you have to learn this year. If you feel you need to learn everything before you can make any progress, of course it can be overwhelming. However, in every sphere of human activity, the more you know, the more you'll realize you don't know. My advice is to break what you need to learn into manageable chunks and determine the next thing you need to implement to move forward. When you stop focusing on what you don't know and look for the thing you could learn that would make an immediate improvement in your life, you'll be in a much better position to fill one of the gaps in your life.
  • You fail to acknowledge what has changed. I call it "Playing the 'NEXT!' Game." As soon as you accomplish one thing, you rush to tackle the next. Perhaps you think you're slower than more people and so you feel guilty that it's taken so long to get where you are, or you might simply be distracted by the exciting things coming up. Either way, as soon as you accomplish one thing, you look for what's next, never taking time to celebrate what you've accomplished. As exciting as it is to move on to the next things and watch those accomplishments pile up, we too often forget what we've achieved… that pile of accomplishments seems to fade at the same time we're adding to it. Over time, we may feel like we're always rushing but never getting anywhere. I'd invite you to take stock each year, or better still each week. I often suggest people keep a Success Journal, although if you resist this idea (as many of my clients do,) you might find it easier to keep a Progress Journal. Barring that, simply go back through your calendar or look at the projects you worked on in the past year to see the changes that have occurred. Now, take a moment to celebrate what you've accomplished… raise your arm straight up in the air, bend it at the elbow and give yourself a pat on the back!
  • You accumulate loads of information but nothing changes. Many people confuse learning with gathering knowledge. Reading books, listening to teachers or watching expert demonstrations are all ways of gathering knowledge. However, learning only happens when you take action to integrate new behaviors into your life based on the knowledge you've just gathered. As you practice, you enhance your learning because you figure out not only what works and what doesn't, and you improve the knowledge because you tweak it to make it work for your circumstances. Instead of just reading new material, go one step further. Stop and determine what new behavior will allow you to integrate your new knowledge. For example, after you read this article, actually dig out your agenda and flip back through 2011 to see just how far you've come. Then you'll have learned something AND you'll deserve another pat on the back!

Three Ways of Learning

Once you've selected what you want to learn, you must choose how you'll learn it. Learning happens in many ways, but they all fit into three broad categories:

    1. You can learn on your own: Many adults with ADHD get off to a good start using this approach, especially if there's a lot of novelty in what they're learning, but you may find that over time, unless you implement a system of reminders, you may return to old habits or be distracted by the next shiny new lesson.
    2. You can get involved in a group: Support groups can be excellent for this, provided that the group is forward-moving and not stuck in "why me thinking", the group's encouragement may help you keep your commitments in moving forward.
    3. You can hire a teacher: An instructor, coach or mentor will not only teach or guide you but, will often also offer support as you progress in practicing your new learning.

Choosing what you want to learn next year, and selecting the way learning works best for you are decisions as individual as you are, and no choice you make is wrong. What is important is that you're headed in the right direction, moving toward achieving your goals and realizing your grandest dreams.

Linda Walker is an ADHD Coach helping ADHD adults improve their productivity and quality of life. She's the author of the exciting new book, "With Time to Spare," and creator of The Maximum Productivity Makeover for Creative Geniuses. Receive her free report The Productivity Myths Busted!

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