Why People Don"t Use What They Learn
Everything a person has learned and their reaction to that learning is stored somewhere in a person's mind.
Evidence has also shown that due to the repetitive nature of neural function that over time, people begin to think in similar ways and have predictable reactions to similar events, people and circumstances.
A person who tends to be optimistic seems to have neural pathways in the brain that causes them to continue to act and think in positive ways no matter what is happening in their life.
And the brains of negative or pessimistic people have also created these same pathways that cause them to react in negative ways.
Think for a moment about the Grand Canyon.
This wonder of the world wasn't created because a river flowed through it for a few weeks and therefore we now have this wonder of nature.
In reality it took millions of years for the flow of water to wear away at the rock and create the deep gorges that are now reality.
A person's brain seems to function in similar ways.
Think of them as grooves in the mind where the electrical synapses or brain connections move electrical messages from one brain cell to another over time with repeated similar thinking.
It is easier for these impulses to travel the routes that have been previously carved out than in new directions.
So, generally speaking a person who tends to think positively has created pathways in the brain that the brain recognizes as the most comfortable route for neural transmission or thought patterns for this individual.
This is why it is so hard for a positive person to be negative and vice versa.
You hear a phrase that you neither agree nor disagree with, such as when someone says to you, "you just don't understand this concept, it's obviously too complicated for you.
" The seed has been planted.
Every time you are exposed to something complicated your brain retrieves this little bit of information and reacts accordingly, bringing the thought into your consciousness.
The more this happens the easier it is for your brain to retrieve this thought, thus the constant reminder that you just don't get it.
According to brain or mind research there are many sections of the brain that have different or dedicated functions.
Two of these are the conscious and the unconscious mind.
Think of a computer for a minute.
There is the RAM or random access memory and then there is the hard drive where millions of megabytes are stored.
Let's say for a moment that you want to do a simple calculation.
However, if the program required to perform this function has not been installed into your hard drive you will not be able to do the calculation.
In order for your computer to function in the RAM and perform all of the actions that you want from creating documents to viewing photographs you must first install the appropriate software.
Without it you can't perform the desired task.
How about another example.
Let's say on Monday morning at 9 AM your hit the letter F on your keyboard.
What will appear on your screen? Yes, F.
Now let's say it's Friday afternoon and you hit F, what will happen? Yes again F will show up on your screen.
Ok, so no matter what day or what time of day you hit F on your keyboard you'll get an F on your screen.
How about if it's summer, or winter? Same result.
So, no matter what is going on, weather, time of day, day of the week, when you hit F, F appears.
Why? Because your computer has been programmed to perform accordingly.
How did this happen? Simple.
You loaded a software program, through your RAM; from a CD or downloaded from the internet onto your hard drive and now your RAM has access to this information whenever you request it.
So what does this have to do with the mind whether conscious or unconscious? The mind works pretty much the same way.
The conscious mind functions as the RAM and the unconscious the hard drive.
If a person isn't exposed to ideas, information, concepts then these ideas etc.
have not been stored in the person's unconscious or hard drive.
Let's say the person now finds themselves in a situation where they need an answer or information, but if it hasn't been stored, guess what? It's not on the hard drive because it was never loaded so the person struggles with an answer or solution.
However, let's say a person sat through a seminar on problem solving techniques.
They gave the conscious mind the opportunity to be exposed to the information therefore permitting it to be stored in the unconscious mind or their hard drive.
Now these techniques when needed are available.
This person now has a problem and as they consider it consciously, the unconscious mind responds and sends the necessary skills, ideas, concepts or techniques to the person's conscious mind or RAM.
Therefore, they have pushed F and F is now available to them.
Obviously the mind is a lot more complicated than the above illustrations.
Actually after hundreds of years of research the scientific community is still puzzled a great deal by the potential and function of the human mind.
In fact notable mind researchers have admitted that we still know very little about how and why the mind functions.
For example, there are over three trillion chemical reactions in the human mind every second.
There are hundreds of billions of neural cells in the average brain.
In fact if they built a computer that had the same potential, memory and capacity of the human mind this computer would fill hundreds of 25 story buildings in a square mile city block.
The potential of the human mind seems to be almost infinite.
What, you ask does al of this have to do with training and employee development? Think about it.
If the human mind has all of this potential storage capability and processing ability why don't people use what they learn? Everything you have ever learned is stored on your hard drive.
Your reactions to everything you have ever learned are also stored there.
So let's say, Robert is sitting through an all day seminar on effective communication skills, specifically on how to manage conflict.
As he is listening to the presenter he is taking all of the information in through his RAM, conscious mind, but he is also evaluating it compared to all of the various communication experiences he has had throughout his entire life.
If what he hears doesn't resonate or if it opposes what has learned or felt about what he learned in the past, guess what? You guessed it; he will not listen, shut down or find ways to dispute what he is hearing.
Keep in mind that he isn't doing this consciously but through the repetitive thinking patters of the past.
In other words what he is hearing doesn't fit comfortably within his personal mental groove structure and asking him think outside of this is just too difficult, if not downright impossible.
He has created a mindset that has now become his template for future thoughts, opinions, judgments and ideas.
He has essentially added a critical ingredient to his mental perceptual filter that from henceforth will determine what gets access and what is denied to his unconscious or hard drive.
The unconscious mind controls all of your bodily functions without your conscious intervention or awareness.
Think about how many times a minute your heart beats.
Do you have to consciously think about these or control them? Your body is digesting your last meal as you sleep.
Do you have say to yourself, "OK body, and digest my last meal?" No, these functions are performed second by second without your conscious awareness.
In meditation, you can become aware of many of these, such as breathing or other physiological activities, but generally during a 24 hour day most people just live from hour to hour without paying any attention to these.
If you are to pay attention to them you must first take conscious control.
This is why most thinking is nothing more than random thoughts that are played over and over again in the conscious mind, driven by unconscious feelings, emotions or current situations like worry or fear.
Try observing your thoughts for the next five minutes and I'll guarantee that most of them have to do either with past or future experiences, emotions, fears, hopes, worries or dreams.
Very few of most people's thoughts are "present focused.
" Why is this? It's simple, the unconscious doesn't like a vacuum or emptiness so it will fill your conscious thoughts with something whether you want them or choose them or not.
Just try quieting your mind for five minutes and you'll understand.
As you try to quiet your mind, thoughts, one by one, will fill your consciousness, whether you want them or not.
There is a second consideration and this has to due with a simple device in the brain called the medulla.
The medulla is a very small device that sits in the back of a person's brain and its function is primarily as a traffic cop.
As a person is exposed to new ideas, learning, concepts, people or experiences, these must first pass through the medulla before then can be moved into the conscious or unconscious mind.
This device has no agendas, prejudices, hopes, dreams or opinions.
It decides second by second with everything it is exposed to; "Does this idea or experience etc.
belong in a person's unconscious or conscious mind? Does the person need access to this information now or in the future?" If its conclusion, based on previous thought patterns is, that you don't need access to this information now it will send the information right to the unconscious for storage.
Think of the medulla as the on/off stitch for your CD player where the new program you want to install in your computer is housed.
If the CD player is on and operating properly the information is transferred to your hard drive and may make it available on your RAM if you have given it these instructions.
If the CD unit is off and you are downloading information from the internet, while you are sleeping, the information is automatically moved to your hard drive, without your interaction or involvement.
But if the next morning you want access to it, all you have to do is push F on your keyboard, that there it is - F.
Here's part of the problem when it comes to learning.
Most people go through their days in auto-pilot, in other words they are not consciously aware, and they have turned over their reactions, responses and behaviors to automatic.
They have given control of their behaviors, thoughts and actions over to their unconscious minds.
Very few people live there lives, day in and day out, in a conscious awareness or with what is called a "presence consciousness" or being in the now or present moment.
As a result, over 80% of the information, events, and experiences people are exposed to minute by minute, are routed by the medulla right into the unconscious mind.
The information is there, the problem is we are not consciously aware of what information has been stored and how or when to use it.
It would be like the internet loading a software program into your hard drive while you are at lunch, but when the download was complete it never put an icon on your desktop or even listed it in you list of available programs.
Yes, the information is there and can be used, but if you don't know it's there you will never try to use the software for the purpose it was designed for.
So, it sits there in potential waiting to be used, but never is.
Let's look at an every day example of how a person has turned the control of their life over to their unconscious mind.
In the area of communication, research has indicated that the accuracy of a person's communication or messages is less than 10% verbal and around 25% tonal and over 50% non-verbal.
You see, verbal communication, what you say, is generally a conscious act.
You choose to say yes or no answer to some request.
However, the degree of honesty in that yes or no will be revealed by over 75% by the way you deliver that yes or no.
Verbal communication is a conscious act and non-verbal signals, messages; like gestures, body position, posture, inflection, vocal pace or volume etc.
will more accurately reflect whether the person really means yes or no.
The non-verbal messages a person sends will always be more accurate then their verbal ones.
People tell people every day that they love them and they don't really mean it.
People say yes every day to requests, but really want to say no or mean no, but just won't say it.
If there is an inconsistency between a person's verbal and non-verbal response and message, the nonverbal message will always be more accurate.
Why? Because these messages are not being controlled by a person's conscious mind, but are released automatically from their unconscious mind and there is no editing going on.
The unconscious mind doesn't really care how the other person reacts to your yes or no.
It is not biased or judgmental.
So, what dose all of this have to do with why people don't use the information, skills, techniques that they have learned in a training session? There is one other area we need to discuss before we answer this question and that has to do with a person's intention.
Intention or intent - showing great determination to do something, something planned, or the purpose that accompanies a plan.
It's a plan, goal, target or purposeful action.
Intent is when a person really plans to do whatever necessary to honor their words, objectives, goals or plans.
So, when a person says they will give you a call and don't, what was their intent? Right, not to call you.
Then why did they say they would? Who knows, maybe they didn't want to hurt your feelings; maybe they really don't like you, but don't want to show it or admit it, again who knows.
When someone says they are going to do something and don't there is always an opposing intent that is stronger or more powerful than their stated intent.
I say I'm going to start exercising, but don't.
My stated intent was to exercise.
My opposing intent was not to.
So, if I don't exercise then its simple, my intent not to was stronger than my intent to do so.
One of the significant problems in human relations is that most people tend to pay more attention to another person's stated intent, assuming that they mean what they say, rather than trying to discover their real intent.
I call this the set up! These people then act disappointed or surprised when the other person doesn't deliver or do what they said they were going to.
In learning or training, whether people use their new skills, attitudes or ideas is all about intent.
Here's one of the vital keys to ensuring that employee training and development is effective and successful for the long term.
A person can consciously re-do or re-program their mental grooves (stated earlier) but it takes time, patience, commitment, discipline, focus and the will to change.
A lot of work? Yes.
This is why so few people are able to re-program their mental pathways to achieve the mental states they desire, therefore taking over conscious control of the operation of their minds, feelings, emotions and behaviors.
People can change, but they have to want to change and they have to ensure that their stated intent is stronger than their opposing intent.
Therefore if you are running a training department or are responsible for employee development whether your organization has 10 employees or 10,000, it doesn't really matter, you have to take into consideration everything we have discussed so far.
But, here's another problem that will sabotage the success of any training initiative.
Most people responsible for training or employee development don't want to do this much work, don't have the resources or are under too much pressure from management to get quick results now and they don't seem to care whether any of this stuff sticks over time or not.
So, we have two issues here.
1) Trainers or training departments just want to put a training session or program in place to get it off their plate and on to their next To-Do item.
2) Participants in any training session or program seem to have a lot going against their ability to learn, retain, understand, accept and use what they have learned.
Note I haven't even mentioned the retention challenge yet? This makes the above two seem almost impossible to achieve when you consider that the mental retention of a new idea or concept is less than 15% after two weeks.
Scary huh? What's a trainer, training executive or training director to do? First you must understand and accept the premises put forward so far and integrate them into any training process.
To ignore them is to ensure that you either waste corporate resources or time or both.
The outcome of any training should be improved performance, effectiveness or changed behaviors or attitudes.
If these are not accomplished, the training served no purpose.
Let me summarize this section before we move on to the psychological reasons why people don't use what they learn.
-Everyone's brain is wired to handle an unlimited amount of information.
-Everyone is capable of learning new skills, behaviors or attitudes.
-People tend to behave consistent with what they believe about themselves.
-People's mindsets more than anything else determines what they will learn and accept.
-If a person's intent is not to learn or use what they learn, they won't.
-Everyone has a perceptual filter that is filled with a lot of personal garbage that prevents accepting new concepts ideas etc.
-The unconscious mind is a storage device only.
It doesn't judge, it accepts everything without prejudice.
-If people are not exposed to new ideas, information or concepts they will never be able to use any of this information.
-Every thought, experience, idea etc.
that a person has ever experience is stored in their mind just waiting to be extracted when needed or appropriate.
-Most people go through life in auto-pilot and spend very little time in the emotional present.
-Most thinking is re-cycling of information that validates a persons current desires, fears, emotions or feelings.