What Have You Really Learned? Distinguishing Information from Learning
I have been doing personal growth work in the field of Ontological Design for many years now, and I’ve acquired lots of fantastic distinctions along the way. About a year ago, I was speaking to a good friend of mine, Jeff, who is an Ontological Coach. We discussed my continued struggles with overcommitting myself, burning the candle at both ends, and taking on tons and tons of commitments. Jeff pointed out several distinctions that I had heard many times before, and I found myself repeatedly saying “I know.”
The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Jeff, I feel completely overwhelmed. I have way too many commitments, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.”
Jeff: “Well, Mirais, there’s no such thing as ‘time management.’ You can’t manage your time. You can only manage the web of commitments you live in.”
Me: “I know, I know! But even when I try to manage my commitments, every time an opportunity comes up for a new activity, I really want to participate in it. I don’t say ‘no’ because I actually want to do the new thing. But I’m also still committed to doing all of the other things. I want to do it all.”
Jeff: “Yes, but you are only one person. You don’t have the capacity to do it all. Instead of automatically saying ‘yes’ just because you want to, take a breath to consider your other commitments and decide whether you actually have room to take on something new.”
Me: “I know, I know! But the problem is that I struggle with the disappointment of not being able to keep up with all of the activities that I enjoy and all of the friendships I’m committed to.”
Jeff: “What you don’t see is that by overcommitting, you’re actually harming those friendships. You are destroying your public identity every time you take on too much and you drop one of the many balls you are juggling. People will begin to judge you as flakey or insincere because you don’t deliver.”
Me: “I know, I know! But …”
Jeff finally interrupted me. He said: “Stop saying you know! You don’t know! If you knew, you’d be doing it differently!” And suddenly it hit me. Holy cow! I don’t know. I have a lot of distinctions – that is, a lot of information about managing commitments. But have I really learned how to manage my commitments in my life? I’m not so sure… Here are a couple of important distinctions about the phenomenon of learning:
Learning is Not Information
- In our Western society, we often believe that learning is about having information. In the field of Ontological Design, we hold that there is a difference between merely having information (knowing about something) and actually learning (knowing something). We must learn distinguishing information from learning.
- The way I can assess that I have truly learned something is that I will be different in the world. There will be a difference in my way of being, and I will show up different. For instance, I will show up as more effective or more peaceful, and there will be different possibilities available to me that weren’t available before.
Recipe for Learning
- Learning requires three things: (1) Time, (2) Rigor, and (3) Practice.
- “Rigor” means that we take new action even when we don’t feel like it or we feel uncomfortable. It means that in the moment of choice, we choose commitment and courage over comfort … every time.
- Rigor requires accountability – a support system of other human beings who know what I am trying to learn and can help me practice and hold my own feet to the fire.
After my conversation with Jeff, I realized that I had a lot of information, and I knew a lot about managing commitments. But I hadn’t truly learned to manage my commitments. If I had, I would have been managing them better! Instead, I was still living in a mood of overwhelm and stress. I was still running myself ragged and burning the candle at both ends. I was not showing up any differently in the world. My way of being had not changed.
I knew that I had my work cut out for me. I would need to Practice managing my commitments over Time. And I needed to be Rigorous – by saying “no” even when I wanted to say “yes”; by considering my entire web of commitments to see if I truly have room for anything new; by paying attention to the commitments I make even when it would be easier and more comfortable to just go asleep at the wheel; by checking in with my support system of friends about whether I am showing up flakey or insincere. I am committed to doing what it takes to learn to manage my commitments more effectively.
So what about you … What have you really learned?