Second Place Is The First Loser

“Man who sits with mouth open waiting for cooked goose to fly in waits for a long time.”
Chinese proverb

With a challenged economy, with so much competition in the marketplace, this is not the time to be second rate at anything. And this is not the time to let your continual education slip out the door. After all, if your competitors keep on reading and going to seminars, if your competitors keep on sharpening their skills and you don’t, guess what’s going to happen when the two of you meet? You lose.

Of course, it’s not enough to simply go to seminars. You’ve got to learn something at those seminars, remember what you learn, and apply what you learn. And many people don’t.

Time and again, when I’ve spoken at various conferences, I’ll ask some of the audience members who spoke at last year’s conference. And they don’t remember. So I’ll ask them what the topic was, and they’ll say, “Um, topic, topic, now let me think.” They recalled almost nothing.

In fact, research says that if a person just SITS in a seminar without getting involved, three hours after the seminar he will only recall 50% of what was said. And one month after the seminar, his retention rate will be less than 5%.

As an educator as well as a motivational speaker, I found that intolerable. So I began to teach people how to learn, remember what they learn, and apply what they learn. Without that, a person is nothing more than a professional attendee. He is a seminar goer instead of a seminar doer. And we can no longer afford that luxury.

To become a truly effective learner, I’ve found the following system works wonderfully well. If you’re an adult in an organization … using this system … you will excel. And if you’re a student using this system at school, you will make the Dean’s list.

=> 1. Take notes.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you will remember what was said. You won’t. Passive learning = minimal learning. You’ve got to DO something while knowledge is being disseminated, and the best thing you can DO is take notes.

Personally, I recommend a 2-part note-taking system. Part 1 is the CAPTURE phase. When the seminar leader or speaker is talking, write as much as you can as fast as you can. Don’t worry about neatness.

Part 2 is the TAKE-HOME phase. Within 24 hours, re-read all your notes. And then, in your best handwriting, summarize all the key points you picked up. Just write down those things that inspired you or will help you recall the seminar content.

=> 2. Turn your notes into keepers.

Turn your key points into “learning” statements. Write out three to five statements starting with the words, “I learned…”

And turn your key points into “action” statements. In other words, write down what you’re going to do with what you learned. Just don’t waste your time writing down things you already do or know you’re never going to do. Again, three to five statements are enough. The more you focus, the more follow-through energy you’re going to have.

One tip: As you write out your “action” statements, get very specific. Instead of saying, “I’m going to be a better communicator,” write something like, “I take time to listen fully and completely to what others say before I respond to their comments.”

Second tip: If you keep track of your progress and if you put a completion date on your “action” statements, you will automatically experience a great deal more success.

=> 3. Review your keepers.

Too many people pile or file their notes, and that can be deadly. In fact, 85% to 95% of what you put in your files will never be seen again. And if you don’t review your notes, you will forget 70% of what you heard within 4 days of the seminar.

The good news is … when you review your notes, you reverse those figures. You retain 70% or more of what you heard.

Personally, I like the way author Dr. Terry Paulson reviews his keepers. He puts all his keepers from various seminars on sheets of paper, and he reviews them whenever he’s put on a telephone hold. He even records his keepers so he can hear them played back to him when he’s driving. As his grandmother taught him, “When you read something often enough, no one can take it away from you.”

=> 4. Teach your keepers.

Take some time to go through all your notes and all your keepers. And then select a few insights that were especially important to you and would be valuable for someone else to know. The process could be as simple as sharing one or two items with a fellow seminar attendee, or it could be as structured as taking an hour-long staff meeting where each coworker shares all the lessons he/she learned at the training program.

Quite simply, when you tell somebody else what you learned, your retention increases.

=> 5. Visualize your keepers.

In other words, picture yourself or your situation with your keepers or action statements all completed and all accomplished. See yourself with that new job, new behavior, new relationship, new financial security, or whatever it is you want. The clearer your picture and the more you picture it, the more likely you are to get it.

Dr. Paulson makes that quite clear when he talks about the power of mental pictures. He refers to an African tribe that names all their kids after the day of the week on which they are born. So you see a lot of little Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and other days of the week running around the village.

But this is the intriguing part. The word “Monday,” in their language, stands for peace and calm, while “Wednesday” means quick tempered and angry. And 50% of the crime in their village is done by Wednesday children. Somehow or other, the name plants a mental image that the kid tends to fulfill.

So plant an image in your mind for each of your keepers. Visualize the things you learned and the actions you’re going to take. Visualize the success you’re going to be.

=> 6. Catch yourself applying your keepers.

Quite often, people make progress, and they don’t even know they’re making progress. All they see are the obstacles and setbacks.

That’s why journaling is such an effective, powerful strategy. When you write down what you learn, when you write down what you’re doing with what you learn, when you do this on a regular basis, you’ll be amazed when you look back at what you wrote two, three, or four months ago. You’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come … even though you may still have a long way to go.

So catch yourself applying your keepers. Take note of what’s working for you. And take note of any corrections you could make so you become even more effective in the future.

=> 7. Ask others to hold you accountable for your keepers.

When you come back from a conference or training program, don’t keep your keepers to yourself. As I said before, it’s a good idea to teach others what you learned.

But you take a huge step forward when you ask others to hold you accountable for those keepers. So ask your manager, spouse, or friend to watch you … observe you … and tell you … how well you’re applying your keepers to your job or home situation.

You see … privately held goals are easy to cheat on. But when you make your keeper goals public, your chances of following through rise dramatically.

Action:  Reflect on a learning experience you’ve had in the last 6 months. Write down 3 “I learned” statements and write down 3 “I’m going to” statements. Make this a habit for every learning experience you have.

Make it a 10 in 2010!