Growing and evolving means letting go
of beliefs, habits, roles, and practices
when they become too tight;
Taking off our current realities
and stepping into new ones;
Letting go of our perceptions
of who we have been,
and stepping into the next generation
of who we feel called to be.
(from The Manifestation Wheel)
This week I will celebrate my 59th birthday and enter my 60th year. I believe that birthdays are a great time to pause and consider where you going. So this week feels like the perfect time to write about “learning forward.”
Most of us have been conditioned to “learn backward.” In other words, when we learn something new, whether consciously or unconsciously, we interpret and assimilate new information within the context of our previous knowledge and experience. The meaning we give to our new experiences is based on our past. If the new learning affirms or is congruent with what we already know, we are likely to accept it and work with it.
However, if the new information contradicts what we already know or have experienced, or if we don’t have a pre-existing context in which to put the new learning, we are less likely to accept this new information. Our ability to learn something completely new or to perceive something in a radically different way is limited by what we already know and what we have experienced.
“Learning forward,” on the other hand, means that we meet each new experience and situation on its own terms. We let life show itself to us rather than assuming that we know what something is or what the outcome of a situation will be before we’ve actually experienced it. We meet new situations and circumstances with an open mind and heart – with curiosity – and see what there is to discover. When learning forward, we allow ourselves to have an experience before we give it meaning or interpretation.
Learning backward is static. It is about putting things into boxes and categories, immediately labeling or interpreting things to fit into a pre-existing form and structure. In contrast, learning forward is dynamic, generative, and ever-evolving. There is a constant sense of movement and flow, sometimes gentle and easy, while at other times, fast and furious. Learning forward generates momentum, each discovery leading to another. In a big-picture view, there is a sense of participating in a greater creative and evolutionary flow. As you learn forward, you help propel the mass consciousness forward.
A good example of the contrast between learning forward and learning backward is traveling to a new culture. In each culture, the customs and foods are different. If your style is to learn backwards, you are more likely to compare the new culture to your own, looking for foods and ways of doing things that are similar to your own. You are more likely to see and experience things according to what they remind you of (from your current cache of experience) rather than letting yourself discover something new for which you have no previous reference. You are more likely to seek out the familiar in order to stay within your comfort zone.
However, if your style is to learn forward, then you are more likely to be adventurous and eager to try new things. You notice the ways people engage with one another, how they think, the customs of your new surroundings, and you adapt quickly. You are much more likely to meet your new experiences with no preconceived expectations.
The same is true when starting a new job or making a career change, entering into a new personal relationship, or keeping the products and services of your business relevant in a rapidly changing world. The pace of change in today’s world is getting faster and faster. People and relationships are constantly evolving. Today there are different sets of rules and conditions than what we knew in the past. Some of our past knowledge, experience, and beliefs may indeed continue to serve us in this new context, yet some may no longer be relevant. Learning forward means letting go of what is no longer relevant and continuing to explore forward, learning the new rules as we go. The journey forward will be much easier if we are flexible and adaptable to the new conditions and realities we discover along the way.
For most of us, learning forward requires practice. It’s a conscious choice. In the coming days, pay attention to your learning style. Do you treat each day, your interactions with others, and your tasks and responsibilities as opportunities to discover something new? Or do you tend to quickly associate each new experience with something from your past and assign it meaning based on what you already know? When going to a new place, do you explore and discover with open curiosity, or do you subconsciously look for similarities and associations with places you have been before? When you meet a new person, do you immediately associate them with a person that they remind you of, or do you meet them as a unique individual who you now have the chance to discover?
Play with learning forward. Let life show itself to you. Assume that there is something new to discover with everything you do, in everything you think, and in how you show up to each experience. Learn forward and see what new possibilities emerge.