Third and fourth order change

In a previous post, I explored the distinction between first and second order change -- change that oscillates and change that endures. Both of these kinds of change view the problem as real. The need for change is a fact, and all that remains debatable is how to go about changing. Second order change is an improvement on first order change. We fix how we are going to fix what's wrong.

Bruce Ecker and Laura Hulley developed in the concepts of third and fourth order change in their 1996 book: Depth Oriented Brief Therapy. They were noticing their clients coming to realizations that changed their lives profoundly. Clients were changing their cosmology of how life works, what happens to them when they take actions and what it pays to do. Perfectionists began to take satisfaction in the accomplishments that now seemed good enough. Painfully shy people began to make friends and became interesting to know as well. Sex fiends began to see the objects of their extreme desires as complex, fascinating people with feelings of their own, a need for understanding, an appetite for tenderness and valuing of freedom to choose.

They characterized these as third and fourth order changes. Second order change only reframes the problem as "wounded inner children" or some other creative diagnosis. Third order change reframes the problem as a solution in use. It is neither unconscious, unknowing or useless. There is a pro-symptom position maintaining the problem (i.e. perfectionism, shyness, sexual predation) as a way to avoid danger, manipulate control freaks, handle threats or manage chronic problems. This non-pathological diagnosis opens the space for fourth order change. A pro/anti synthesis realizes the best of both positions. The value of the solution in use and the perception of problem both get realized as valid.

Fourth order change revises the long-established, limiting "facts of life". The relentless danger is no longer oppressive, everywhere and always a problem. The control freaks are no longer in control, intimidating or credible. The apparent threats are actually opportunities to strut one's stuff, respond to the challenge or play with the possibilities. The chronic problems are easily vanished by creating desirable experiences instead.

When changes run this deep, third order changes revise strategies. There's more than one way for a former perfectionist to value his/her accomplishments, progress and intentions. There several ways for an ex-shy person to express interest in others and create activities to pursue together. There are countless avenues for retired sex fiends to be romantic, affectionate, respectful and sensitive. The world we live out from within -- is transformed by coming to these realizations.


Seeing double

When we're angry, we are filled with rage at the world as it appears to us. We are inflamed with a burning issue that cannot be resolved with the world as is. We are on fire with desire for a different world to live in.

Where we go wrong is to take "the world" literally. We think, incorrectly, that the world to fix is the one on the outside. We assume there is only one real world and our five senses tell us the truth about that. We dismiss our inner world as mere mind stuff, worries and unreliable moods.

When we've spent lots of time in reflective practice, we get a different sense of our inner lives. The world inside becomes equally real to the outside one. At some point it becomes the only world that's real. It appears as consciousness to us that cannot be born or die, only continue eternally.

Once we've realized how our inner world is partly or totally real, we are seeing double. When we get angry we have a new place to go. We can consider how to change the world of our beliefs. We get that the world as it appears outside us is a representation of the world we believe in deeply.

The world we can change within us is comprised of our 'facts of life". We believe in what cannot be changed by us. We assume certain rules are the way the world works for us, our particular fate, and how we've been cursed or blessed in this life.

We've learned this inner world by experience. We've graduated from the school of hard knocks. Life has taught us how to limit ourselves, fear for our survival, join in consensual anxieties and feel guilty about our happiness.

This belief system works like film in a movie projector. It creates appearances that reflect, validate and perpetuate the recorded assumptions. It sends out signs of what is believed so deeply it appears as unchangeable facts of life.

This is the world we are on fire to change when we get angry. If we are seeing double, we know which world to change, and which will happen to change on its own when we succeed at the inner transformation.


At the movies

Another way to comprehend changing is the metaphor of being at the movies that I alluded to in my last posting. Here's the full treatment of that way to picture how we get stuck, oscillate between change and stability, as well as creating lasting changes.

When we're sucked into the movie, our life is stagnant. Life incidents are crazy enough, but nothing really changes. We can change jobs, partners or cities and get into the same troubles as before. The 2PM showing of the movie is the same as the 4PM, 6PM and 8PM screenings. We are in the movie as is replays itself. We have no access to the level where changes happen. Since we're powerless to change the movie, we tell lots of victim stories about our lives. We fetch for compliments, sympathy and protection from abuse. We're very vulnerable to predators, control freaks and bullies because we exude powerlessness in our movie.

When we take a seat at the movies, we can watch what happens on screen with detachment. We are in a "seat of power". We can get up and leave anytime. We sit there by choice and choose which flick we watch. We take responsibility for what we're seeing and pay for it up front. We cannot change what happens in the movie, but we can change our experience of the cineplex. When we get up and change theaters, we see a different movie. We act confidently and significant changes occur. The changes don't last because each movie ends. We're in a position to make things happen. We fill our garages, attics, basements and hard drives with accumulated things. We make a thing of change, learning and growth. We identify with acquisition of things more than the experiencing things. We're vulnerable to get sucked back into the the movie -- sitting this close to it, competing with other rivals and committed to doing something when a change is called for.

When we get up into the projector booth, we're in a position to change the film which changes the movie being watched. This level of change does not make change happens, it imagines the change that happens. The film is in our minds, not the world. There's no place to walk, bicycle, drive, take a train or fly to -- that will arrive at the place where "change happens". We simply change our minds for changes like this to occur. We see that the problem is really a solution in use. We see that the resistance to change is really cooperation. We envision the change that's already occurring. We perceive the difficulty with any current change program as a reflection of doing things the hard way, taking pride in heroic efforts, or valuing struggles to impress ourselves and others. We're vulnerable to take a seat in the theater again, anytime we miss making changes happen, taking action and looking busy.

When we become the lamp in the projector and the movie screen we shine on, we include every facet of the experience. We allow for what happens in the movie, actions to deliberately change movies, changing the film we have in mind, and projecting what we envision onto the screen of life. What we dream up comes true. We see it first in mind and then again when it happens along. We are the source of our experience on every level and take ultimate responsibility for it. We vulnerable to changing the film in the projector and delightful imagining alternatives again, since we're so close to the film when we're the lamp next to the film.


Beyond contradictory experiences

It's obvious when people we know have experienced too much criticism, invalidation, betrayal or abandonment. They believe it will happen again. They live in danger of continuing to experience what they don't want to happen. As far as they can tell, they cannot change their minds about what happens to them. What continues to come to mind is more worries, dread and dark forecasts for the future. We've all been in this kind of pain ourselves, too.

We've all had moments of providing contradictory experiences to other people in pain. We've given compliments to the over-criticized, encouragement to those that got shot down, follow-thru on our commitments to the over-betrayed and "being there" for those who dread neglect. In spite of our good intentions, the effects of our breaking from their past does not break their pattern. Their beliefs in danger are usually more robust than our "showing them a contradictory time". We fall short of providing a life-changing experience. Our caring appears to them as a fluke, not a change in their facts of life. They believe the danger in their life is real and the safety we provide is unreliable. They live in their traumatic past.

As I've reflected on this lately, I've realized that contradictory experiences are necessary, but not sufficient. We need to change where we are coming from to provide life changing experiences to others. When we merely act differently, we are coming from a place where the evidence of our five senses is real and our minds deal with this reality as best they can. To transform someone's belief in danger, it's not enough to provide an experience of safety in their world of evidence.

We can get to a place where the world of sensory evidence is an after-effect of our thinking. We realize are minds are real and the world deals with how it appears to us as we really mind it. We can change our minds and transform our personal history, belief in danger and subsequent experiences of safety. We go beyond contradictory experiences to closure.

Whenever we decide that dangers are real, we've had an incomplete experience. We've been over-criticized without experiencing immediate compliments that sets things right. We been shot down without getting built up again. We've experienced betrayals without recompense, restitution or justice. We've endured too much abandonment without returning to safe enclosures, protection from a reoccurrence and credible reassurances.

When our minds are real, we can change our history in mind. We can imagine closure of those incomplete experiences. We can close out the story that left us in danger. We can bring the turn of events in our imagination full circle. We can be safe in our minds and watch the world of evidence conform to our new outlook upon it.

We cannot change our deepest beliefs in danger when the world of sensory evidence seems unquestionably real. We cannot change a movie on the screen when we're seated in the audience. However, we can change the film in our mind when the world appears to be a movie we projected onto a blank screen. We can live in safety as we've imagined it in our mind's experience. We go beyond contradicting our past history, to completing it.


Leading by seeing

When we lead by seeing, we take others to the place we're looking forward to. We see what this could become, where things are headed and what lies ahead that's different from present circumstances. We expect others' beliefs will change by following our lead. We show them the way to go to where we're coming from.

When the blind lead the blind, nobody sees alternatives, opportunities and freedom ahead. The blind leaders see more of the same old misery. The situation calls for business as usual and 'full steam ahead". There's all the usual suspects, dangers and difficulties. Nothing is mysterious, fascinating or worth exploring.

The blind followers are equally oblivious to what visionaries are seeing. There's no way to follow the lead of one who sees because that route appears foolish. They know better than to trust the judgement of unconventional, imaginative and creative types. Their minds are already made up. Their hardening of the categories rules out weird interpretations and speculations.

When people follow a leader who sees, they see the wisdom in what is pictured. They see for themselves what is envisioned. They value the possibilities that come with imaginative forecasts. They see where it things might lead if they follow the beat of a different drummer. They change their beliefs by acting AS-IF the leader is not blind. They see a similar future, look forward to similar changes and prepare for better times ahead.

Leading by seeing changes beliefs. The followers believe in moving forward rather than faith in stagnation, conservatism or regression. They withdraw their belief in the status quo, the inevitability of continuity and their previous dedication to maintaining established institutions. They believe in things unseen. They trust that what is not here yet will be by believing in its emergence. They see what a difference it makes to believe. They stop doubting, dismissing or despairing at what might happen. They keep the dream alive.


Visionary leadership

Visionary leaders act AS-IF the future will be different than present circumstances. They act AS-IF the future they envision will come about by acting AS-IF it's emerging now. They believe in creating a desired future by imagining that it's possible, how it will play out and what differences it will make. They experience their vivid imaginations building their own convictions in this future. They make it easier to act AS-IF their future is coming about by acting AS-IF it is already unfolding. They utilize the dynamics of self-fulfilling prophesies intentionally. They comprehend the power of "so be it".

We bloggers are visionary leaders, We are acting AS-IF authority is distributed among us, diverse voices have significant validity and self expression is essential to networked endeavors. As we act AS-IF this is true, it's becoming true in our world of hard data and convincing proofs of substantive changes. By acting AS-IF the world can be different in this way, the world is conforming to our beliefs. So be it.

Visionary leaders affect others with fluid belief systems. It takes personal experiences with changing AS-IF's to be free to change one's AS-IF's at will. Experiences with acting out of character, putting on masks, and playing different parts are ideal for changing AS-IF's. No one "act" seems real. Rather the process of acting and experiencing different AS-IF's are real.

The living examples and inspired messages fail to affect others with rigid belief systems. The lack of experience with changing AS-IF's eliminates responding to a leader's influence. There's no messing around with roles, characters or acting. When belief systems are rigid, the situation is really serious, dangerous, even deadly. The troubles are obviously overwhelming, threatening and intimidating. The life experience is incessantly limiting, confining and difficult. There's no way to play around with what is necessitated and no way to skirt around the burdensome obligations.

Rigid belief systems create living nightmares. More bad stuff happens by believing the apparent dangers are a fact of life. Belief systems do not become fluid through day-to-day experiences. Fluidity comes about though disorienting experiences like initiations. The rigid belief system loses reliability as real-life experiences reveal the system cannot handle disarming, unexplainable and mind boggling changes. A breakup of rigid convictions precedes the breakthrough into fluid beliefs.


Forming new beliefs

Revising a deeply-held belief is a life-changing experience. Different thoughts, ideas and solutions come to mind. We respond to situations differently, We feel unfamiliar emotions in familiar circumstances. We anticipate a different future than before. We experience all these changes from a change in a belief.

Changing a belief is also quite an experience in itself. A belief may change with no effort at all. A belief may take some time to be revised. A belief may persist while we insist on harboring a different belief. A belief may sabotage what we want to believe and make us appear foolish for hoping and wishing for a change. The experience of changing a belief is created by our beliefs about changing our beliefs.

Beliefs serve a purpose. When we oppose that purpose, beliefs don't change. We try to change the belief and fail. Our beliefs go deeper into our unconscious where we cannot mess with them. When the value the purpose of a belief, we change the context of that belief. We create an experience of safety, freedom from the past and room to maneuver. We believe in the possibility of our beliefs changing easily and naturally.

Lots of our beliefs get formed during traumatic episodes. We get the idea there is no safety in our situation. We are obviously in grave danger, threatened by what's changing and faced with enemies who's intentions are to harm us. We make up our minds to survive in spite of the abuse. We believe the dangers are a fact of life, our curse to live with and something to believe in forever. We internalize the unavoidable abuse and create an endless series of reenactments -- with these dark beliefs in the seemingly real dangers.

Beliefs generate further evidence that they are true. They put a spin on what happens that justifies their existence. They bring thoughts to our minds and feelings to our bodies that fuel the same old reactions to what shows up. There appears to be no way to question the underlying structure since the deeply held beliefs are obviously continuing to be applicable, valid and reasonable.

Other beliefs get formed in moments of saving grace. We are plucked out of imminent danger. We are freed from those nightmarish episodes we relentlessly manufacture. We get a feeling this experience is real and could happen again. We experience different thoughts, ideas and solutions coming to mind. We notice we have different inclinations and urges when challenges appear.

When we have conflicting beliefs from experiences of abuse and saving grace, we act inconsistently. We have a demon giving us advice on one shoulder and an angel on the other. We are torn between feeling threatened and safe. We're getting ideas for reacting defensively and responding creatively. We see dangers ahead and opportunities in them. We cannot make up our mind when the underlying basis for being decisive is conflicted.

When we remain outer-directed, our dark and conflicting beliefs are locked in place. There's no changing what we already believe until we go within and mess around with the facts of life. (... to be continued)


In your fantasies

How does learning happen in your fantasy world? Can people get everything they need to know from a book by smelling the pages? Does it take rubbing their hands on the paper? Are there magic sunglasses they can wear which gives them immediate comprehension of everything they look at?

On a page in WikiEducator: Learner as Protagonist, JRR Tolkein is portrayed as an exemplar for learning with our imaginations:
The fact that an author can create a fantasy world with linguistically analogous constructs with the real world reveals a mastery level of knowledge and skills in that individual - a mastery level which educators strive for at CAA. Students who are able to combine their skills as both artists and scholars and become creators of their own world fulfill a key goal of the learner as protagonist; development of the confident learner identity through creative self-expression.
Perhaps comprehension occurs by simply immersing oneself in a conversation about it. What if understanding came about by writing the unknowns into a story that gets resolved in the end? Learning could even happen by deliberately not learning something, refusing to understand it and stubbornly dismissing the ideas. Then the extreme positional stance would bring about the total opposite without effort.

How does blogging affect learning in your fantasy world? Do learners gains skills from the read/write web? Are their significant changes in their thinking by linking to and commenting on other blogs? Does learning come about by the immersion in so many writers who are obviously learning by expressing themselves, thinking out loud and realizing more insights in the process?

When we bring our fantasies into the process of learning, we empower our love of learning. We see reality in a new light by setting up a desirable contrast to it. We create some suspense in a story that engages our emotions and sets us up to be the hero/heroine.


So be it

When we assume there is nothing better to do, we will do nothing better. So be it.

When we operate on the premise that learning is a struggle, we will do what it takes to experience learning as a struggle. So be it.

When we choose to establish our inferiority and insecurities as a fact of our miserable life, we act as if these limitations are inevitable, irrefutable and unchangeable. So be it.

When we choose to believe we are talented, creative and resourceful regardless of our past history, we will act as if these gifts are ready available and a joy to play with. So be it.

When we believe in our hearts that we have to make things happen for things to change, we will ignore, deny and disregard all evidence of change falling into place, emerging without effort or growing from a tiny seed. So be it.

When we assume that changes happen all the time, without effort and naturally, we will realize ways to let things happen and nurture what's coming about naturally.

When we are convinced that our imagination is only good for wishful thinking, sexual fantasies and rescue scenarios, we will experience our imagination as daydreaming, wasting time and losing touch with reality. So be it.

When we assume our imagination is our source of great ideas, new possibilities and inspired things to say, our imagination will deliver on our premise as promised. So be it.

We are always being what is so for us. There is no way to avoid "so be it".


Revising underlying structure

When we're busy with what needs to be done, there's no underlying structure anywhere in sight. When we're devoted to being ourselves, we cannot be someone else. We are preoccupied with maintaining the upper level of evidence by doing things. We are caught up in the emergent products of the underlying structure with no idea "where that came from?" or "why that fall apart?".

We are oscillating between one extreme and the other if the underlying structure is in conflict. We cannot make up our minds, settle on one alternative or stick with a change once it's been made. We are stuck in first gear and stagnant as a swamp -- if the underlying structure embodies "one right answer". In one case we cannot stop changing. In the other we cannot change.

For example, individuals may believe that work and play don't mix and constantly need the other to feel alright about themselves. They are never satisfied at work or having fun. Others believe play is disgraceful and only work is respectable. They cannot stop working, come home without work or take a break from work to relax.

An enterprise that assumes "the customer is always right" will change with every fad and fancy of their fickle patrons. A company that assumes it knows what is good for the "stupid" customers, (patients, students, subscribers, clients, etc) will continue to do what it has always done regardless of how times have changed, complaints have multiplied or rivals have redefined the market.

When we are free to reflect on patterns in the fluctuations or stagnation, we may discern some of the underlying structure. We may recognize hidden beliefs, assumptions, premises and "unalterable" facts of life. We may see how everything that happens on top is true the form of the underlies it. We may realize the futility of changing the behavior while making no change in what drives the behavior. We become conscious of what needs changing and what will fall into place without making it happen. We are free of "trying to change". We have become capable of "changing without effort".

If the underlying structure is stuck on some ideal that rejects the opposite, revising the structure to "it takes both" will get things moving again. World class performance in business occurs when employees are told to comply with policy AND deviate from policy when appropriate. Student test performance improves with studying AND sleep.

If the underlying structure is conflicted about "how it takes both", low class performance results. The employees will oscillate between over compliance and excessive deviance. The students will study too hard and sleep through the test period. Then the underlying structure needs to be revised to realize the "best of both" alternatives. Compliance and deviance get combined into a validation of individual judgment and cultivation of employee awareness of long term implications of their choices. The students discovers how to cut down on study time by sleeping regularly and getting better test results with less brain-dead studying.

Often all it takes to revise an underlying structure is an added distinction that complicates the established premises without rejecting them.


Two kinds of change

Back in the seventies, experts in cybernetics explored the ways change happened. They characterized several of the differences they observed as "first and second order change". Chris Argyris then relabeled these as "single and double loop learning".

These cyberneticians were focused on changes that did and did not last. The temporary changes appeared as oscillation to their trained eyes. The passing change went through cycles of progress and regress, getting nowhere quickly. Oscillation usually occurs when we are making change happen. Taking a mechanistic approach yields temporary advances counter-acted by resistance, sabotage and loyalty to the status quo brought to the forefront by the imposed change. We merely stretch the rubber band before it pulls back into place or force the pendulum to one side of it's relentless swinging.

Changes that endure (second order change, double loop learning) transforms the underlying premise. The change agents play with the rules instead of playing by the rules. They see the pattern being followed and alter the basis for that pattern to emerge. The rubber band is redeployed to hold a bundle of envelopes. The pendulum clock is relocated in it's entirety.

These system experts held as a basic truth that "a system cannot change it's own rules". It takes an outsider to be in a position to revise the basis for equilibrium. When the change agent revises the underlying premise, the upper level system reconfigures itself accordingly. The rubber band no longer stretches and snaps back in cycles when holding the pack of envelopes.

Second order change occurs when we let change happen as a response to the revision of the underlying rules. The obvious change emerges from the deeper shift in paradigm , presupposition or premise.

More recently, the underlying premise has been viewed as a story. We are all enacting stories that give our lives a sense of coherency and consistency. Our conduct emerges from the underlying story that patterns our lives. Change the story and we will act very differently. A change of story is a second order, enduring change.

Rather than mess around with how we're acting, we can revise where we are coming from. Rather than adopt New Year's Resolutions or self-improvement goals, we can create ourselves as a different person entirely. When we start messing with our online identities and avatars in games, we are learning this fluidity to spawn lasting changes in conduct. We've dropped out of oscillation, trying to improve our behavior and overcoming stubborn habits. We've entered the realm of transformation and renewal.

Related posts:
Revising underlying structure
Third and fourth order change
Hard wired to flip flop
Trying smarter for a change


Watching what happens

When we are reacting to what's out there, what happened to us and what has to be done next -- we are not reflecting. We're being watched by everyone without watching ourselves. We don't see where we're coming from, how we're affecting the situations we're in or what's up with the others. We have a lot to learn and oodles of opportunities to change our minds.

When it appears we're in danger, getting into trouble or facing a looming threat, it also appears that this is no time to reflect. The appearances call for reacting faster than our thinking can do. We're grateful we've got our knee-jerk ways to kick it. We do unto others before they can do it unto us. We're not watching, so we don't see we're hard wired to these appearances, easily provoked, and relating on the basis of presumed powerlessness. These are lessons in power. We have yet to learn how to relate in ways that create safety. We will soon transform threats into opportunities, danger into challenges and troubles into problems we can solve.

When it appears we're in control but the situation is out of control, it's still no time to reflect. The appearances call for taking charge, making things happen and thinking things through. Our minds are in turmoil with all those options, pitfalls and consequences on our plate. We're stressed out about how much, when and which approach to use. We have no sense of balance, timing or appreciation that comes from reflecting. We're still not watching so we do not see we're making enemies, causing trouble and resisting what's occurring naturally. These are lessons in cycles. We have yet to learn how to relate to things going round in circles, coming back to haunt us and reflecting what we dished out. We will soon change how we come across, what we give and ways we care about others.

When it appears we can imagine what it's like to be other people, it's time to reflect even more. The appearances call for wondering how people are changing, what they're facing and which avenue they are trying to explore. We're fascinated by what we're being shown, what it says about us and where we can apply these new insights. We're into deeply satisfying learning and that plays into real relating. We're watching what happens.


Alleviating unconscious incompetence

I've been shoveling snow this morning, both here and at the next door neighbor's. When I finished, I continued designing the immersive workshop on relating. I've recently been pondering the learners' initial problem with "unconscious incompetence".

The possibility I'm exploring with them is "off radar" from their familiar considerations, alternatives and expectations. After a lifetime of troublesome experiences with relating, they are most likely convinced they are right to expect dissatisfaction. They know from experience that other people don't relate well, don't reciprocate in kind and don't understand people who are very different from themselves. The possibility of deeply satisfying relating seems naive, impractical and overly optimistic. The learners assume they don't know about this because it does not exist in the realm of realistic expectations.

Coincidentally, I discovered that Steve Roelser wrote today about the four stages of learning that begin with unconscious incompetence. He brought up the topic in the context of consciousness raising and giving people conscious reasons to change. Good stuff!

It occurred to me that most content delivery "makes learners wrong" for their maintenance of unconscious incompetence. A presenters actions speak louder than words. The actions of teaching, preaching and authoring come across as insensitive, propagandistic and domineering. Everyone is being told the same information. Explicitly the informative presentation says "listen to this". Implicitly that presentation is saying "never mind what you're feeling, what you've been through in your life, what's happened to you recently, or what you think is the right approach to this".

I get around this when I'm mentoring entrepreneurs because we are conversing one on one. We explore "what happened to you?" because I'm not addressing many people at once. But mentoring is not scalable. There must be a way to send a different message than "never mind...." when presenting to larger audiences.

So far, I'm considering adding a brief overview of "inconceivable alternatives" to send that different message. Here's a glimpse at that approach:
When we know things from experience, that's all we know. We don't know what we don't know. We are not aware of having blind spots, overlooking possibilities and ruling out creative solutions. We're convinced by our experience to trust what we've discovered works for us. That means that something we don't already know is going to be inconceivable to us. More specifically, the new possibility may initially appear:
  • unfamiliar, strange, surprising
  • unexplainable, mysterious, puzzling
  • unalterable, lifeless, stagnant
By validating their initial experience of inconceivable possibilities, I'm intending to send the opposite message: "I'm considering what you're feeling, what you've been through in your life, what's happened to you recently, or what you think is the right approach to this".


Deeply satisfying learning

I'm currently writing an immersive workshop on "deeply satisfying relating". All those ideas apply to learning as well. I mentioned a few of the concepts last week in Learning is nothing. Here are a few more.

When we think what we learned is a thing, we have a lot to lose. We are devastated when we forget it, cannot apply it or discover we got it wrong in the first place. If we get acclimated to these losses, we start thinking like a loser. We're convinced by our own experience that we cannot succeed or get satisfaction in our adversarial world of learning. We unconsciously learn to lose at learning every time.

When we think what we're learning is a process, we have a lot to discover. We are fascinated when we don't know something. We're empowered when there is more to reflect upon to get to the point where the learning is applicable. We are free to let go of past incidents because our experience of learning is continually growing and changing. We succeed at creating satisfaction in a friendly and abundant world of learning.

When we've made a thing of learning, we identify with the few knowledge objects we've acquired. We are passive consumers who think we are getting satisfaction out of those things we've accumulated. Someone is smarter than us when they know more things and have more to show off. We chase after more things, as if this will lead to more satisfaction, even though we know in our hearts that it does not.
When we relate to learning as a continual process, we identify with experiencing whatever happens. We are clear of fear and free to flow with what comes along. We have no attachment to particular incidents, outcomes or identities in the unfolding flux. We are functioning like the instructor that minh described last week:
The 76 year old Chinese man who makes his knowledge & skills of Tai Chi freely available to anyone who turns up in the park on Sunday morning keeps saying -"is not hard, do nothing."
When we are free to enjoy any and everything, learning is deeply satisfying. The satisfaction arises from within rather than appearing to come from things. We relate to the experience by giving it our frame of reference, pattern recognizing and context of finding it valuable.


The December Big Question

The December Big Question on the Learning Circuits blog asks "What did you learn about learning in 2007?" For me, 2007 has been a banner year for learning lots more about learning.

I've learned that a lot of different words we're using are referencing the same thing that is NOT formal learning. As I've explored my use of these different terms, I've realized that "discovery learning" works better for me than the other terms. My initial enthusiasm for free ranging PLE's waned as I discovered how PLE's face the same obstacles for any learner trying to escape from deeply ingrained factory models of educating, classroom delivery of content and "teach the test" conceptions of teaching. The change in how we support learning needs to be revolutionary, not incremental.

I've learned that all our writing about learning is not changing how much of the learning gets done in our world. Getting stuck in the idea stage is common for lots of conceptualizing apart from the trenches. I'm hopeful that the learning I'm doing spawns changes as if I'm leading by example and being the change I want to see. Some of my optimism rests on how my my own learning has increased by watching other bloggers learn from all our writing, commenting, linking and reading. That's something I first acknowledged in I found it in my blog reader!

I've learned how important personal reflection is in my own learning. RSS feeds can get as overwhelming as 'drinking from a fire hose". Too many valuable blog posts and comments affords me no time/energy to reflect on been written. I've fallen far behind on reading blogs many times this year in order to get caught up on pondering the great stuff I've already read.

I've learned that much more learning occurs unconsciously than I ever suspected. I've realized that learning simply happens most of the time without our conscious intervention. I also comprehend how easy it is to learn to avoid learning when we are being forced to learn. Unconsciously learning adds more dimensions to idea that teaching interferes with learning and authentic knowledge can be learned by us but cannot be taught to us.

After reading Karl Kapp's new book this year, I went through a revival of playing Railroad Tycoon III on my Mac. I observed how there is a constant supply of incentives to try different strategies, change my assumptions and play again with the better idea in mind. It occurred to me that the way we learn immersively in games is very similar to hands on and mastery learning of skills.

Finally, I learned to continue blogging, commenting, linking and reading because it feeds my continual learning.


Learning is nothing

When we make a thing of learning, it's a thing that won't happen unless we make it happen. When we make no-thing of learning, it simply happens. It's happening right now.

When learning is not happening, we make a thing of what's wrong with the learner's ability, attention or motivation. When there's nothing wrong with the learner, learning happens like it is as you read this.

When learning needs more work, effort, and determination, learning is a noun that's not about to occur naturally or act naturally.

When learning naturally occurs following what got said, shown, done or discovered, "learning" is a verb. Learning is actively changing and growing.

When learning is something to be proud of, show off and get measured for comparisons, learning becomes a struggle we do only do if it's required, rewarded and recognized.

When learning is nothing to make a fuss about, learning happens all the time, even now.


Learning to love learning

Just as it's possible to unconsciously learn to avoid learning, it equally possible to learn to love learning. I know both from my own experiences. I fell in love with learning before entering college. When I started teaching college twenty years later, I was amazed by how few students loved to learn like I do. I inspired a few to love their own learning by sharing my fascination, appreciation and continual curiosity. Yet I came to see more and more evidence of others unconsciously learning to not learn from getting schooled.

As I've come to understand the dynamics of unconscious learning this year, I have a better understanding of my own love of learning. It's something I learned to love unconsciously. We cannot make ourselves love learning any more than we can follow a plan to fall in love. A love of learning emerges from experiences that provide the opposite context from those that breed "no learning":
  • We learn to pay attention because it's rewarding in a context of contributing to interesting conversations, adding another viewpoint that's appreciated and making a difference that gets respected.
  • We learn to look attentive when there's an opportunity to participate because we've learned from past experiences that we get admired, validated and encouraged to learn more when we join in.
  • We learn to value intrinsic rewards over "carrots dangled on a stick" because they play into our self motivation, self-satisfaction and further self- explorations.
  • We learn to respect and appreciate those instructors who get us to think deeper, to challenge our preconceptions and to delve into realms we would not have explored on our own.
  • We learn from peer pressure to understand things enough to explain them to others, to reason through puzzling occurrences and to formulate better questions to be asking ourselves.
  • We learn to open our minds to gain new insights, to unlearn what we previously understood and build a new basis for feeling confident.
  • We learn to sense when new information seems useful to know, practical to do, or essential to solve current problems -- and commit it to long term memory.
  • We learn to complain about bogus instruction that merely covers the material and makes learning seem like a chore -- to maintain our love of authentic learning.
  • We learn to appreciate valuable instruction that inspires us to reflect on our understanding, wonder about alternatives and explore unfamiliar realms - to experience our ongoing love for learning in action.
It's seems unlikely that a love for learning could be learned in a factory schooling context. The mass production of compliant retention would provide the attention, peer context or experiences that would seem dangerous to pursue further. It would make more sense to avoid learning while there were no signs of anyone loving learning themselves or cultivating their love of learning in others.

On the other hand, it seems very likely that a love for learning would emerge when each individual was on a path of personal discoveries, as we are in gameplay learning and utilizing our PLE's.


Unconsciously learning to avoid learning

The four books from cognitive neuroscience I read this year opened my eyes to how much we learn unconsciously. New techniques for studying unconscious processes have revealed a very high percentage (85-90%) of our behavior to be outside our conscious awareness. This explained for me the equally high percentage of "zero and negative skill transfer" in most adult learning events.

Imagine how our minds are learning when we are retaining nothing from an educational experience.
  • We learn to look like we're paying attention even when we're not.
  • We learn to give blank stare when the instructor is asking for participation.
  • We learn to rely on grades or other extrinsic rewards to "motivate" our compliance with the requirements.
  • We learn how to be nice to the instructor to avoid getting stereotyped or singled out for abuse
  • We learn to keep our assimilation of indoctrination to a minimum to avoid being scorned by peers for "believing that B.S".
  • We learn to close our minds when we are being told to think differently than we already are, so as to maintain our composure
  • We learn to forget what we memorized for a test to avoid cluttering our mind with useless information
  • We learn how to complain (about the course, instructor, schedule, workload, etc. ) when it works to get sympathy
  • We learn to express appreciation (how it could be worse, provides a welcome break, etc) when it works to get admired

Once we've learn this and "field tested" these routines, we execute them without thinking. We are "hard-wired" to handle instructional settings without thinking about what is being taught, what we could get out of it or how we are reacting routinely. We can show up, play the game and get the work done without learning a thing more than we internalized unconsciously.

Clinicians may diagnose us as having a "learning disability". Others may defend our adaptation to a toxic situation by labeling our condition: a "learned disability" . It's actually not a disability at all. Our conduct is a success we learned in practice. It's getting done what almost always works in these situations. We've made our mind up and will not change until it's clear that our routines are failing to avoid what we were steering clear of or are getting us into trouble. Then we will unconsciously learn to behave differently.


Coming from empowerment

Last week, Adele Lin added some wonderful insights to the challenge of conducting empowering conversations:
And many thanks for sharing your tips here, it is true that there are much more opportunities to create empowering conversations than one would care to harness. For me at least, I know that I have passed up some of them because of (1) internal dialogue going on, and (2) sheer laziness. When you have some free time, would you kindly share with us as well, some examples of empowering questions in the context you described below, or in any other relevant situation to illustrate the methods mentioned? Much appreciated.
As I've pondered why empowering conversations are so rare, it occurred to me that it's not something that egos can do. Empowering conversations only succeed when we feel like conducting them and having those effects on others. They come from our hearts, not our heads. They are more akin to falling in love than following a procedure.

Our egos are designed to ensure our physical survival. They assume the evidence gathered by our five senses is an accurate appraisal of possibilities. From the ego's frame of reference, we are obviously separate from each other and dangerous to each other. We assume we are right to be judgmental and controlling when we conduct conversations. We don't intend to be dis-empowering. We are simply keeping safe in the presence of separate and dangerous creatures.

Our non-local minds are clear of fear. They do not support belief in the evidence of our five senses. When we are connected to our non-local minds, we respond in a spirit of unity, freedom and timelessness. We get a sense of what to see, say and support from out of nowhere that has an empowering effect on others. It dawns on our minds how to serve, care for and give to the person we're conversing with. We're coming from a place of endless generosity with no sacrifice on our behalf.

I suspect the empowering effect on others is a reflection of where we are coming from, rather than a product of what we say. The effect is in the spirit of our conversation rather than the words. So the questions I offer for you to ponder are not about the other person. They ask about premises for conducting the conversation in the first place:
  • Where are you coming from when you're in the presence of someone you could speak with?
  • What's the difference you experience between what you say in fear of danger and say in a spirit of freedom?
  • What sense do you have other than your five physical senses to relate to others without fear?
  • How are you feeling about having a conversation with this facet of all of us?
  • What effect would occur to infect the others with your feelings without saying a word?
  • How are you affected when the conversation comes back around immediately and in memories after?
  • Who do you think you really are -- to come up with an inspired sense of what to see, say and support?