How do we develop a learning mindset? It’s not possible to know everything, so obviously we’re going to have to learn as we go. But how do we get ourselves into a learning mode? So often I get defensive when I run up against my own ignorance. Or when I make a mistake. Or when I inadvertently say or do something that causes pain for someone else.
But defensiveness is the antithesis of learning. I can’t actually learn anything when all my energy is marshalled into defense mode. And what is it, exactly, that I’m defending? More often than not, it’s my bruised ego, my distorted image of myself.
This is especially true when someone points out that I’ve been acting in a patronizing manner. I know better! And yet I don’t even realize I’m doing it. When I’m confronted with my own attitude, I feel terrible—embarrassed, bad, wrong.
What I’m learning to do is stop in the moment and take a breath. Just stop. Before I say anything.
It gives me time to remember that this attitude is unconscious and that it will take time for me to catch it on my own. Then, once I’ve calmed my own emotions a bit, I can respond in a better way to the person pointing it out to me.
I’m not very good at this yet. The other day someone pointed out something I’d done and I felt horrible about it. But I was able to hold my tongue long enough for the emotions to wash through me. Then I could apologize without lashing out. It wasn’t easy. What I learned is that those first few seconds are crucial:
Just. Take. A. Breath.