It’s no surprise that the most successful financial planners are lifelong learners. But given the rapid pace of change in the industry – and the sheer amount of content out there – keeping up can feel overwhelming at times.
I’ve found plenty of suggestions out there about what to read (for example: check here, or here or here) …but I haven’t read anything written recently about how to learn – especially when you feel intimidated or behind-the-curve. Here are my suggestions on how to conquer learning anxiety.
What is learning anxiety?
To overcome learning anxiety, we must first understand it. According to Edgar Schein – Professor Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management, known for his robust work on organizational culture – learning anxiety is a common phenomenon in modern companies. In an interview with Harvard Business Review, he says:
“Learning anxiety comes from being afraid to try something new for fear that it will be too difficult, that we will look stupid in the attempt, or that we will have to part from old habits that have worked for us in the past. Learning something new can cast us as the deviant in the groups we belong to. It can threaten our self-esteem and, in extreme cases, even our identity.”
Schein’s description is helpful because it shines a light on the very real challenges of learning new information over time, even for the smartest individuals among us.
My personal journey
As Chief Technology Officer at AdvisorEngine®, I must stay on top of the latest and greatest ways of developing software, maintaining cybersecurity and managing people. I have faced learning anxiety many times over in my career and have learned to appreciate the feeling.
Learning anxiety is similar to conquering a fear of public speaking. Years ago, I was deathly afraid to go on stage. Then, after enough practice and mind-shifting, I began yearning for the butterflies and seeking every opportunity to get them back. If you haven’t already experienced a similar turnaround moment, I encourage you to push yourself. It can be scary, but it’s rewarding.
My job has afforded me the opportunity to learn how to operate different kinds of operating systems, databases, and many other kinds of technology tools. Every time I have jumped into the deep end, a gnawing feeling always surfaces — what if I struggle? What if this is the time I met my match and can’t comprehend something new?
With many years of practice, I have successfully conquered these feelings of apprehension. I even have come to enjoy the uncertainty that comes with taking in new information.
The art of learning
One of my favorite books is The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. In it, the author discusses pushing himself to learn at the highest level – which ultimately allows him to become a National Chess Champion and Tai Chi world champion.
At the core of his learning philosophy is embracing discomfort. Waitzkin writes: “Growth comes at the point of resistance. We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lies at the outer reaches of our abilities.”
Reading about Waitzkin’s journey gave me a new perspective. Loosely inspired by the book, here are five steps that I take when I encounter learning anxiety.
The five steps I take to conquer learning anxiety:
- Acknowledge that I am feeling anxious about learning something new. Doing so allows things to flow more naturally for me. Difficulty is part of the flow.
- Recognize that my mind is giving me a signal. The voice inside my head might say, "Hey, I have not seen this before. This is difficult to understand." Again – I acknowledge the reality that learning only occurs when things are uncomfortable.
- Breathe. Accept that feeling "stupid" before comprehending the material is just part of the experience.
- Break the material into smaller chunks. This step can do wonders when the material is especially complex – allowing me to conquer it one piece at a time.
- Look for ways to consume the content differently. For example, instead of just reading information, I seek out different types of media such as audio, video, diagrams, games, etc.
Anxiety happens to the best of us. I have found that these five techniques help me overcome my initial worries and put me on a path to success.
Along the way, it is absolutely normal to "re-ingest" the same information over and over again until it is relevant. Your mind is trying to find analogies to make connections with the new material, and sometimes those analogies are buried deep inside your mind!
It is true that we can only retain so much information in our heads. But with sufficient time and a varied approach to learning the material, it is much easier to comprehend novel information.
What do you think?
If you found any of my thoughts helpful, please let me know. If you disagree, please do the same! I like engaging with different points of view. One reason that leaders at wealth management firms like working with AdvisorEngine is our approach to partnership. We don’t think of ourselves as a vendor, we operate as a thought partner. We believe in creating a future of financial advice that is personal, scientific and beautiful.
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This blog is sponsored by AdvisorEngine® Inc. (“AdvisorEngine”) and Junxure®, an affiliate of AdvisorEngine. The information, data and opinions in this commentary are as of the publication date, unless otherwise noted, and subject to change. This material is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered a recommendation to use AdvisorEngine or deemed to be a specific offer to sell or provide, or a specific invitation to apply for, any financial product, instrument or service that may be mentioned. AdvisorEngine makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made and will not be liable for any errors, omissions or representations. As a technology company, AdvisorEngine provides access to award-winning tools and will be compensated for providing such access. AdvisorEngine does not provide broker-dealer, custodian, investment advice or related investment services.