When I ask anyone if they are smarter now than they were five years ago, the answer is always “yes!” I am told that the reason is that in the past five years via all kinds of life experiences and training, they have learned a great deal. Alrighty then. Where do you store all that you have learned – not just in the past five years but the past 10 or 20 years? If your answer to this question is “my brain” – then know that you have greatly diluted the value of the very experiences and learning you have earned.
I was sitting in the office of a senior executive sharing a solution to a challenging situation recently. He paused, got up and walked to a filing cabinet a few steps away, opened a drawer and shortly thereafter, pulled out a folder and showed it to me. “I went to a leadership training course in 2003 and most of what you just shared I had right here in my office all along. I just forgot.” Even professional athletes “forget” to execute a plan that they spend weeks and months developing and training for. “I knew what to do – I just didn’t do it,” is a baffling comment many athletes share with their coaches. The reason for this is simple – they are all relying on the brain to (1) store the learning and (2) to retrieve that learning at the most critical points when important decisions have to be made. The fact is that the brain is not a good place to store your life’s learning. Here is why.
The brain has no taxonomy on how experiences should be stored except for a very high premium placed on storing negative experiences. The premium is based on the primary requirement of survival and our brain’s design to alert us subconsciously to avoid similar negative experiences. The other reason is that unlike a filing cabinet or hard drive, the brain’s ability to access learning and other knowledge changes constantly. Certain situations (calm, peaceful) allow us full access to all of them and others (fear, stress) in fact slow down or shut off entirely that access. The third reason is that good old fashioned rust (forgetfulness) – we do not frequent these learning nearly often enough to establish a roadway (neuropathway) to them to use when we most need them. Finally, what I call “white noise” – too many irrelevant experiences and “junk files” of life that get in the way to access those important learning.
The solution is not to substitute the brain (like an external drive) but to complement the brain by documenting learning elsewhere (stimulants) and then frequenting both the brain and the stimulant regularly. It is infinitely easier to do that today. You can create folders on mobile devices – folders for each dimension of your life. Spouse, Children, Leadership, Golf, Faith, Athlete, Swimming, Giving Feedback and so on. This is your playbook to call the plays you need to execute in life that are based on your own personal life’s experiences. As we approach this holiday season, I recommend you find a way that works best with your lifestyle and create this complementary storage that can help you trigger the right experiences/knowledge at the time you need it the most. Every time you learn something, or have an “aha” moment, capture it in this other storage mechanism. Imagine going through this after a full year. Not only will you amaze yourself, and likely have an outline of your personal memoir, but mostly importantly, you reduce duplication of the same mistakes the following year … and that’s a character attribute of all great people.