M.A. Psychology, Oxford. McKinsey Alum. Founder & Editor at TAoL.
I had an amazing learning experience yesterday that I’ve been itching to sit down and share.
So, if you’ve been following TAoL for a while, you’ll know that I love an analogy.
Here’s one of my favourite visual examples from Itchy Feet that you may recognise from my ultimate language learning guide…
Anyone who’s learned anything can relate to the equivalent highs and lows of Beginner’s Hill, Conversational Ridge and Mt. Fluency. And anyone who’s ever gone hiking (i.e., most people) can get an instant sense of what it feels like to try learning a language.
If you’ve read TAoL’s productivity primer, you’ll know I spend lots of time comparing the process of learning productivity with the process of learning how to drive.
Not just because both quickly become automatic. Not just because both give your life way more freedom. But because the essence of mastering both lies in your ability to adapt your plans quickly and smoothly by looking further and further ahead.
So what makes these analogies awesome?
I’ll tell you.
What makes these analogies awesome isn’t just their ability to convey information. It’s that they let you pre-experience how things feel.
So what does all this have to do with yesterday’s learning experience?
But what made yesterday different was that yesterday was my first lesson with Ashleigh.
And Ashleigh is a master of analogy.
Before we even got started she asked me, “So what other sports do you play?”
And the moment she found out I’m a ski instructor is when everything rapidly changed.
For my first 11 lessons, I’d been struggling to understand how to trot. I won’t go into the details but it’s not as easy or as comfortable as you’d think.
And then Ashleigh said these simple and magical words about how to position my weight: “It’s exactly like leaning into the front of your ski boots, except that you rest on your knees.”
And suddenly the whole thing made sense.
Without even thinking, that powerful, simple analogy let me channel thousands of hours on the mountain into a handful of hours on a horse.
My posture changed. My balance improved. I felt instant control of my space.
In fact, with the help of more ski-focussed analogies, the change in my riding after 45 minutes with Ashleigh was unbelievable. I’ve never learned a new skill so quick.
What’s the moral?
The main thing I took home from yesterday is that analogies aren’t just a great way to teach and learn concepts. They’re a great way to teach and learn skills.
What does that mean I’ll do differently?
Here are a couple of things that I’ll change.
First, when learning a new skill by myself, I’ll do two things.
- I’ll think much more carefully about which sports or skills I’m familiar with could have lessons or analogies that might help; and
- I’ll spend more time actively visualising relevant feelings and memories from those experiences and comparing them to what I’m learning today.
One of the biggest obstacles in rapid skill learning is generating good proprioceptive feedback loops when you don’t yet know what feels right.
These steps should greatly reduce that problem (and speed up learning) by stopping me from reinventing the wheel where a good enough analogue fits.
And second, when learning with a teacher, I’ll…
- Look for instructors who share a common, secondary, relevant skill (the great thing about Ashleigh, for example, is that skiing is relevant to horse riding and both of us know how to do it);
- Encourage them to give an analogy when they’re trying to explain how things feel; and
- Remember that analogies flow both ways. I can use them to help the instructor understand how I’m feeling as well for them to communicate with me.
It sounds obvious now I’ve explained it, and yet, for some reason, it wasn’t til yesterday that it clicked. 😅
I’ll think on this further but that’s all for my update today. 🙌