I find myself in awe of my 21 month old son, Colton, almost daily as I watch him growing and learning to navigate the world around him. Each moment, it seems, he’s finding something new to try, to learn.
The thing that strikes me most about Colt are the things that he’s learned that no one has taught him. He knows how to turn on and off the television. He had recently learned how to climb up on the tall kitchen chairs. He can eject a DVD from the player. He has learned how to drag the training potty contraption in front of the bathroom vanity so that he can climb up on top of it to find all of the treasurers there that he can’t reach otherwise (like toothbrushes and water glasses).
We didn’t teach him any of this for obvious reasons. He learned through the power of focused observation.
You see, he’s a sneaky little dude. If I (or his sister or brother or mom) are doing something he’s interested in doing, he watches our actions with intense focus. Then, as soon as we are done, he takes what he learned and puts it into immediate practice as he tries to replicate our result. It’s pretty impressive how quickly he picks things up. I suspect that most children at the same age have this same ability.
So, what is it that makes him such a quick study?
1. He’s highly motivated to learn. At that age, children are learning machines. They are hardwired for learning. As adults, being this highly motivated to learn is a conscious choice. Without this motivation, we stop observing. We even stop paying attention in most cases. Think about how motivated you are early in any romantic relationship to learn about your partner and how that leads to paying a great deal of attention to your partner. As time wanes on, you become less motivated to learn as you grow more familiar and comfortable in the relationship. What happens as a result? You pay less attention.
2. He’s intensely focused. When Colt watches me do something, he’s transfixed on whatever I’m doing as he tries to really absorb the details. It is as if the world disappears for him for a few moments so he can take everything in. Focus seems to be in shorter and shorter supply these days. With iPads and smartphones constantly with us, it seems that 75% passes for full attention these days. We rarely seem to find the same kind of focus that Colt displays when he’s trying to figure out a new activity.
3. He sees no limitations. In his little world, Colt believes he can do anything if he can just figure out how to do it. He doesn’t judge. He doesn’t self-limit. He’s nearly fearless when it comes to trying new things. Does he get hurt once in a while? Sure he does, but it’s all part of his learning process. Because he knows no limits and very little fear, his pace of learning is incredibly fast. He doesn’t suffer from the same limitations that we place on ourselves. He doesn’t predetermine if something is possible or within his scope of capabilities. He just does it.
The more I have thought about this, the more convinced I am that we can use this model to enhance our own learning and growth. What would happen for you if you got intensely motivated on learning, really focused on what you wanted to learn, and then you approached applying your learning as if nothing was impossible? I suspect that you’d be transformed.
Just like Colton seems to be, every day.