* NOTE: I’ve just discovered that due to technical difficulties and user error this article I wrote back in August did not get posted here on OCOT as I had thought. It did make it to my Learnativity blog and provoked the most comments and Emails of any posting this year I think and remains a topic of great interest to me and one I will be writing much more about in the coming months. Hope you enjoy it and look forward to your reactions and comments.
I am very excited to be finally writing this article for you because I think I’ve stumbled upon a very simple two part model which I believe can dramatically increase the effectiveness of our learning and help us all get the very most out of each of life’s experiences. Ambitious? Yes! True? You tell me.
For lack of a better title I’ll refer to this “Experiential Learning Density” or ELD and I’d like to share my thinking with you here, both in order to provoke your reactions and see if you too think there might be something very powerful about what we can learn from this. As simple as this model is, I must warn you in advance that is will take me a while to explain how I have come to discover this ELD model and my initial understanding of how it all works. I do believe it will be well worth your time, and in fact the concept of time is where I will start.
The Fascinating Concept of Time
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the whole concept of time and it continues to intrigue me more every day. Can time stop? Why does time past seem shorter than time forward? Is time travel possible? You get the idea. From my limited understanding of time from a scientific and mathematic perspective, it seems that time is one of the only absolute constants we know of. Even though we all know that an hour is an hour a year is year, have you also noticed how our perception of time is asymmetric as we consider an amount of time in the future compared to the same amount of time in the past? For example doesn’t it seem that when you find out a song or a movie or a book you really like was originally released ten years ago that your reaction is “No, really? I thought it was just three years ago.” And yet when you think of what it will be like ten years in the future, the year 2020 as I write this, doesn’t that seem like such a longer amount of time compared to those same ten years of the past?
All this to say that the second part of the background for you is a very recent understanding I’ve come to about time and this notion of “experiential learning density” or ELD for short.
Mission Impossible: This Much ELD in Two Years
March of this year (2010) marked the beginning of my third year out, as I put it, “wandering, wondering and pondering the planet one nautical smile at a time” as I explore this incredible planet from the perspective of the world’s oceans aboard my sailboat, the good ship Learnativity. At that time I was onboard Learnativity in Whangarei New Zealand waiting for the end of the hurricane season up in the South Pacific and busy getting her all ship shape for the new season. Today, August 7, 2010 I’m writing typing this up for you from the cockpit of Learnativity in the middle of my three day passage from Futuna Island to Savusavu in Fiji.
One of the great things about living on a sailboat is that you have lots of time for reflection as you look after the seemingly endless list of things to do and also while out sailing on the long passages. And as I reflected on this milestone I could not believe that it had only been two years since I sailed out from under the Golden Gate Bridge to embark upon this grand adventure. I mean I literally could NOT believe it. I must have checked my calendars and other records at least a hundred times in the course of that month because I was sure I had to have the dates wrong. As I started to recall even a short list of some of how many incredible experiences I had and how much I learned in that time; the places I had been, the incredible people and cultures I had been privileged to be a small part of, new languages and skills I’d learned and the friends and family who had joined me for parts of it, I became more and more convinced that it was simply not possible that all this had happened in the span of only two years. Even more so when I added up all the times when I had either been in just one spot for several months such as El Salvador, Costa Rica, Polynesia and now over six months in New Zealand, or the number of occasions when I’d left the boat for weeks or more to fly out and look after some business engagements or family affairs such as my daughter’s wedding last August. Surely it had been five or ten years?!
I couldn’t stop picking this apart and it quite consumed my thinking as I tried to comprehend how it could possibly be that my “experiential learning density” or ELD could possibly be SO high in such a short time. But in the past few months as I’ve continued to work on this conundrum I think I am coming to understand how this works and I wanted to share this with you in case it is as I believe it is, something you can use and how I believe there are some common practices we can use to increase our ELD for greater good and gain both individually and collectively.
Part One: Living in the Moment
The first of the two parts of this ELD model involves what I’ve been learning during my grand sailing life adventures is how to truly “live in the moment” and by so doing, get the very most amount possible from any given experience in life. This is something I practice as much and as often as I can and try to get better and better at doing so every day. For me, living in the moment is about being profoundly “present” in each moment of an experience. One lesson I’ve learned from this which might help you understand my context is that if you are busy capturing the moment you are not IN the moment. By capturing I mean by taking photos or video, or by writing notes or texting about it or telling somebody about it on the phone.
I recall learning about this a long time ago back in my university student days, when a good friend of mine who was a very skilled amateur photographer and was constantly being asked to take photos of our other friends who were getting married in those years. One day he suddenly announced that he was no longer available to be the wedding photographer. When I asked him why, he said something that has stuck with me ever since when he explained that he was tired of missing out on all his friends’ weddings , because if he was busy photographing the wedding, then he wasn’t attending and sharing in the wedding!. Brilliant observation and decision I thought.
Most recently, in fact while I was on my boat in New Zealand, I had a very related experience while I was sitting up in the cockpit enjoying the early morning sunrise and some breakfast. It was spring time “down under” and a mother duck and her new brood of ducklings came swimming by and stopped a few feet away from me at one of the mooring poles I was tied to. These poles have rubber tires slipped over them where you tie your lines to so that they and your boat float up and down with the tide and maintain the right amount of slack. My first thought was to jump up and get my camera to capture this great early morning spring scene, but I realized that by the time I got my camera they might be gone and here is what I would have missed. There were six ducklings and four of them managed to flap and scramble their way up on top of the floating tire, one just swam around it and the other stayed by Mom’s side. Of the three on top of the tire, one jumped into the water in the space between the tire and the pole, one stayed on the edge contemplating joining him and the other jumped back off the tire and joined his other sibling. Wow! What a microcosm of life in under two minutes!
As I watched this all unfold in a matter of two minutes or less I realized what a simple yet powerful example this was of “living in the moment” and how I had been able to do so by resisting the temptation to try to capture it and not be “present” for the experience itself. When I wrote this story up in my blog entry that day I simply found a public stock photograph of a mother duck and six ducklings and used it to illustrate the story.
Part Two: Reflect, Capture, Learn, Share
However, lest you misunderstand, let me be very clear that reflecting upon and capturing our experiences is a critical component and the second part of the two part ELD model.
Here is how I think this all works; ELD or just learning perhaps is a constant cycling between time spent living in the moment, followed by time spent on reflection, capturing, learning and sharing.(I see these as all parts of one thing) Rinse and repeat.
Repeat the Cycle, Improve, but DO NOT BLEND TOGETHER!
While important that we get better and better at the skills required for each of these two parts the most critical thing I’ve come to understand and the main point I hope to convey with this article, is that we NOT mix the two together and try to do them at the same time. What I think accounts for my high degree of ELD in the past two years is that I’ve been putting a lot of focus on improving my skills at both parts; living in the moment and reflecting upon, capturing, learning from and sharing them afterwards. But the most important change I’ve made, somewhat unknowingly to be sure, is that I have been careful to NOT try to do both parts at the same time (experiencing and reflecting/capturing/sharing)
How ELD Works for Me (and can for you too)
For the first part, living in the moment, I am afforded the great luxury of having a seemingly infinite plethora of profound personal experiences as I sail through this life and what I’ve been working on is getting better at being truly present and living IN each of these moments. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. It takes a lot of energy and can be exhausting, though in a very good way. Living in the moment isn’t something I think most of us are good at on a regular basis. Too many distractions, too many things to fit in, too much temptation to “multi task”, which IMHO is one of the greatest myths and misguided goals of all time. It is my observation that by trying to pack more into the finite amount of time we have, we are actually accomplishing less, experiencing, less, contributing less and living less.
Like most of you I suspect I am putting more time and energy into reflecting, capturing learning and sharing from my experiences. Consider for example the exponential explosion of the number of photos and video so many of us are taking and uploading, the amount of writing we are doing in the form of Emails, blogging, texting, Tweeting and podcasting. And the degree to which we are sharing all this so broadly and freely via so many means and social networks. While you can argue that much of what is being shared is trivial or otherwise less than valuable, it is all in the eye of the beholder right? We do it partly for ourselves, but we also seem to enjoy and learn from what others are sharing which prompts and provokes more reactions and new actions ourselves and to build upon the work of others which creates an exponentially compounding cycle.
As simple as these acts of capturing our thoughts and our experiences may be, it tends to require us to be more reflective, to consider what is worth sharing, and to ask what did I learn today? And to then capture this in some form that can be communicated with others who are doing likewise themselves. What is key, and what I think we have NOT been doing, is separating these two critical skills and acts. As per my comment in the beginning of this article, if you are busy capturing, reflecting and sharing a moment you are not living IN the moment.
Maybe this is all as old as time itself for all of you and I’m just my usual slow learning self. But for me, this is how I’ve come to understand why I have been having such an extraordinarily high degree of experiential learning density in my life of late, and how I plan to continue to ride that exponential curve upwards.
I’ll let this conclude my time for reflecting and capturing this for today and I look forward to receiving your thoughts, reactions, comments and critique on all this. Meanwhile as this text is busy uploading itself via my sat phone connection so I can share it with you; I’ll now flip back to the first part of the cycle by and put my energies into living in the moment that is a gorgeous sunset out here in Nanuku Passage in eastern Fiji!
Wayne & Ruby the Wonderdog
Aboard s/v Learnativity
16 45.089 S, 179 27.781W (paste into Google Earth or maps)
Nanuku Pass, south end of Taveuni Island, Fiji
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