I am a spiritual seeker, committed to being a lifelong learner. In my search, I have read hundreds of books, gone to countless seminars, listened to dozens of programs, tried out a variety of different disciplines, and more.
While I haven’t fully assimilated every idea I’ve come across, I have found the following six steps of learning to be an immensely powerful tool, both in my capacity as a student and teacher.
The six steps were originally presented to me by my mentor, Yogi Shanti Desai, as an inconspicuous inscription at the front of one of his books. The more I thought about the six steps, the more relevant they became to every learning situation.
Here they are. I hope you will find them to be as useful as I have.
The first step seems pretty obvious, but learning is more than an action, it is a state of mind. One needs to be open, humble, and receptive in order to learn.
Learning does not merely revolve around the teacher’s ability to teach, but also around the student’s ability to receive, as in, “when the student is ready…”
Different individuals can read the same book or listen to the same teacher with differing results. Only those who are willing to put aside prior knowledge (for a moment) and be humble and open to learning will truly receive the information.
2. Digest / Evaluate
The second step is digestion and evaluation. The student needs to ask questions such as:
- How can this material benefit my daily life?
- What will my future look like if I put this information to good use?
- How does this information compare with other information I already possess?
The process of digestion and evaluation will determine whether or not the student proceeds to the third step.
For most of us, the third step is the hardest because it involves taking action—actually doing something with the information.
Until the third step is completed, knowledge is only potential power.
4. Benefit / Reevaluate
Once used, the student starts to measure the benefits of actions taken and evaluates the results to see if they are in line with promises given during the time of learning.
Reevaluation is a crucial part of this process. The student may need to revisit the information to see whether or not it has been used correctly and to see if anything can be done better.
In some cases, the results do not match the promises made, in which case, it is time to let go of the information and move on to something else. Eliminating what you don’t want to learn may be just as useful as compiling a list of everything that you do want to learn, because time is a limited and constantly depleting resource.
5. TeachTeaching is the fifth step of learning.
In order for the student to teach the information—which has hopefully been integrated through action by now—he must put himself in other people’s shoes and see the ideas from their points of view instead of only limiting himself to his own perspective.
Teaching is therefore an important part of learning because it forces the teacher to see the material from new viewpoints.
A good teacher learns as he teaches.
The final step of learning is taking hard earned wisdom (information + experience) and applying it for the benefit of others while adding depth to one’s own understanding.
The Hardest Step
Let me ask you this: How much better would you life be if you used 20% more what of what you already know?
Everyone I have asked, without exception, says that their life would be much better if they used more of what they already know, which means that most of us are only using a fraction of the information we have already accumulated.
That is why the third step is the hardest. For us to benefit, we need to actually use the information we have gathered.
Beware of This Trap
The most common trap in this process is called parroting. It happens when people jump straight from the first step (learning) to the fifth step (teaching) without having accrued any firsthand experience in between.
This is understandable, especially when students are learning new material about self-development, such as mind control, relaxation, emotional management, or meditation techniques.
They come running home and exclaim, “I just learned something that you need to do,” because it’s easier to see what others need to do than it is to do something about one’s own life.
But by becoming a teacher without experience, they aren’t serving anyone, not themselves or the person they are ‘teaching’ (retelling).
We want our teachers to have experience, to have gone through at least the first four steps, because only when knowledge is mixed with experience does it have the potential to turn into wisdom.
Author & Interfaith Minister
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