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Get ahead in your career and relationships, have a bigger positive impact on those around you, and even save your life (yikes!). Take time to watch attentively, ask questions, and learn.

Get ahead in your career and relationships, have a bigger positive impact on those around you, and even save your life (yikes!). Take time to watch attentively, ask questions, and learn.

Do you take time to observe the behavior of others (success and failure) and learn from them?  Or are you “too busy” or too proud to watch attentively, ask questions, and learn from the behavior and experiences of others?

Humans have the unique ability to learn and grow from observing the experiences of others.  In my field, we refer to this ability to observe and learn as “vicarious learning.”  It can help you in many ways, including faster improvement and avoiding attendance at the “School of Hard Knocks” so often.  This learning is so important that it can prevent injury or death as you observe potentially dangerous behavior and avoid it without having to experience it first-hand.

If you want to learn a technical or relational skill, it’s helpful to watch someone else use the skill, whether they are good or not so good at it. For instance, if you’re learning to play the guitar, you can watch a professional guitarist perform and learn from their techniques.  You can learn from their missteps and effective actions simply by watching and taking positive action for improvement in light of your observations.  Numerous practitioner training courses are based on “See one, Do one, Teach one,” which includes observing an expert in the field.  But the observation need not be so formal.  Everyday life observations are even more commonly used as vicarious learning experiences and can be very helpful in improving life skills and more.

You can learn from observing anyone and anything.  Most of us will not do well to compare our ability to achieve in business with Warren Buffet, in sports with Caitlin Clark, or entertainment with Reba McEntyre or Beyonce since they are exceptions to the norm, though you can learn from them.  But when deciding which skill to work on and how proficient you may become with it, you will do well to compare your progress and possibilities with someone who is of similar ability, opportunity, experience, is making good progress toward their goals, and is slightly ahead of you — someone in your league.

As you observe, remember that the road to success is never easy or without real challenges and disappointing failures.  In accounts of success, you most often get an incomplete story that only includes the successful result and not the challenges along the way.  As a result, as you are climbing the ladder to success, it’s easy to be discouraged by observing the present achievement or “success” of another person without information about their past struggles that made it possible.

Here are some actions you can take to intentionally learn vicariously, open doors to getting ahead in your career and relationships, and have a bigger positive impact on those around you.

  • Start by Setting a clear and reasonable goal. This will not only provide you with a sense of direction but also fuel your determination to achieve it.
  • Carefully observe the thoughts and actions of those already achieving what you want. Discover what is and is not working toward their greater success. If you want to improve your relationship skills, spend time with and carefully observe someone who consistently demonstrates good relationship skills.
  • Ask questions about their thoughts and actions which are not readily observable.
  • Routinely reflect upon and analyze your observations in light of your experience so far. See the questions for reflective practice in our last ezine to help with this <link to May 15 ezine>
  • Make a plan for your success using what you are learning versus trying to re-create the success you observed in others.
  • Be willing to stretch, risk, fail, and succeed.
  • Don’t Hesitate to seek the guidance of a mentor or coach who has already achieved what you aspire to. Their experience and insights can be invaluable in your journey of discovery and action, providing you with a sense of reassurance and support.
  • Build a team of encouragers to support you in the process.
  • Keep paying attention, polishing your approach, and moving to your goal.
  • Build on your unique strengths versus trying to imitate the strengths of those you observe. Note that certain strengths are essential to certain tasks.  Find the tasks that suit your strengths.

How could you use this approach to achieve a goal you currently have?

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