What Should You Study Next?

When I am asked today about my movement practice, typically while I’m doing handstands in the park, I just say “circus acrobat.”

The truth, though, is more complex – ever since I dropped out of cross country in high school, I have practiced a wide range of physical disciplines ranging from surfing to swing dance, Brazilian jiu jitsu to classical ballet.

One coach I met along the way (incidentally, while doing handstands in the park) was Johnny Sapinoso, who offered me words I now apply well beyond my daily movement practice.

When asked how he structured his daily practice, Johnny advised:

“Follow the thread of your interest.”

There is more to learn than any of us can complete in a lifetime. Whether it’s a movement practice or a professional skill like sales, part of the joy of learning is that the learning never ends. But one result of these never ending possibilities is that the decision of where to focus next can be crippling.

In my business, I’ve recently been applying this mindset to sales and persuasion. My company Zander Media’s historical close rate is greater than 90%, but in the last three months for 2022, we were rejected by more than two dozen clients. Understandably, I was feeling really down about sales!

This business necessity has fueled my desire to re-evaluate and improve my ability to sell. Where I could be feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of sales advice and strategy that exists out in the world, I instead heard Johnny’s words and connected to my curiosity to learn and solve this problem.

Follow the Thread of Your Interest

Know your “why” – Know why you are pursuing a discipline of study. Without a clear understanding of your purpose, it is much more difficult to stay engaged. Sales was something that I needed to improve in order to keep Zander Media going during a difficult economic time. Even more so, though, the ability to sell will help me in the future, and provides a fascinating glimpse into human psychology.

Study around a theme – Choose your theme. If you are trying to learn too many different disciplines in the same period, you probably won’t have enough time or focus to learn any of them well. When you are trying to decide what book to read next, what movie to watch, or who to interview, explore in more detail what was most interesting to you about the subject you’ve just been exploring.

Flexible Goals – Life is too unpredictable to commit to hard-and-fast curriculum or outcomes. If I get out of bed with a sore shoulder, I shouldn’t do handstands that day. That said, if my plan was to do handstands, I’ll still go to the gym and explore what’s possible given this unexpected limitation. Maintaining flexible goals gives you the ability to adapt to a changing learning environment.

Relevant Inputs – When I’m trying to learn something new (for example, to develop better habits around sales and persuasion), I surround myself with that subject matter in both my work time and my personal time. I don’t set out my curriculum entirely in advance. Instead, I surround myself with books, podcasts, and email newsletters that help me keep thinking about the topics, actively and passively.

Structure Your Time – I find it helpful to pick between one and three disciplines, and shift focus between them when I feel overwhelmed or uninspired. Every four to six weeks, I re-evaluate and consider which, if any of these disciplines I want to swap for something different.

I carve out between 30 and 90 minutes each day to read or otherwise learn about the subject, and I also make a point to deliberately digest that information. (I suggest journaling about the subject in the early morning or just before bed.)

Enjoy the Process – if you don’t enjoy the process of learning, you won’t stick with it. That doesn’t mean every moment is pleasurable, but look for some joy in the process. My favorite technique is to deliberately celebrate as a way to reinforce your desired behaviors.

If you’re reading Evolve, then chances are you have areas you’re interested in growing and learning. By deciding on a subject matter and then “following the thread of your interest” for a specific period, learning becomes much more deliberate and you can avoid the pitfalls of information overload and sputtering enthusiasm.

Let me know how it goes!

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