Personal And Professional Growth: Old Dogs and New Tricks

What's All the Hype?

by  Gary  Lockwood 

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks." How many times have you heard this old saying as an excuse for not trying something new or avoiding a fresh approach?

The expert animal trainers say that a dog of almost any age can learn new tricks. It's the human animal that makes choices regarding when and how much to learn.

I'm constantly amazed at how frequently I hear one of my CEO clients say, "I'm too old to change."

Nonsense! This is simply an excuse to sidestep the effort required to learn or experiment. When you try something new, you often feel uneasy about it, and frequently pull back. The security feels good. You are in your "comfort zone."

Your personal "comfort zone" is where you are comfortable in what you are doing in your job, your life and your experiences. It is when you have no feelings of risk or anxiety. Some would call it "being comfortable." You could also call it "a rut."

The downside of always staying in your comfort zone is that it can be very limiting. Why is this significant?

The past few decades have seen enormous and accelerating changes in technology and social structure, in geopolitics and especially in the organizations in which we work. The pace of change is staggering and daunting. The mass of information available to humankind is doubling every 20 months.

The world passes us by as we stand still. Complacency, in our fast-paced competitive world, can be fatal to business and severely limit personal and professional growth. If you are not learning, trying new things and growing, your job or business may be deteriorating.

Having a positive attitude toward learning and changing may be one of the most important characteristics of successful people. In my years as a business coach, I have observed many successful CEOs and entrepreneurs. With very few exceptions, those who are successful and happy have developed and maintained a positive outlook about change and continuous improvement.

This positive attitude is not accidental. Successful business people know how to create a positive attitude and positive motivation for themselves. They don't just wait for it to happen. They purposely create positive change.

All change implies learning and vice versa. They are inseparable, one impossible without the other. If you learn, you change.

Effective learning must be conscious vs. unconscious, active vs. reactive. It must be something you seek, not just "let it happen." If learning is not conscious, it can't be improved. It just becomes "another task" without effective application to the circumstances in your business (and personal) life.

Learning in today's fast-paced and ever-changing environment can't be left to chance. Make a conscious effort to capture your experiences and learn from them or be doomed to repeat your mistakes. Worse yet, you may habitually keep doing those things that are working for you while your competition is actively seeking new ideas, innovation and growth.

The competitive advantage of the future is your adaptability to learning and change.

"There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction." ~ John F Kennedy

How do you learn new tricks and <-- e x p a n d --> your personal comfort zone?

Before you just throw all caution to the wind, try simple things.

  • Drive home a different route.

  • Shop at a different grocery store.

  • Order something from the menu you've never tried before.

  • Sleep on the other side of the bed.

Make a conscious effort to experiment.

Let yourself feel the adrenaline level rise a bit. Allow your anxiety level to increase. Feel your heart rate and breathing going faster.

The adrenaline is your body's natural drug that, in moderation, makes you sharp, creative and quick. It creates the feeling of excitement and exhilaration that comes from trying something new. Recognize that it also can be scary and stressful. Some stress is useful. Too much can be harmful. Some stress provides energy. Too much stress causes distress and can lead to burnout if done to extreme.

Why would you want to give yourself the stress of stepping outside your comfort zone? Because that's where growth takes place. Just like a muscle gets stronger when you exercise it outside its normal range of use, you get stronger when you get out of your rut. And just like your muscles, once you stretch beyond your current capabilities, you don't ever go back to your original dimensions.

As you try new things, you gain confidence. Confidence makes you feel powerful and good. And when you are confident that you can survive new ideas, you allow yourself to try even more new things.

What's the limit? Obviously, you need to be realistic in your risk management. Most successful people think through the possible outcomes of taking a risk. Then they prepare for how they would deal with each potential outcome. Successful people take risks, but they are not foolhardy or stupid.

What are some higher level activities that could add to your personal and professional growth?

Here's my challenge to you.

Make a list of 50 things that, if you really were successful in doing them, you would be a better person or a better company. Consider a few new tricks such as:

  • Give a speech

  • Write and publish an article

  • Start an exercise program

  • Meditate daily

  • Teach a class

  • Feed a homeless person

  • Volunteer

  • Climb a mountain

  • Learn to play a new musical instrument

  • Sign up for a dance class

  • Try for that promotion

Then choose one or two that you are willing to do within the next 90 days. Schedule those new activities, then go for it. Afterward, choose one or two more and do it again.

Make personal and professional growth a lifelong habit. You will not become an old dog as long as you keep learning new tricks.

Gary Lockwood is Your Business Coach. Increasing the Effectiveness and Enhancing the Lives of CEOs, business owners and professionals.