What we can learn from children about achieving our goals

Ever think about what goes through a baby’s mind when it is learning to crawl?

Do you think the baby goes “I want to place my weight on my knees, then I want to place my hands slightly ahead of where I am and shift my center of gravity to my left. I also need to remember to make sure my spine is pointed slightly right of the target so that when I move forward, I don’t go too much to the left. That way I can average it out with the shift during my right movement so I am always roughly facing my target.”

Doesn’t really sound like something a baby would think does it?

How about “If I can only start crawling I will get stronger and healthier. People will start praising me and respect me for my crawling skills?” Does that sound like something a baby would think?

If babies tried to learn the way human adults do, they would grow up never learning to walk instinctively, and for the rest of their lives need to keep a post-it on their arm with acronyms and rules reminding them how to crawl or walk. The rules would probably be painful and cryptic (PCLSF – point, center, lean, step, fall) and only a few “talented genius adults” would be able to walk without struggling. They would never be able to walk using instinct, and everyone would go around justifying this by saying two legged walking requires so much of muscular coordination, it is an extremely rare talent that one needs to be born with. There would be e-books and courses and self study guides on the internet about faster and better ways of learning to walk, and how to be almost “natural” at walking. Luckily for us, almost every child learns to crawl and walk without needing any of this nonsense.

But how do you think they really do it in a seemingly effortless manner?

As far as I can tell, they just look at a place and say to themselves “There. I want to go there” and then they try to do it. And when they fail, there isn’t a “I’ll never be able to do this. I am such a disappointment. I have failed at every attempt. I should just give up.”. Nope. Just two seconds of confusion later, they try again. And again.

Each time they make subtle variations to what they are doing compared to what they tried before. I don’t think they even consciously realize what they tried before. They don’t even realize what they just changed. All they know is “Again. I want to go there.”, and then with that feeling or thought inside them, they try.

Little by little something inside them figures out how their center of gravity needs to shift, which muscles need to be fired in tandem and how visual and touch information needs to be used to adjust which muscles groups to fire. At the same time, another magical part of them tracks which muscles need growing because they aren’t strong enough, and marks them so that when they sleep that night, the muscles grow and get bigger and stronger.

Do you honestly think babies plan any of this?

Oddly enough, despite all that is required, they achieve their goal.

Is it effortless? When we look at it, we admire their persistence despite all the effort required. When they look at it, they don’t look at it as effort or persistence. All they see is “Goal. Try. Goal. Try. Tired. Goal, Try. Yay!! Again.”. That’s all it was to them. No effort. Just try something they wanted to do until they got it.

All the adult motivation and learning coaches talk about the HOW – the steps and the plan, and the WHY – the motivation and the desire. How you can never achieve your goals without clearly answering the HOW and the WHY questions.

Ask a child who is thinking “I want”, “But why?” and the reply would just be “I want?” . What else is there? Why would it need another reason? Why would it need to justify why it wants something? Isn’t the fact that it wants something enough? Ask it “How?” and the reply again would be something like “I want. I try.”. Ask it “But the steps?” “I don’t know. I want. I try.”. And just with that brilliant set of plans and blueprint a child sets out and achieves its goals.

Imagine that. No plan. No motivation. Goal achieved. All the while, adults who love to spend hours, days, weeks and months in plotting and planning and self-motivating and visualizing never get anywhere with their goals. I wonder why.

Now a common thought might be “But we can’t use this children’s approach. Our goals are much more complex. Children use it for easy stuff, like crawling, walking, controlling their body, learning multiple languages or any of the rare skills that we like to say they are gifted at. Oh wait.”

Realize that this simpler method of learning apparently allows us to master anything, effortlessly. No need for how. No need for why. No need for detailed plans. Act or try first, and modify based on feedback and information later. As adults capable of reading and learning as well as searching for coaches or videos of people doing it so we can model their behavior, we can accelerate the process even further once we get started.

This is the middle ground between learning as a child and learning as an adult. A way of achieving goals that combines the best of a child’s simple way, and an adult’s research based way. A way that cuts through all the procrastination, confusion, fear, and excuses and lets us achieve our goals with the focus and intensity and speed that we were designed to achieve them.

So how do you get to the point where you learn everything in your life effortlessly and instinctively like this again?

I can’t give you any magic steps or an algorithm to follow, because that would defeat the purpose. But here is a hint – If you just make instinctive learning your goal, something you want, something you keep trying to achieve without even necessarily knowing how, guess what will happen?