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Accelerate Your Learning Curve for More Success and Less Stress
by Susan Dunn

Downsizing and technological advances put demands on us to learn more and learn it faster. As support staff and auxiliary positions disappear, job functions are consolidated, teamwork becomes the norm, and computer and other technologies keep proliferating, we are faced with a stressful amount of new things to learn in a diminishing amount of time.

Yet the faster you can learn new things, the more valuable you will be to your employer, and the more likely you’ll be to advance in your career. It isn’t an option these days.


What can you do to accelerate your learning curve and increase your value to your employer? The interesting thing is that there are things all learning curves have in common, whether you’re learning how to facilitate team work, learning a new software program, learning a new language, or learning how to negotiate. The better you understand the mechanics of THE learning curve, the better you’ll be able to deal with the individual ones that come along, and this is part of Emotional Intelligence.


If you think back on things you’ve learned in the past, you’ll probably realize that one of the things that slowed you down was fear. I can certainly think of examples in my own case.

An example of how fear can slow you down is evident if you’ve watched a young child learn how to ski. A child doesn’t fear failure nor success, nor do they fear falling down. New things are an every day occurrence for a child, and this is just the next one. In learning to ski, they fall repeatedly and bounce back like a rubber ball. They consider it all fun. Thus there is nothing slowing down the learning except their ability to master the motor skills. What a relief!

Many of the Emotional Intelligence competencies facilitate learning. One of them is flexibility. The skiing example shows a sort of physical flexibility, but this is applicable to mental tasks as well. We don’t all learn best the same way. You may be sent to a seminar or training that doesn’t fit your learning style. If you’re flexible, and have learned how to learn (the learning curve), you’ll be able to shape things to your own benefit.

Take learning a new software program, for instance, something many of us are faced with almost monthly. One person may learn better by reading the manual, while another may do better by being shown. Yet another may be used to the “throw them to the wolves method,” or by hearing a tape or looking at an interactive video on the computer screen.

This has to do with your innate learning style which can be discovered through an assessment such as the StrengthsFinder® profile, by working with a coach, or by analyzing your own history. Generally when left to your own devices, you’ll do what comes naturally to you, which will always be the quickest and easiest way for you to learn.


A client I’ll call Alicia learned how to type when she was 6 years old. Her mother let her ‘play’ on the family typewriter. By the time she got to high school and took a typing class which attempted to teach her “touch typing,” it was too late to unlearn the old ways, yet she keyboards at over 100. Would anyone complain about the method?

Then she took a job where her boss told her he wanted a newsletter in two weeks, and gave her – wouldn’t you know? – a Mac. Being used to tinkering, she started right in, asking an office mate some pertinent questions, and figuring it out fairly rapidly although she had never touched a computer before. Someone else might have refused that job or demanded lessons.

The next job Alicia had she was required to use a PC, and she tackled that on her own as well.

Nick, however, learns best from formal instruction, and then having a manual at his side. It confuses him if someone tries to instruct him sitting by his side or talking to him. He would rather work on his own, in peace and quiet.

Emotional Intelligence starts with self-awareness – knowing your emotions as well as your cognitive abilities, and particularly how they interface. Nick and Alicia were both able to learn computer skills, but they were comfortable in different settings, and it’s emotional “comfort,” that gets rid of the fear and accelerates the learning curve. Learning has a huge emotional component to it that is just now being honored in our schools and in the work place.


A crucial point is the longer you stay in the confused stage, the more stress you’ll experience. This will reinforce itself, making it harder for you to learn in the future. In essence you’ll be slowing down your learning curve each time.

The faster you learn each thing, the less agony, and the better and faster you’ll learn in the future. It’s a win-win. Your employer wants you to learn fast, and it’s in your best interest to learn fast.

Another great benefit is then learning is fun – like the 6 year old learning to ski. This is turn will make you more resilient (the stress-buster for the 00s) because studies have shown that lifetime learning contributes to resilience.

The ability to change rapidly, be flexible and learn quickly are highly valued by today’s employers and reduce your personal stress levels.

These are all Emotional Intelligence competencies you can learn. How? Start with an overview of the field and an assessment of your own Emotional Intelligence (EQ or EI). You can take an interactive Emotional Intelligence course on the Internet, and then work with a certified Emotional Intelligence coach who can provide individual instruction to improve your competencies.

Developing your Emotional Intelligence has many benefits. It can accelerate the learning curve because it teaches you correct patterns, makes previous knowledge more accessible, allows for better cognitive functioning, and manages the emotions so they help the process, not hinder it. It can also increase your ability to get the help – and the kind of help – you need from others.

Even if faced with learning something completely new, you’ll learn to recognize the steps and feelings that go along with each stage which will eliminate a lot of stress.

You’ve taken care of your academic education, but what about your Emotional Intelligence? Take a second look. Many people are finding it to be the missing piece in their career plan.

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Susan Dunn, MA, Clinical Psychology, certified Emotional Intelligence Coach, The EQ Coach™ . Coaching around EQ for relationships, career, resilience, transitions, personal and professional development. Susan is the author of numerous ebooks, including "How to Live Your Life with Emotional Intelligence," "Depression," and "How to Develop Your Child's EQ."

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