Upskill yourself: You can teach an “older” dog new tricks

Dr. Mark Goulston says it only takes a little time and effort for people to learn new skills.

Mark Goulston, M.D. is WorkingNation’s featured writer for July. He is an award-winning business psychiatrist, consultant for Fortune 500 companies and the best-selling author of seven books. His latest, Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with Irrational and Irresponsible People in your Life can be found on AmazonThis is the second of four articles from Dr. Goulston.

Mark Goulston, M.D.

You’re not quite an “old dog,” but compared to the Millennials younger than you, you’re an “older dog.” However, you’re feeling like an old dog, when it comes to staying current with or even learning much of the new technologies that are creeping up to replace you, if they already haven’t.

Some of you will secretly admit that you don’t feel you’ve learned much since college or even high school. This, by the way, is not true and if you can stop feeling so anxious you will realize that you have learned much more than you think you have.

I think I know how you feel. In the mid-1990’s, you might remember something called the Palm Pilot. It was one of the first PDA’s (remember, Personal Digital Assistant). Well after a good friend extolled all the virtues of it and after my Day Runner planner started to become cumbersome, I bought one with a 14-day return policy. I didn’t even open it before I returned it within ten days because I didn’t think I could learn the “graffiti” necessary to record information. Two months later, another friend gave me his spiel about how great his Palm Pilot was and again I bought a second one, this time returning it narrowly on the 12th day for the same reason.

My mind was locked into believing I couldn’t learn that darn “graffiti.” A month later, still another person showed me hers and I figured, couldn’t be so hard to do. And then it happened. The 14th day lapsed and I was stuck with it.

Palm Pilot via Creative Commons.

So… I unwrapped my Palm Pilot out of it mini-bubble pack, took out the stylus, read the instruction book and… voila, I learned graffiti in ten minutes. I thought, “How many other things have I failed to learn because I stopped before I even tried. As hockey legend Wayne Gretsky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you fail to take.”

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And all of this brings me to another of my favorite quotes from Tim Gallwey, creator of the “Inner Game Series.”

It will sound familiar, but because of your anxiety you’ll immediately think, “Oh, I’ve heard that one.” However, if you stay for the finale, you’ll realize you haven’t heard it and your uptightness turned into impatience will be momentarily interrupted by a chuckle.

Tim said: “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. But if you teach a man to learn, you feed him for a lifetime and he doesn’t have to just eat fish.”

Speaking of learning to learn, I’m reminded of another anecdote and something I learned as a medical intern – I am a medical doctor – that helped everyone learn techniques and procedures and to internalize them so they became second nature.

We called that approach: learn one, do one, teach one. Learn one meant learning how to do something from a doctor higher up in training. Doing one meant doing what they showed us in front of them. What sealed the deal was teaching someone below us. There is something about teaching someone that helps you really “own” a skill.

You’re probably thinking, “What the heck does your medical training have to do with me?”

Relax. You’re already feeling anxious again that you won’t be able to learn what comes next from me. I get it. Take a deep breath. It’ll be okay!

Select your smart phone, your laptop or a piece of software where you’re not fully using its capabilities. Very few people use more than 10% of the capabilities of their technology. Think of one of the capabilities with that technology that would come in handy in your life and in the life of someone in your family (who will be the person you’re going to teach it to).

Next, reach out to that person and say, “I’d like your help in my becoming more confident about being able to learn new skills and if I can teach you what I am going to learn, it would help.” Choose someone who is likely to want to help you and something that they will value learning.

Select a piece of technology where you’re entitled to tech assistance and where you can share your screen with a technical assistance person.

Learning new tricks for your technology is easier than you think. You’ll be teaching others soon enough with enough practice. Photo- Shutterstock

Then contact and have that person walk you through learning a skill. After they do that, thank them for their patience with you and tell them you’d like to do it on your own with their watching you. Then ask them if you can do it once more. This shouldn’t be a problem taking their time, because many tech companies such as Apple or Verizon are now encouraging their people to spend as much time as possible with customers to answer tech questions. Customer satisfaction is now very important to these companies.

After you go through this, reach out to the person in your life and teach what you learned to them.

Commit yourself to learning new skills in this way at least two times a week to develop momentum and confidence in your being able to learn new tricks.

If you do this over four weeks and become proficient in eight technical skills, there is a good chance that you will turn the corner on feeling you can’t learn new things. In fact, some people I know who have done this have become “new tech skill acquisition” junkies.

When I asked one of them why the shift, he replied, “I know that the person who is afraid he can’t learn new things is alive and well in me and I don’t want to take the chance of him taking over and throwing me back into being so uptight about trying new things.”

Finally, get the name of every tech assistance person’s supervisor and email them to compliment them on the person who helped you. This is not just being appreciative and showing your gratitude. You’ll discover that coming from a place of gratitude can also help you develop a positive attitude.

Coming next Monday: Dr. Goulston tells you how you can say “NO” to negativity.

Join the Conversation: What will be the first new skill you want to learn? Tell us your plan to overcome the stubborn part of your personality on our Facebook page.

Connect with Dr. Goulston through Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. His books are available on Amazon. Check out his videos on YouTube or take advantage of free resources available at

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