The most important pre-skill for picking up skills is coach-ability. Why? Because there are people on this planet who already know whatever it is that you would like to know – so information is not generally the problem. The problem is, can you listen when the information comes your way? Or to use an old phrase – “ideas are a dime a dozen but the person who puts them into practice is priceless”.

The most important lesson I ever learned about coach-ability I learned about 6 feet up a ladder.

When I was 4 or 5 years old, my father fell out of a tree. He sprained his ankle (badly I assume). Not such a bad thing but both my parents were worried he would lose his job being unable to go to work for a short while and mum in her panic realised there was a future employment advantage to me if I never fell out of a tree and proceeded to induce terror in me with regard to trees. But being very young, very inexperienced at life and desperate to make full sense of what I was being told because it was clearly vastly important to my mum – who was my whole world at that age – I concluded that if I were ever above the ground on anything other than the floor of a building, I would fall, land on my neck and be paralysed for life. And I believed this to be 100% true. You try climbing a ladder if you genuinely 100% believe that you will fall and be paralysed for life. Not with 99% certainty but with 100% certainty. It was poor advice by my mum but to be fair to her, it did stop me from climbing trees and I never lost a job from spraining my ankle.

Fast forward 22 years. I have a very real phobia of heights. A phobia is not like a fear, you can control fear, this is uncontrollable and compelling. Meantime, I am reading a book that says one can cure a phobia in 2 minutes not using the standard psychologist methods that generally take 3-6 months and fail as often as not. Now THAT is accelerated learning.

But of course, it isn’t true. At least that is what I told myself. What nonsense! If it were true everyone would do it. There would be no phobias. Psychologists would have adopted it as their go-to method. What does this author think I am, an idiot? A gullible rube?

A new belief may look stupid because it is or because it contradicts with a current belief which may be wrong despite our believing it. More importantly, what would it cost me to conduct an experiment and see what happened? Two minutes. Apparently.

Two minutes later I am 6 feet up a ladder and I have lost my phobia. To be sure I was not fooling myself I finished climbing the ladder to the top and subsequently went bungie jumping and hang-gliding. So “yes” I would say the phobia was gone.

People ask me about the technique – that doesn’t matter, it’s a detail. Here is the point of the story, defer judgement. Create a cheap experiment (cheap in both time and money). Just because you have believed something for 10 years or 40, does not make it true. So when someone asks me, is it better to study in the morning or the evening I say – why don’t you find out which is better for you. The challenge is to find out accurately, quickly and easily. Ah, the art of the experiment. But that is a post for another day…