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Special to The Huffington Post – Wednesday, September 27 2013 – See at the Huffington Post

The workplace teems with training, coaching, books, workshops, webinars and courses – all targeted to helping us become the best employee, team, manager or executive that we can possibly be.

But too often these personal improvement tools fail. Why? Because the people participating aren’t truly committed to learning. The fact is, many of us participate in learning activities without actually applying what we learn to what we do. We may sit in a seminar because we’re expected to attend. Or we may take a webinar because it’s free. And then we go back to work and do things the way we’ve always done them.

But if we want to become more knowledgeable and skillful, improve our performance at work, advance in our careers, then we must be open to learning. We need to make four commitments.

1. Regularly schedule time to learn something new

Most of us tend to focus our time and attention on getting the work done that’s right in front of us. However, this doesn’t generally help us become more adaptable, skilled and capable. Committing a little time on a regular basis to learning something new, however, does.

Start a list of ideas for learning. Ask senior colleagues or your boss for suggestions such as new projects, publications, courses, seminars, volunteer opportunities. Then schedule time every week for these learning opportunities.

2. Invite criticism

While few of us enjoy being criticized, in order to make informed decisions we need a variety of opinions. Feedback from others helps to improve our performance.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Think of them as learning opportunities. If we want to achieve more we need to challenge ourselves and take risks. Therefore rather than viewing criticism as a threat, consider it a resource. Gather feedback to understand a mistake you made and what contributed to it. Welcome constructive criticism that offers alternative ideas and suggestions so you can learn. Consider how you can do better next time.

3. Change habits

According to a 2006 Duke University study, 40% of the actions we perform each day are habits, not purposeful decisions. Unfortunately, by repeating what we’ve already done, we aren’t as creative and effective as we can be. Therefore once we learn something new, we need to integrate it into our work and not fall back on old habits.

Take time to reflect on what you’ve learned. Determine how you can apply this knowledge or skill to what you’re doing at work. Then practice what you’ve learned – over and over again. The more often we do something, the more instinctive it becomes — and the better we’re able to do it.

4. Keep learning, keep applying

Creative thinking arises from the foundation of knowledge in our brains. We draw on this knowledge base to develop ideas and solutions. The more we learn and challenge our brains, the more our brains engage and enhance our capacity to think and solve problems.

When we don’t use new knowledge and skills, these changes in the brain reverse. Thus we need to keep learning and keep applying what we’ve learned. We can do this by setting learning goals and actively seeking new challenges and ways to gain useful information.

You might, for example, offer to take on more responsibilities at work through a new project or a role that will expand your skills. Or look for a volunteer role that helps you develop new skills. Maybe find a mentor to help you manage your learning. Or possibly identify a role model, observe how this individual succeeds and incorporate these findings into your own practices.

We can’t improve if we don’t learn. This principle applies not only to individuals, but equally to teams and organizations. Make expanding your talents a daily aspiration. The more you commit to learning, the more capable you will become and the faster and farther your career will excel.

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