Learning from the Inside Out

I listened to an interview on our local Public Radio with (Angelo) Paul Ramunni, founder of the New England Accordion Connection & Museum Company and author of the book, Accordion Stories from the Heart. When he was a youngster, Paul’s parents asked him to learn to play the accordion – something he did not want to do. After years of lessons and practice, he learned. Soon after he retired the accordion to a closet. Almost 42 years later he was inspired to pick it up, play it again, and eventually open a museum for other forgotten accordions. The stories of their owners are filled with joys and tears. He now defines happiness as a group of people, an accordion, and some beer!

Why did this man learn to play the accordion, and what inspired him after so many years, to take his learning to the next level and start a new career? Was it initially the insistence of his parents and the skill of a teacher? Years later, was it his recognition of what sociologist and author Jack Mezirow calls a “disorienting dilemma” that made Paul decide to learn to do something new with his accordion?

Learning is a fascinating process about which much has been written. Three principles stand out:

Learning is Social

Even if you’re the type of person who likes to figure things out for yourself, sooner or later you’ll discover that learning is a social process. Whether it’s a teacher, a peer, a playmate or a how-to video, you learn with others. And when your learning involves some sort of reward or approval from others (especially your peers), you’ll learn faster. Learning is social.

Learning is Behavioral

Throughout your life you must learn to perform complex tasks – like driving or speaking a new language. These learning feats usually start small (left, right, hello, goodbye) and grow as you gain more confidence. You keep at it because there’s an outcome you want to achieve. Learning is behavioral.

Learning is Relevant

When you’re not satisfied with the status quo and have an urgent desire to change your current situation, you’ll make an effort to learn. If you’re OK with your current state and feel no need to understand or change anything, you probably won’t. Learning solves dilemmas.

Why Any of this Matters
In a world where rampant information and disparate data bombards our brains every minute of the day, it often feels impossible to take the time to learn. Some people have resorted to learning through on-demand sound bites that don’t stand up to the more long-lasting principles of social, behavioral, and relevant learning.

In the face of so much distraction, what can you do to continue to learn?

Try Learning From the Inside Out

When you learn from the inside out, you learn about yourself. You make time to consider the forces within you that support your learning, and recognize the forces that hold you back, even when the task is super important.  You may have to fight off your internal naysayers who try to convince you that you’re wasting your time by understanding yourself. You’re not.

There is an inner sense of personal fulfillment that comes with knowing why you make certain choices – even ones that challenge you. When you have that inner sense of who you are, what makes you tick, what motivates you…you can hitch that knowledge to whatever you are trying to learn. It’s a boost to most everything you do in life.

Now – why did Paul Ramunni learn to play the accordion in the first place, and then rekindle his interest after so many years? Was it:

  1. Social (the influence/impact of people)
  2. Behavioral (the wanting for a specific outcome)
  3. A dilemma to overcome (an urgency to change the status quo)
  4. A personal, intrinsic force (his inner drive)

Answer: This learning may have started for social reasons, or because parental pressures or desires created a behavioral or urgent need. But when I listened to Paul talk about his passion for bringing joy and happiness to others and the deep connection people feel when they gather to listen to music from their past, I was reminded of the power of knowing and trusting ourselves and opening up our hearts to whatever brings us joy.

Ways to Learn from the Inside Out

There are many ways to gain insight into yourself. Here are a few that have worked for me:

  • Meditation: Learn alongside a skilled guide, even if it’s an audio program.
  • Reading and Reflection: Book clubs work well for this, or simply having a book discussion with a friend.
  • Formal Assessments: For this purpose, I favor something that assesses your inner drivers and motivations.
  • Conversations with Others: Talk with your friends and family about their values, purpose, and what is most important to them in life.
  • Helping Others: You can discover a lot about what makes you feel fulfilled when you do something for others.
  • Counseling or Therapy: These forms of self-examination and exploration can unlock great insight.

Whether you’re taking on a new role, visualizing a healthier you, or finally fed up with your financial situation – you’re embarking on a learning journey. Remember to take your intrinsic motivation with you!