TGA Foundations: Open Loops and Learning
Level 1...And That's Okay
Here's what you're going to experience reading this article.
You're probably going to not believe what we say, on some level. Maybe you'll intellectually accept the premise, but deep down you may not quite believe it.
You might feel like you want to search around about it - go to google and see if anyone else has written about this idea. What do the concepts mean? Is this nonsense?
You might think "that's an interesting concept, let me figure out how to fit it in my life."
You're gonna feel some level of discomfort.
That discomfort might drive you to leave this article completely, or it might drive you to figure out what the heck this is about and how you can most benefit.
The thing is, each and every one of those conclusions has something in common with it.
And the commonality is kind of a problem.
So what I really want you to do is NOT do any of those things.
I'm hoping the stories I'm about to tell will help you understand why.
There's a man named Martin Strel.
He doesn't seem like much when you look upon him.
He’s 69 years old, 5'11, and a stocky 240 lbs.
You likely wouldn't suspect that Martin is a marathon swimmer. Having swum the entire length of The Amazon in 62 days, he holds the record for longest swim.
He's also done this with many other great rivers - The Mississippi, The Yangtze, The Parana, The Danube, etc
Most stories about him talk of a man of incredible feats and endurance, who's risked death many times and who is a mystery to scientists.
I think Martin's own words are illuminating:
"In the beginning, I counted. 1,2,3 hundred (strokes).
It was lots of pain."
But, Martin discovered something on The Danube ...
"It is hard to explain. Meditation or hypnotization ...
It happened on the river.
It happened while I was swimming.
My concentration is very deep, like meditation. And then, there is no pain anymore."
I learned this story when I first got into yoga.
My initial "lesson" from it was about finding "flow" and "meditation" to move past physical pain, to move past the present discomfort I was experiencing ...
So that I could keep going.
But that is not the real lesson.
"... find a comfortable seated pose ... close your eyes ... bring your attention to your breathing …"
In the quiet of my home, I hit play as I prepared myself.
Soft music began, with a distinct but unobtrusive metronomic like beat in the background.
I sat there with my legs mostly crossed.
I felt tightness in my hips, in my knees. My ankles started to hurt from the pressure on the ground.
My joints started to ache.
My body wanted to arch forward and relieve the pressure. I repositioned myself upwards on the cushion to find better alignment.
The discomfort subsided briefly, and then came back.
I wanted to stop. To end the discomfort.
" ... we will do a few rounds of guided ... deep breathing ... begin with an exhale ... inhale, 2, 3, 4, 5, exhale ..."
I observed my breath.
I let the discomfort flow out with each breath.
It was still there.
But now it was part of an observation.
I still experienced the discomfort. But it wasn't terribly important.
I breathed in.
I breathed out.
I continued this for several minutes, just letting the discomfort be, and focusing on my breath, allowing myself to release everything.
For one brief momentary absolute pinpoint I expanded thought and time throughout space and history.
A moment where it all was and was not.
Ever so instantaneously the experience was and then wasn't.
And then there was the breathing again.
And then the discomfort.
I stretched out my legs ....
The body is interesting. It's easy to point at me and say that obviously I can't sit still for long, because I can hardly sit well on the floor at all.
But even the most flexible, most comfortable, most prepared individuals cannot be completely still without growing discomfort.
Our biology demands movement. It demands change. It demands going from A to B. We're constantly in a state of being at A and desiring to be at B.
Even if A is sitting and B is lying down, or standing, or dancing, or tapping your foot.
It's impossible to be still and be totally completely comfortable for a long time.
And yet ...
Instead of trying to resolve that need to move, to change, to release the discomfort ...
If you just let it be.
What emerges for you in your life is an experience and understanding which can't be had in any other way.
It's like magic.
If you don't yet see what I'm getting at ...
I am going to relieve your discomfort (and hopefully replace it with something new, to your benefit).
Those of you reading thus far, if you're starting to think "I GET IT," and now really really want to apply this concept and phenomenon to your life and everything you do ...
Don't do it.
Instead, keep going with your life. Read everything else we have in TGA. Ponder your Solvable Problem™1. Create contact with reality.
And then come back here.
And ponder again.
In the meantime, if an idea strikes you, if an understanding about this concept pops up for you ... jot it down. Not with the intent to create an outcome from it, but rather the intent to express and observe.
This is why you'll see us talk about 6 Word Updates2. Whether you come to an event, see a virtual one, or just catch some of our posts or the bottom of many of our articles ...
We encourage you to express your experience in a 6 Word Update. Again, this is not about coming to a conclusion. This is about expression and observation.
Because you'll return to yourself.
But you won't be your same self.
And the words will hit different.
New possibilities will appear.
And pieces you didn't realize were floating around suddenly will start snapping into place.
But this does NOT happen, if you try to come to a conclusion.
That's The Open Loop
It's hard. Because it's tension.
And we are wired to resolve tension.
Open loops show up structurally in places like marketing and storytelling because these structures are highly effective at getting you to keep going, to take an action (typically in storytelling it's reading the story and getting to the end of the thing).
Our biology drives us to close the loop, because of that tension, because it represents an unknown, an unanswered question, uncertainty.
When we actively close the loop, when we seek a resolution, an answer, it can feel really good to complete that. You'll feel like you accomplished something. You'll feel like you figured it out.
But you've robbed yourself of what real understanding and learning *IS.*
(I risk this very phenomenon by explaining here, but I'm hoping this happens in a way that creates a new tension to step you forward)
This experience is very difficult to explain in words. It can only really be fully understood through your own personal experience.
It's the emergence of knowing that happens when you stretch out an unanswered loop, when you let the tension sit there and you relax into it.
For most, this is too uncomfortable.
What's going to happen? What's not going to happen? What will the answer be?
If there's any kind of action you can take to try to resolve those questions ... you'll be driven to do that.
It's just how you are made.
Why Is This Important?
Presumably you are here in TGA because you'd like to learn and grow and apply new understanding to change your life circumstances.
We are all about helping you get exactly what you want in life.
But this always requires change. This requires real learning. This requires new behaviors.
So we have broken down this process of learning into fundamental components, so that you can get the most out of TGA.
Unfortunately, we’ve found that a lot of adults have huge obstacles to learning. Often, they don’t even realize these obstacles exist because they are perceived by themselves and others as being ‘smart’.
And because you can’t increase your intelligence without learning, we're unpacking the fundamentals that will help you learn better. Even if you’re smart.
But first, it’s important to define terms.
Intelligence: The ability to get what you want. Anything that increases your ability to get what you want has made you more intelligent.
Learning: Same circumstance, different behavior. Regardless of what you know, if your behavior doesn’t change, you haven’t learned anything.
Getting The Most Out of TGA
We have a saying within TGA:
Live To Learn. Give To Earn.
In that order, because you cannot give what you do not have.
In order to participate and get the most out of TGA we need to be able to experience things so that we learn them. This is a big ask for smart people.
Why? It might seem counterintuitive but adults have a difficult time learning - the smarter they are, the more difficult it is for them to learn5. Let’s reason through this paradox together.
Concept: Open Loops And Double Loop Learning
An open loop is uncertainty. We discussed this above, hopefully giving you a visceral sense of what that's like.
Any time something is presented to you that is new, different, challenges what you believe, or even presents an unanswered question, the initial reaction is discomfort to the unknown. Our human nature doesn’t deal well with uncertainty.
We're wired to close the loop.
The problem is this leads to a lot of single loop learning.
For example, did you think about googling what “Open Loop” or “Double Loop Learning” mean?
Did you google Martin Strel? Or aspects about Yoga in the above stories?
Most do. This is an attempt at trying to “close the loop”.
The benefit of quickly closing the loop is the immediate comfort of certainty.
The problem is that you blindly accept whatever rids you of the uncertainty - whether it serves you long term or not.
Because the “closing of the loop” is rushed, it lacks reflection, observation, discussion (about what it would mean to you and how you might recognize it in the real world), and receptivity.
It was an attempt to capture that “A HA, I got it” moment. Closing the loop makes you feel smart - - whether it serves you long term or not.
When a loop is opened we want to try and do double, triple, or even quadruple loop learning. That means allowing it to stay open and sitting in a little uncertainty before accepting the first acceptable answer.
Smart people have a hard time sitting with uncertainty because their identity is wrapped up in being certain - in being smart.
Useful, Valid, and Right
Smart people (determined by tests and validated by others) generally develop an identity around being valid or right. As they continue to get things “right” they are praised for it. This creates a reward cycle of being “right” - whether it serves you long term or not.
Unfortunately for smart people, being right is not the same as being helpful or useful. People that identify as “smart” will orient away from useful to protect their identity.
A shift you will need to make to maximize your TGA experience is orienting toward useful or helpful, not valid or right.
If you need to be right or you need to be validated, you are not learning.
If you don’t have the answer right now, you don’t need to come up with a valid point to sound smart. We are here to learn, not prove we are smart.
Step back and see what the most useful behavior or suggestion is in this scenario, if you aren’t sure - do nothing. Leave the loop open and stay receptive.
How Do We Do That?
Single Loop Learning looks like this:
“I get it. I can now prove I’m smart/right.”
Not high utility, there are plenty of people who can answer correctly on a test, but completely fail to apply it in their day-to-day life. There is no actual benefit to “getting it” if it doesn’t help you “get what you want”.
Remember: Learning = Same circumstance, different behavior. Regardless of what you know, if your behavior doesn’t change, you haven’t learned anything.
Single loop “learning” decreases the probability that anything is actually learned.
Double loop learning increases the probability of learning.
Double Loop Learning
Step 1: Lesson, Resource, or Experience: Something new is brought up to you that you do not understand fully. Instead of googling an answer trying to find something that fits, sit with it and go to step 2.
Step 2: Reflect, Journal, Observe Reality, Discuss: You can think about it, journal, reflect, and most importantly observe reality and discuss. Is it valid? Maybe. Is it useful to you? Can we make it useful to you? Can you test it? Is there someone you can ask for more details or clarity?
Wrestle with it and keep utility top of mind.
Take however much time that you believe is appropriate on step 2 before proceeding to step 3.
Step 3: Back To Source, Repeat: We never step in the same river twice. If you follow the steps above you will see the same material slightly different- it will hit you differently.
Believe it or not, just leaving the loop open turned you into a different person - you grew. You can repeat this as many times as you want to, over and over again each time taking something slightly different away.
This is one of the reasons reading a good book five times is more beneficial than reading five different books.
This is the three step process TGA was designed to facilitate:
Watch a video/read an article.
Reflect, journal, get in groups with other TGA members and discuss.
Come back to the source and review the material again.
Repeat (OK that’s four steps)
The fifth step is to begin to recreate it.
Take the concept from the domain and medium you learned it and work on applying it to a more relevant (to you) domain and medium.
If you’re a fitness coach - can you take the concepts above and reinvent them or improve them for your fitness program?
Side Note: If you do it publicly, we will do our best to participate, highlight and share it - a little dopamine in exchange for effort.
Wisdom Comes From Multiple Perspectives
Learning = Same circumstance, different behavior. Regardless of what you know, if your behavior doesn’t change, you haven’t learned anything.
Double loop learning improves learning.
Wisdom comes from multiple perspectives.
The two, double loop learning and multiple perspectives, are combined with our 6WU format (see footnote).
6WU- Wisdom Comes From Multiple Perspectives
Learning Step: You can add your own 6WU and see others here:
If you found value and want to see more be sure to subscribe below.
6 Word Update:
The 6 Word Update (6WU)
This originally came from our friend Randy Massengale - senior advisor to Bill Gates in the 90s. Whenever you watch a new video, read an article, learn something new try to summarize in 6 words.
Can you take what you just learned and distill it into 6 words?
This force your brain to truly process the essence of what you just learned or experienced. And let’s be honest:
If you can’t take a couple seconds to come up with six words, you’re not going to change any of your behaviors. Think of a 6WU as a micro step toward modifying your behavior.
Here are some examples of 6WU’s from The Guardian Academy:
You can also see what other people took away from the same exact content or experience.
This helps us develop empathy and keeps us aware that the same thing can mean something entirely different from a different point of perception.