The garlic for lunch was a nice touch.

A friend on Facebook has been posting about the new “boot camp” exercise class he’s joined. It’s led by a former military officer, who barks out drill-sergeant-like orders and gets into the faces of those lagging behind. It’s amazing how many people can squeeze out one or two extra push-ups when someone is standing over them demanding it.

But not all of our mutual friends agree. A comment from one of his posts went something along the lines of, “not if it was the last workout class on Earth!” Others mentioned their favorite classes: the traditional kind, with the dude or chick who manages to keep smiling for a solid hour, periodically offering positive affirmations: “Just one more!” “You can do it!” “Awesome! And again…”

People have different learning styles. Some need the Carrot, and some need the Stick.

The Carrot method is the one we see most of the time: an instructor leads you gently through the program, stopping to tell you how easy it is, how well you’re doing, and making sure no one is left behind by gently helping those laggards. The downside of the Carrot is that it doesn’t offer much in the way of rigid leadership: it’s up to you to push yourself.

The Stick involves tough love: You’re given instructions, then expected to get ‘er done with the instructor breathing down your neck. God forbid you fall behind, because the instructor will make an example of you. If you’re embarrassed easily or prone to resent taking orders, the Stick may not be for you, but if you want structure, this is where you need to be.

In objective terms, the Carrot expects that people need support and assistance, and the Stick expects that you’re a damned grownup.

What You Want vs. What You Need

A few years ago I took salsa lessons (the dance, not the condiment). The instructor was a guy who used both the Carrot and the Stick: the Carrot was for the women, and the Stick for the men. If a guy screwed up a move, it wasn’t below the instructor to mock him, but he’d always refer to a woman by name and come over and gently lead her through a move she was getting wrong.

Sounds a little unfair, right? Well, it worked.

Many men seem to need structure in their learning, and a negative consequence to a bad habit. Of course, we also need to know what the good habit is. It’s just that sometimes, even though we know what the good habit is, we’re more comfortable with the bad habit. Or we think we’re practicing the good habit when in reality we’re half-assing it and calling it good.

My learning style is somewhat that of the Carrot: I absorb much better when there’s an explanation. The “why” is as important as the “what.” However, I’m sometimes prone to spend too much time gathering information: the “paralysis of analysis.” Therefore, a little boot to the rear at the end is ideal to get me moving on a project.

What I’m Getting At

Your learning style is important to know. If you don’t understand what you need in order to not only absorb information but also to act on that information, you’ll do what millions of people do now: read book after book, take class after class, and never actually use that information to enrich their lives.

I want you to think back on the most successful classes you’ve taken, the books or sites you’ve read that actually resulted in positive life changes, and the people in your life who have inspired you to take definitive action. Things that snapped you out of your comfort zone and showed you that you can accomplish more than you thought. Perhaps it’s something bad that happened to you, that snapped you out of a bad habit.

Write down what was most effective. Obviously, if it was a death in the family or a dismal medical diagnosis, you don’t want to replicate it, but you can extract what it was about the event that changed your habits (realizing that life is short, for example, or seeing the results of smoking).

Then seek to learn that way. If you need information, find one or two of the most highly recommended sources and get that information. If you need accountability or direct guidance, find a coach, trainer or mastermind group. If you need inspiration, go get it: help at a soup kitchen or elderly care facility. Keep a journal and stay in touch with yourself during this process.

Put yourself in the best situation to succeed on your terms. Just be aware of what those terms are.

So, what’s your learning style? What or who have you learned the most from?

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