Learning Lab: From Knowing to Doing

Are you feeling burned out? Do you feel like you never have enough time in the day to rest, relax, or recharge no matter how fast you run, how hard you work, or how many hours of email or meetings you slash through? Do you feel lost amidst all the demands on you at work and at home? Do you long for a sense of belonging, meaning, and making a good living?

Looking back, I see how many times I struggled with burnout throughout my prior career. Rather than questioning the workplace culture where “faster” was the unspoken rule, and employees were expected to even “sleep faster” to “do more with less,” I thought the problem was me. I pointed the arrow at myself and asked: “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I keep up? How can I manage my time better?” As I tried to survive the daily onslaught at work and at home, I consistently felt a drowning feeling of “I’m not good, smart, fast, or creative enough.”

Sure, I learned that sleep, exercise, and healthy eating are necessary for peak performance, successful relationships, and sustainable leadership, but I was stuck in a faster-smarter-better track that drove me harder to the ground. Incessant email, endless hours of meetings, conference calls, and working around “difficult” colleagues, employees, or managers by doing extra work to compensate—does any of this sound familiar to you?

If you feel burned out, you’re not alone. Here’s what Arianna Huffington shared in her recent LinkedIn article:

“Seventy percent of U.S. employees—and 96 percent of senior leaders—say they feel burned out. The numbers are similar the world over. And we actually know how to stop it—by changing the way we work and live. But ending the global epidemic of burnout and creating a thriving workplace culture is about more than raising awareness of the connection between well-being and productivity. It requires moving from knowing what to do to actually doing it—that means learning how to incorporate new habits into our daily lives.”

That gap between knowing and doing is what gets people stuck where they are. I’ve been fascinated by this gap for a while. Why don’t we do what we know?

Knowing is not enough; We must apply.
Willing is not enough; We must do.”
~ Bruce Lee

From Knowing to Doing

Earlier this year, I decided to do something to close this knowing-but-not-doing gap. I’d like to share with you what I’ve done to apply what I know, and what I’ve learned by doing.

The first step I took was to connect with my purpose. As I wrote in my previous article, leadership, well-being, and purpose are inseparable trios: we can’t succeed in accomplishing meaningful goals that matter to us if we lack leadership skills, or well-being which is also a trainable skill. And purpose is the inner force that drives us to take meaningful actions to get the results we want toward our North Star.

Connecting with my purpose led me to create an online learning lab where I could apply what I know to close the gap between knowing and doing. The inquiry was: “Can we create an online community of leaders to inspire and support one another while learning and sharing useful practices for well-being?”

The Invitation

In the spirit of sharing my work, as Austin Kleon encourages in his book, Show Your Work!, here’s the invitation letter I sent out to a network of friends and former colleagues in late February:

My dear friends,

I hope 2017 is off to a great start for you. As for me, the first six weeks of this year gave me gifts that I didn’t anticipate. Quiet time for reflection led me to gain clarity on what truly matters to me, and rekindle my purpose: to connect with the best in me and the best in others to accomplish remarkable things that no one person could do alone. One thread that’s pulling me forth is well-being.

In alignment with this purpose, I’m designing an online pilot group and would like to invite you to join. If you aren’t interested, I wouldn’t be offended at all. All the same, as I value your insight and ideas, I’d appreciate your feedback on this pilot program.

What’s the idea?

It’s a Learning Lab to develop emotional intelligence and skillful mental habits for well-being which is foundational for leadership. We all have minds and emotions, but how many of us have learned how they work? How can we develop mental clarity, gain mastery over our emotional responses, and strengthen our relationships?

It’s never too late to train our minds to support our intention to work and live with focus, clarity, and creativity, each of which is essential for leadership excellence. Yet it’s extremely challenging for us to cultivate these qualities when our lives are so hurried, fractured, and complex.

In this online pilot, we’ll use a unique method that not only draws on the fields of neuroscience and emotional intelligence, but also emphasizes learning about the mind in an experiential way through an attention training practice. My intention is to inspire and empower you to learn the skills of self-awareness, well-being, kindness, and happiness, all contributing toward your success in work and life.

“Learning Lab” is a fitting concept for this experiment because what I’d like to provide is a scaffolding where we can explore, experiment with, and experience healthy ways to respond to changes, challenges, and opportunities in a safe and supportive environment and discover what works for us (and what doesn’t).

What’s in it for me?

This Learning Lab has three key features:

  1. Skill building: According to Dr. Richard Davidson at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, well-being is a skill we can train. Like physical exercises that make our body strong and resilient, mental exercises can help us cultivate a resilient mind and heart. We’ll learn and practice mindfulness and emotional intelligence skills to: increase focus and attention, build resilience, manage stress, unleash creativity and innovative thinking, develop greater self-awareness and emotional regulation, communicate clearly and effectively, and experience greater overall well-being.
  2. Lab experience: We can explore, experience, and experiment with these practical skills. The goal is to integrate and apply what works well into our work and life so that we can live an optimal life—doing what we love for the people who love us, showing up and enriching relationships inside and outside the workplace with ease and confidence.
  3. Community support: Like-minded people who want to increase well-being, a positive outlook, and happiness can inspire and support one another while learning and sharing together. It’s more fun and effective when we can connect with those who also want more joy, ease, and well-being in work and life.

If any of the above resonates with you, and you’d like to participate in this Lab, I’d love to include you as a pilot member.

What’s asked of me?

Three key requirements for the Lab are:

First, the intention to integrate well-being into your life.

Second, the commitment to fully participate in the 8-week program, which meets online weekly for 1-hour Learning Lab session.

Third, an attitude of curiosity and kindness toward yourself and others in the Learning Lab.

What’s next?

If this Learning Lab idea resonates with you, I’d love to include you as a pilot member. It’d be great to reconnect and stay in touch through this experimental lab that has the potential to be uplifting, inspiring, and practical. As there is enough interest for this seed idea to date, I’m planning to start the first pilot cohort in the week of March 6. I’d love to hear what you think!

“Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts.
It is about one life influencing another.”
~John C. Maxwell


The response was enthusiastic and encouraging. With my fellow pioneers, I created and ran two pilot groups of eight sessions each this past March through April.

In our hyper-connected world, it feels like technology is running us—often wearing us down and contributing to our burnout. I was curious to see: Can we instead leverage technology for well-being—to create a virtual shared space in the middle of our busy lives where we can connect with the best in us and the best in others while learning and practicing healthy mental habits for work and life?

In my next article, I share what we experienced and learned while exploring, experimenting, and experiencing in our online Learning Lab.

(Image: “Experiment” by Stephen Douglas under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license)

Intrigued? SoulCo is currently planning future Learning Labs which will be open to the public, as well as programs exclusive for skill-building within organizations. Contact us for an initial conversation towards building greater emotional intelligence and skillful mental habits for well-being and leadership.