Tackling Teachability

Tackling Teachability even when Sleeping

Tackling teachability has the power to transform your life into a wonderful adventure no matter what your age. Teacher, coach or lifelong learner, read about why you should care about Teachability and what to do to tackle it well.

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What is Teachability?
Why Care about Teachability?
Who is Talking?
Where should Teachers Focus?
When is this Applicable?
Which Portfolio?
Time Horizons
Evolutionary Mismatch
Surviving vs Thriving
Employment & Teachability
Limitations of the Teachability Index
Your Life Experiences
Markers of Teachability
Ageing and Teachability
Alzheimer’s and Teachability
Thinking about the Road Map
Budget Constraints
Input Signal
Implementation Gap
Learning How to Learn
Time and Compound Interest
Internal Culture – Growth Mindset
External Environment
Physical Fitness
Emotional Regulation
Warped Willingness & Expertise
Parting Lesson


What is Teachability? [top]

If you are highly teachable then you are someone who easily acquires the ability to do things. This feature about you is context-dependent, varies over time and is affected by many things.

Teachability is often misused by the human parent, boss, teacher, coach or trainer to objectify students to transfer the responsibility and blame of poor performance onto the student.

What I want you to appreciate is that your Teachability is not fixed and you have the ability to drive it up or down. Let’s get cracking – tackle it, pin it down, and win.

Why Care about Teachability? [top]

You are reading this because, like me, you too are always looking for ways to upgrade your life, to increase your internal wealth. It will be suboptimal for you to think of teachability as being a feature to consider only in humans enrolled in some formal training programme.

Given that your Teachability is time-varying and potentially under your control, it is critical for a long Healthspan that you care about Teachability. Remember, when I say “health” or “Healthspan” I am almost always referring to, not just your physical, but also your mental, emotional and spiritual health.

Read: As Beautifully Simple as Puru The Guru’s Wellness Tree

Who is Talking? [top]

I have been teaching professionally since 1989 (so, for more than 30 years). I have also been a student of many and varied disciplines. Besides the domain knowledge required for teaching subjects like mathematics, physics, computer programming, finance and statistics that help people put bread on the table, I have also taught what enhances one’s life beyond the banality of bread. Whether it is cycling, football, running, strength training or optimal individualized nutrition they all include an engagement with another human being – often for achieving peak performance.

In mentoring people around the world, I have found that even the person most stubbornly resistant to change, someone people would have written off as being ‘unteachable’, can be transformed.

Where should Teachers Focus? [top]

Rather than focus only on delivering the material in a gold-standard fashion, a teacher ought to be intensely focused on every piece of the framework within which the student’s Teachability lies. Flowing beautiful music towards a soundproofed room isn’t going to be of much use for the eager listener inside!

For the teacher to expect the student, even an adult student, to be wholly responsible for demonstrating superior Teachability is irresponsible.

When is this Applicable? [top]

All the time – from your day of birth to the time of your last breath.

Which Portfolio? [top]

This conversation is about learning once you have decided what you want to learn. That choice of ‘what to learn’ is not being addressed here. With “time” being the only really binding constraint you face, the decision of what to learn is not one you should make lightly. Every day I come across someone who tells me they once started to learn something but then gave up for some reason – typically, it is because of not managing their only limited resource well – time.



Context-Dependent [top]

Your Teachability is highly context-dependent.

If you step into a training session being held in a hot and stuffy room having not slept much all night, done a morning of sport and then eaten a heavy lunch, you are going to have low Teachability even if the subject matter is relatively easy.

If you step into a 10am training session being held in a cool room lit with natural light, having had 2 cups of green tea after a morning walk, cold shower and short prayer session, your Teachability will be high even if the subject matter is complex.

Time Horizons [top]

Your Teachability will vary with time. The range, from short horizons (if you are sleepy, you won’t learn much) to longer ones (your attitude and life philosophy) will affect you over decades. Being mindful that what you are right now is not what defines you forever is key to transformation.

Read: Dying by 80, Living to 110, Horizons Matter

Evolutionary Mismatch [top]

You were born highly teachable. In fact, your highest level of Teachability was at birth – the time when a human baby is having its fastest brain development. That type of Teachability is determined by your genetic code – to survive.

Humans have had to constantly learn to survive over the millennia – those who had low Teachability and did not adapt, died early or were unable to pass their genes on.

Today, with no worry of death from famine or dying in the jaws of a lion, corporations take advantage of your evolutionarily unchanged basic instincts to sell you things that are usually terrible for you – especially if you consume too much. So, today, the dangers you have to learn about are primarily manmade and insidious. With low Teachability, you are at greater risk of being a daily victim without you realizing it.

Surviving vs Thriving [top]

If you are going to survive what are modern dangers as a result of the Evolutionary Mismatch, and go beyond that to thrive, then tackling Teachability is not an option – it is a must.

Employment & Teachability [top]

If you are in employment your Teachability should have (past tense) been high enough to have received the offer. However, note that in the vast majority of cases your employer or your boss will (future tense) not want you to be Teachable to a very high level – only enough to get the appropriate training to do the job. If you are looking to live an amazing life building both internal and external wealth, you should look to keep your Teachability high at all times regardless of what your employer, friends and family want.

Limitations of the Teachability Index [top]

The Teachability Index that people will often refer to is simply

Teachability Index = Willingness to Learn x Willingness to Change

With the “willingness scores” on the right-hand side being on a scale from 0 to 10 you can have a Teachability Index score that lies between 0 and 100.

Such a formulation is useful as a starting point e.g., 9 x 8 = 72 suggests you have a high score for the Teachability Index whereas e.g., 2 x 3 = 6 suggests you have a very low score.

I believe that this type of index is limited because it is typically a self-reported assessment of willingness by the student themselves. Given that talk is cheap, it can be that someone reports that they are very willing to learn and very willing to change but, in practice, we observe no acquisition of knowledge or skills. The reported Teachability Index score is high but I would insist that their Teachability is actually low.

In addition, to the extent that a teacher can simply say “you are not teachable”, it transfers the responsibility of the student’s progress from the teacher to the student who is accused of being “unwilling to learn”.

Assuming that you want to progress in life, knowing that results come from new actions and new actions from some new thoughts as a result of learning, it is more useful to assume that you are willing to learn, and to then think about how your Teachability can be understood and increased.

Read: Information and Your Happiness

The ultimate goal is to have a better life through actions. Those actions:
(a)  may have been known to you in theory, but you needed to implement them because you learned the important ‘why’
(b)  these actions may be new to you and now having learned about them, you are executing.

Markers of Teachability [top]

No formal certifications but this gentleman has acquired true knowledge

Certifications – there is a loose relationship between the number of certificates someone has hanging on their wall and their Teachability. While it would have required a decent level of Teachability to have earned those certificates, it is worthwhile bearing in mind 2 points:

  • Theoretical knowledge is a good thing, but until you have practically demonstrated results in that domain, it is of little value to anyone
  • You can have no certificates but still have high Teachability and be an expert practitioner who is able to help others

Visiting a patient at one of Mumbai’s most expensive and famous hospitals I was shocked to see that every nutritionist who came to set the meal requirements of the patient was either overweight or obese. Fortunately, the family of the patient was able to override the hospital food with food from home, where they ate pretty much like I would prescribe. Those nurses had certificates but were of zero practical use – living examples of low Teachability in the sickcare industry.

Your Life Experiences [top]

What you are right now is a function of your life experiences so far. Your instantaneous Teachability and how that evolves until your death is a function of the path you follow. Any mental blocks from your childhood, especially with teachers who may have traumatized you in school or the sports arena, are obstacles you will have to deal with and overcome to have a better path ahead.

Ageing and Teachability [top]

Even at 90+ he’s always active

Although there exists, everything else being equal, a general trend towards declining Teachability with age, there is no reason that you cannot keep your Teachability high even at a late age by NOT keeping everything else equal. The oldest person I teach regularly is my father who is 90+. He is also the fittest Indian I know of that age. He learns fast because of a gamut of protocols he has followed in his life and new ones he learns. These allow him to keep his Teachability high. It isn’t just good luck that I have not seen even an iota of memory loss in him!

Alzheimer’s and Teachability [top]

With a larger fraction of humans living beyond 70 and about half of all those above 85 with Alzheimer’s, the risk for any society of various forms of cognitive decline hurting the happiness index is very real. If you are close to someone who is already in such a state, I know it cannot be easy for you. It is extremely difficult to slow down the decline once the ball starts rolling. Teachability drops (turns negative?) quite fast…

The best thing you can do from today is to keep your own Teachability high, to get your body and mind progressing to a state where your own risk of cognitive decline is close to zero. Those I mentor understand well why I speak with non-arrogant confidence about being socially productive at the age of 110.



Thinking about the Road Map [top]

In order to maximize our ROTI by pushing up our Teachability at all times, we have to consider the budget constraints, the input signal, as well as the Implementation Gap. And for any portfolio of choices, we have to consider the relevance of time and setting up our internal and external environment. The 3 key principles to bear in mind are that “everything is connected to everything else”, that “you are capable of a lot more than you think”, and “the only resource that is a real constraint is time”.

Budget Constraints [top]

Time is the main constraint you have to any learning. You have only 24 hours in the day, much like the children in kindergarten, billionaires, the yoga masters, or like I do. The portfolio choice problem is an important one that I said I won’t discuss today. For the time that you do allocate to learning a specific skill, it will be critical that you maximize your Teachability to maximize your ROTI.

Input Signal [top]

Choose the wrong teacher, coach or guide and you’re going to take longer to learn something or to learn it properly. Your first teacher in a specific domain should always be a technically competent one. Technical competency is not enough, of course, I have already spoken above about the need for the teacher to tackle Teachability. Unlearning is not easy.

If your source of input is not a live human teacher there is a lower risk of ego clashes. On the other hand, you lose the advantage of being able to ask questions and get a reply from them. That’s where smart Googling helps. Just having the knowledge is not enough though – you will still face the Implementation Gap.


Implementation Gap [top]

The Implementation Gap that I discussed in detail here is the elephant in the room that I have also lectured about here and here.

Paying attention to hundreds of bits of detail is what will allow you to find that God mode within you.

If you find you are stuck with making no progress in life, you may also want to get in touch with me to explore working together to help you achieve your goals.

Learning How to Learn [top]

Whether it is for someone else’s learning or your own learning that you are responsible for, I highly recommend the free online MOOC with multiple awards called “Learning How to Learn” available on Coursera here.

Time and Compound Interest [top]

An observationthe world around you is in a rush.
A facteverything has a natural rate of change.
You can influence that rate of change with the right environment and the appropriate stimuli, but beyond that, you have to let time do her thing. Be like me, have a healthy obsession with her – she is my only non-renewable resource.

Internal Culture – Growth Mindset [top]

You have to develop an Internal Culture around learning – a growth mindset. Having a fixed mindset will push your Teachability towards zero. In addition, you have to believe, because it is true, that you can increase your Teachability.

External Environment [top]

Distractions in your immediate environment are the problems that are mostly under your control – e.g., switching off notifications on your phone when it is relevant to do so.

Your ability to control the temperature, light and sound in your physical environment will also affect your Teachability.

What is often ignored because it is not under any immediate control is the wider environment you are in. The External Culture – in your home, your neighbourhood, your place of work, your nation, or even your part of the world. [Experience this must-watch debate here and pay attention to what Allan Wallace says about “investigation into the mind” in the West vs the East.]

Physical Fitness [top]

All things equal, the more physically fit you are, the greater are your chances of being a better learner. Also, if you are keen to keep your Teachability high beyond the age of 100+ then the details of how you live your physical life today will matter.

Guys I thought were really smart 30 years ago, not having taken care of their physical health, are disappointingly not so sharp now.

Emotional Regulation [top]

If you are angry or anxious you will not be able to learn. This is where a mindfulness practice will help you create the right environment for nurturing the garden in your mind for the many decades to death.

Read: The Mindfulness and Running Duplet

Warped Willingness & Expertise [top]

Introspection for you to assess whether you are truly willing to learn is important. The upside of brutal honesty with yourself is yours to keep, and the downside of fooling yourself will be forced upon you by design. In this regard, a constant reminder that you don’t know what you don’t know is critical.

When you know only a little, you are at risk of what is called the Dunning-Kruger effect and will push down your Teachability. Unfortunately, even as an expert in your field, you are at risk that your ego will push you towards lowering your Teachability within your field and in connected fields.



Parting Lesson [top]

Everyone can hack their Teachability. If your future is going to be awesome, it can only be because of the things that you do. Change comes from within. Lifelong learning in an active manner can take you to heights you never thought were possible for you.

If you found this useful, please do please share it with your friends.

If you would like to be guided in detail to have the best life possible, you know how to reach me.



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.


  1. […] of the Interna-External Divide. Do your patients get off medication safely? Can your students teach what you taught them? Does that team member who says “Yes, Sir” work diligently from home without your constant […]


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