My usual response is to ask them why they think they can't do whatever it is and their answers are usually quite enlightening.
'Well I could never learn that', 'I tried that once and couldn't get the hang of it', 'I was rubbish at remembering stuff at school', etc. etc.
WHY do we say this stuff?
Well, there are any number of possible reason why people feel that they 'Can't do' something. Maybe they have tried and been told the results were not good enough. Maybe they don't want to try because they feel someone else is better than them. Possibly they have tried to learn in a way that didn't suit them or someone has tried to teach them by their preferred learning method instead of the learners.
The simple fact is that if you think you can't do something, you won't be able to do it and may never try!
Part of the coaches role is to help coachees understand that the greatest barriers and also the greatest aid to their learning is their own self belief. We can do this by teasing out of the coachee their reasons for the belief and then helping them understand how we can shift that to a more positive level. We need to shift their thinking to a 'Can do' rather than 'Can't do'.
Some techniques within NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) focus on this by providing positive imagery and sounds to the coachee. It is important that the environmental factors surrounding the coachees learning are as conducive to learning as possible. Trying to learn a language while listening to pumping rock music is probably not going to help most people (there are always exceptions though).
Another factor is to identify and then focus on some small positive steps. Teaching someone to learn a language does not start with complex phrases and colloquialisms but with individual words and simple sentences. It is also imperative to have an idea of WHAT you want to learn and some sort of FRAMEWORK for getting there including a way of measuring progress. Goal setting is essential!
So, you have helped the coachee to realise that they CAN learn, try a new activity, they have identified what they want/need to learn and they have set some goals to allow progress to be measured. Now what?
Remembering stuff, the way the brain works!
All our brains basically work in the same way. Information is absorbed via our senses and the brain creates or expands neural pathways with this new information. Studies show that when we already have a start to the pathway, expanding it seems to be easier than creating new ones, so a technique that has been developed is to link whatever it is you're trying to remember with something you already know. I remember doing a memory exercise once where we had to remember 50 random items then recount them all after 20 minutes. The way we did this was to create a story about the items so for example:
Pen, sword, t-shirt, headphones, paper, photo
could be remembered in the following way:
Today I saw a man listening to music through some headphones.
He was wearing a t-shirt which had "The Pen is Mightier than the Sword" written on it.
I wanted to remember it but couldn't write it down or take a photo as I had no paper or a camera.
Another technique is to use as many senses as possible. Say you want to learn Japanese. Learning by seeing images, listening to sounds, tasting and smelling Japanese food and even touching items you need to remember are all more effective than just reading a list of words in a book!
We all have preferences in the way we learn, so if something isn't working, it probably is just the method that is not right for you rather than the subject being 'unlearnable'!
As always, please comment, esp with any experiences you have.