Learning is a master skill, one which can unlock other skills, create a dynamic life and shape your future. This post will explore some musing on education then, give you an introduction to some easy and effective tools you can apply to enhance your learning. We often are not taught how to learn in the industrial educational model, which has a learning style based on blunt retention and regurgitation of information whilst in a sedentary state. It also mainly honours verbal-linguistical and mathematical-logical lines of intelligence and neglects many of the 14 other different lines of intelligence. This dampens creativity and discredits so much potential, creating shame and stress for those who’s innate intelligence and gifts lay in other areas. How can we acknowledge and cultivate a wider spectrum of intelligence.
There are many new models of education which are evolving the way we learn. I will also acknowledge the current system has created a largely literate society, raised the level of cognitive comprehension and helped create a mentally thriving collective sphere of innovations and ideas. However it was birthed in the industrial age, then developed and adapted into the broadcast and obey information environment of the 20th century, it has served us collectively so far yet is now outdated. We are now in the information age, with almost unlimited access to information. This can create a state of confusion, overwhelm or hypnosis of our attention.. or with the correct skill sets, discernment and guidance it can create a nourishing environment to develop as yet unknown external concepts and internal mental muscles.
The time we are in now is one which is calling for adaptivity, creativity and collective participation in the face of the unfolding meta-crises (I like to reframe to meta-opportunity) as a result of the fracture from our relationship to the Earth, Soul and Spirit. Through our access to communication and information we have a unique opportunity to shift and rebuild the collective structures we inhabit. Crises precedes transformation every time. How can we learn from the past without prescribing it to the present, then hold our imaginations open to shape a new future?
In my own experience having strategies cultivating states and strategies, to both learn and unlearn has been of immense value, especially when braided with the ability to hold intentional and sustained focus. Developing a meditation practice has honed my stability of focus and mindfulness has given me awareness of my attention through the day (when I remember). These are techniques you can learn, just like using a computer or driving a car.. They give freedom and choice… and I do dare to say the more who are able to use these tools the easier it becomes for others to learn. Supporting each other in the creation of stable states and translating them into traits and structures in life.
Let’s look at “How to Learn”
Lets start by having an understanding of how memory works, and how we engage with information through the sensory lens of the whole body. These frames help can help us understand how to create states for effective learning.
Is sitting sedentary in a chair, bored and unengaged for an hour a good way to learn?… Or would gentle movement, interaction and engagement be a more conducive environment to absorb information and apply it into knowledge? I know which I would choose.
How are you breathing right now? The current state of our nervous system is of great importance to learning. When engaging we are taking information in through the whole nervous system that permeates the body, not just the eyes, ears and mind. If a person is under stress, wether physical, mental, emotional or social. The body will be in a less receptive state to ingest as it will be sending more resources to the muscles and external systems of perception, to move and navigate the perceived challenge. Imagine if you were to attempt to eat a meal right after getting of a bike from a hour long mountainous ride, you sit down at the table, heart still racing, in sympathetic nervous system activation primed to give resources to the muscle to move. The body would not be in a state to digest and assimilate the food on the plate, let alone enjoy it. First one would need to calm down, breathe slowly and enter a state of rest. You can think of it the same way to digest mental in-formation. So how do we create an optimal state for learning?
Here are some questions, states and strategies you can use enhance your focus, learning and memory recall.
It is important to recognise that we have many different lines of intelligence within each individual. Alongside different learning styles, which are our preferred ways of taking in information. Each individual will have a motif that works best for them. This will be a mix of; Kinaesthetic/Physical, Auditory/Musical, Visual, Intellectual. Verbal. Mathematical. Social.
Get curious.. How do you find it easiest to learn?
First up believe in your ability to learn. We know through neuroplasticity the brain has the ability to learn and unlearn, creating new or removing old neural pathways. (i) I am dyslexic and would have never thought I would be writing a book!.. I have changed my belief. For us to create a physical action wether movement, crafting, music, writing or speaking a word first we have to imagine it. Believe in your ability to learn, when you invite this in to your expereince both see it and feel it.
Creating a memory. There are three stages:
Types of memory. There are three types of memory:
Working memory. This is current sensory perception of our environment.
Short term memory. This hold 7 +/-2 pieces of information at once.
Long term memory. This is when memories can be consolidated and retrieved. This happens within the cycles of sleep.
Here is an interesting question for you… Do we remember or do we remember remembering?
Chunking – This useful technique chunks information you need to remember into blocks. Particularly useful for numbers. For example. 196789219 196-789-219 or 1697-892-19
Generate curiosity. “Curiosity is the mother of possibility” – Harry Grammer. As you sit down to engage with what you wish to learn, spend thirty seconds focusing on a felt sense of curiosity in relation to the subject. (ii) When we are curious state our brains switch out of the Default Mode Network. This is the neural finger print of our natural resting state, with it comes lenses of narrative we have learnt and adapted to. These labels gate our sensory information so we are not constantly overwhelmed with having to work out what things are. Taking ourselves out of the DMN enhances neuroplasticity and opens us to fresh perspectives and novel inspiration. This is in contrast to viewing through the lens of old labels and assumptions many of which we have been prescribed to us from past experience and cultural history. These previous labels or reactions may not apply to the current situation and can limit our learning and imagination. By being curious and entering a beginners mind we can enhance our ability to learn.
If you are reading a text scan forward and pick a few points in the text or items to wrap curiosity around. Before a lecture or video ask yourself What is“ …” ? Who is that? How would that work? How can I apply this?
Desire. Create a will and desire to know the information. Spend a minute or two imagining what you are going to do with this information. Both visualise and feel what would it feel like in your body if you were able to use thisinformation with astonishing results.
How can it make your project run smoother? Who could it help you connect with?
Breathe! Take note of your current state, are you stressed or calm? You can use the breath to cultivate coherent focus. Breathe a breath of 4-6 seconds on the inhale and exhale. This will tune your nervous system into an adaptive state receptive to ingest, digest, assimilate and any information wether it is mental, emotional, or even physical matter as food. All of which In-Form our states and create our physical and mental structures. I find breathing horizontaly into the sides and back of the body most conducive to learning. I have also found Conscious Connected Breathing and Pranayama techniques as well as increasing the awareness of breath and capacity to harness it also vastly improve the state of mental clarity needed for learning.
With intentional practice it is possible to use breathing rhythms to create states of your choosing to, rest, refocus or recharge.It is a technology and can be used just like gears on a car. (link to post)
Sense! Engage as many senses as you can. Imagine the whole body as a living computer. The more sensory streams you can use to engage with, the easier it becomes to absorb and retain the information. (iii) Then code in to the memory, ready to be applied and transformed into knowledge through experience. A phase I feel can some up the relation between sense, emotion and memroey is “Blissfull attention = retention”
Sensory awareness can also add an element of fun into learning. How do my feet feel about this? What would this idea smell like?
Environment. Where are you when you are trying to learn? Having an environment free form distractions can improve your focus. Placing yourself in a library or space where other people are focusing is a great move, harnessing a localised group field effect. Leaving your phone in another room or do not disturb is another great idea. If you can, cultivate a space which will support your nervous system and ability to focus (iv). We respond well to routine and ritual, this can be leveraged to enhance our learning. How can you signal to yourself to enter and exit learning states? I have found the use of essential oils to help anchor these states incredibly useful. Using olfactory sense to signal down to the root stem of the brain, thus getting our more primal brain in tune with the desired learning and focus of the prefrontal cortex.
Sound. We are our environment, by creating a web of ambient sounds externally we can cultivate calm environmentinternally. This can improve your focus, imagine the sound waves vibrating through the air, helping support your nervous system tune into parasympathetic response for optimal learning. I often play nature nosies or binaural beats. These can help lower your brainwave state, down into Alpha or possibly even Theta. These states are much more conducive for learning. (Link to future post)
Flow state. This is when we are engaged with full focus, unwavering attention and our actions and creations are well… “flowy” They just happen spontaneously and with ease. It is possible to learn how to intentionally create this state. Then learn how to enter and exit with increasing familiarity and efficiency. You can look at these as settings on your computer. What does Alpha or Theta brain wave state feel like for you? A place to start is to get curious to how you feel as you enter and exit mediation or dream time. Then explore and find methods to recreate this neural states. Flow state can increase learning dramtically iv (link to future post)
Pomoderro Technique. Attention flows in waves, working with natural cycles is beneficial. The Pomoderro technique uses cycles of 25 minutes of focus on one task with 2-5 minute breaks. This is repeated 4 times then you can take a longer break of 15-45minutes. I love this technique. I find it keeps the attention fresh and focused. The breaks give you a chance to reset liven up the body and relax the mental muscle. Engaging in some inspired movement and fresh air can bring fresh inspiration and enhance your work, There are some amazing breath and movement techniques you do here to signal to your body to enter flow state.
Here are a few directional ingredients for your imagination:
Get your heart rate up for over 90 seconds.
Balance / Challenge.
Expansive Postures in Yoga Asana.
Connect with nature.
Posture. The physical shape of our nervous system informs our mental and emotional state. Which effects our ability to feel safe, to focus, to connect and ingest information. Are you crunched up small? Is the body tight and contracted? Or are you expansive and open? Does the body feel at ease? Chairs are particularly bad physical ideas which our culture currently inhabits. By becoming aware of your posture you can support your nervous systems state for learning(link to future post)
Bringing the head back over the line of the spine is a key postural element here, especially in relation to staring into screens. Even a 15 degree head forward posture can put up 12kg extra pressure on the thorax, engaging the trapezius muscles and placing pressure on the cranial nerves. Thus signalling to the body to move in Sympathetic Nervous System response as these are some of our biggest muscles to move and engage in the world. If these are tight it may feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders! Roll the shoulder up back and down, lightly tuck the chin, then gently lift the head up and back. Remember.. Ingest your experience through the whole of the spine.
Eyes. The focus of our eyes effect our brain wave states. If you have been focusing on a screen, take time to look at an object in the far distance. Eye stretches are an effective technique to release tension around the eyes and inside the cranium. I find whilst learning having the focus of the eyes in the top half of the field of vision most effective. Experiment with learning how to have laser focus or switch to wide focus peripheral, this can effect your brain waves and state of mind in surprising ways. (link to 7points post)
Review. Create some time to mentally replay and review what you have learned at the end of the session, at least 90 seconds, 5-10 minutes being optimal if time allows. Rest and close the eyes, engage a deep slower breath. The 1:2 ratio is golden to use here. Then you have the option to take an active or passive mental stance. Mentally replay the information is the active option, or allowing your system to settle and the mind to wander is the passive. Lay down if possible to allow the body and the lens of the mind to relax. This will lower your brainwave state and induce the relaxation cascade, releasing Acetylcholine one of the many factors in memory storage. By taking actions that signal to the body you are safe, you help the process of taking the information from working memory and short term memory toprepare it for long term integration. It seems most of our long term memories are stored at night, during REM, dream phases and other cycles of sleep.
Regular reviews. Create time at the end of the day. A day later. Three days later. One week later. Each time reconnecting with the felt sense of desire to know the information. This is one of easiest and most effective habits to improve your memories retention and recall.
Movement – ‘When the body moves, the mind grooves’ – Jim Kwik. Movement has a whole range of benefits. In relation to learning, the hippocampus is an area of the cranial brain which deals with both spacial awareness and memory. This is how we perceive and learn an objects location, physical matter being dense formation of vibrating particles. It is the same system which senses lighter vibrations of sound, images we transmit and receive as, communication, ideas, representations and concepts. In simpler words, our body remembers what we just heard and saw both physically and mentally through the same system. Imagine you are taking the information in through the whole body. Engaging it as a whole sensory system, looking out from the whole line of the spine, as well as the visual field and the lens of the mind. When the whole body has a free flow of information within it via moving and breathing other sensory information we wish to learn can be engaged with and retained with ease. By engaging in a dailyawareness, movement and breath practice you can help improve your memory.
Visual Markers – A powerful tool is to create visual markers for things you wish to remember. We have a visual bias with information. iii “A picture paints a thousand words”. By creating a visual image for the thing you wish to rememberer, then encoding it with a memorable detail for example the shine on a glass, or smell of the soup. You make this visual marker of significance, and notable from the other information we are constantly assessing in our environment. Another layer is adding emotion to the marker, making it funny or shocking, helps it stand out in our experience and becomes easier to recall. With a bit of daily practice, the imagination opens and learns to freely create markers instantaneously.
Ketosis – I often enter ketosis when I have a lot of cognitive work to focus on. This a state where the body is running of ketones and uses fat for fuel instead burning sugars from the Glycemic index for fuel. In my experience refined sugar creates a brain fuzz and haziness to the flow of thoughts. Through our natural evolution we have not always had access to sugars and have developed the ability to use fat for fuel. This is a inherent metabolic flexibility we all have, it produces a state of mental clarity which I and many others highly prize. There are also a myraid of other benefits of having the metabolic flexibility to enter and exit ketosis. In specific relation to learning being familiar with ketosis and using it as a tool can vastly improve your effectiveness via negating the insulin spike of the body digesting sugars. Thus cultivating a state of clear mind and steady focus. This is a life changing setting to have on your living computer.. over wise known as the body and mind. (link to ketosis post)
We are in a time of exponential growth of our cultural, mental and social environments. Currently at the cost of our natural environment. Learning to swim in these new waters by having both states and strategies for learning can help us grow and adapt as we enter a new phase in humanities journey, as we navigate lives of increasing complexity and connection. What skills can we cultivate to support ourselves, each other and regenerate our environment?
www.khanacademy.org – What would you choose to learn?