How Our Brain Learns

As someone who is committed to lifelong learning, I am very curious about how we learn (sketchnote here). We learn the most during our early years and observing/helping my own kids learn and explore new things is such a wonderful learning experience as well. I learn a great deal about learning when I see my 4 years old son trying to explore language in new ways and my 9 years old daughter learning how to swim.

This observations enable me to appreciate different learning styles, pace and challenges. It tells me that learning is not easy, especially when we grow up. Learning anything new makes us uncomfortable in the beginning and a lot depends on how we embrace the discomfort of learning. That we need to build our capacity to map learning across the contexts and make connections. That is how we become effective lifelong learners.

I recently came across an interesting article on Crew Blog by Belle Beth Cooper titled “6 important things you should know about how your brain learns”. The article underlines the importance of visual learning, role of sleep and sleep deprivation in consolidating our learning and interleaving new information for better learning.

I recommend you to read the full article and here is a sketchnote summary of key points I gathered from the article.

Commitment and Power of Daily Practice

In 2010, one of my goals was to publish on this blog thrice a week – on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. By committing completely  to this schedule, I eliminated the self-discretion associated with it. I did not have to think if I should write on a particular day, because I had to show up and write. No one would have punished me if I failed to write but I still wrote as if someone would. It lead me to read more, connect more and explore more.

What did I learn from this experience?

In situations where we have a choice of not doing  and no external penalties associated, we end up compromising. Isn’t this the reason why most people find it difficult to keep their own resolutions? We need an external force to be disciplined in areas that we ourselves feel are important!

One of the themes that occupies me is the power of daily practice. Can I do something everyday about things that matter to me? We grow in our careers and learn because we show up for the work and do it daily. We sleep everyday. We eat everyday and it nourishes us.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar

I believe that daily practice is as nourishing– it forms a pattern of activities and these patterns are powerful. They inculcate habits. They ‘train’ us. They help us focus. Whether it is writing, learning a new skill, physical exercise, eating right or pursuing your hobbies, there are few things as powerful as a commitment to do it daily. When we eliminate the choice of doing it, we create space for creativity. We can focus on “how” we do the thing. We can alter our ways. We can make it better. We can adapt and optimize. And then, we learn.

“I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.” – Haruki Murakami (via Brain Pickings)

So, here are my first two steps in this journey of daily practice.

  • Identify (or acknowledge) things that matter the most.
  • Do them daily.

Sometimes, simplifying our lives is just about making things binary – either we do it completely with the whole heart in it or not at all. It is a commitment to overcome the first hurdle – our own resistance. A commitment to do, adapt and learn.

I am keen to see what lessons does this journey manifest!

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In the Photo: Graffiti art at abandoned factories in Tampere, Finland (Jan 2015). Artists use these dead walls as a canvas for their art to give them a new lease of colorful life.

Lifelong Learning: Lesson From A Cab Driver

There was a sparkle in that cab driver’s eyes. A slim, young and enthusiastic fellow who drove me from airport to home while returning from a business travel. His greeting was cheerful and conduct, professional. As the wheels started moving, he initiated a conversation with me about economy, the state of jobs and why he loves driving cabs. He sounded like he carried a unique perspective. His enthusiasm was almost contagious and I was dragged into the conversation without even realizing it!

At one point in the conversation which covered range of topics from jobs to sales, he pulled out his cell phone and played a video recording of what seemed to me like a motivational video. He handed over the phone to me so that I could see/listen to the speech. He later revealed that he spent about 30% of his monthly income to attend this day long seminar by a leading motivational/sales speaker and urged me to find the video somewhere on YouTube.

This guy was amazing because he did not see his background, his job or lack of qualifications as a limitation. Because he taught me that learning has no boundaries. That only pre-requisite to learn new things is to have an open, willing, receptive and curious frame of mind. That you learn the best when you learn it for yourself, not for a degree or an external certification.

I once heard Tom Peters saying that if you are a business traveler, you learn the most not from the corporate executives but from the cab drivers. You really get a perspective about life. I experienced it first-hand.

The next time I need a cab, I know who to call!

A Simple Checklist (But No Simpler)

Albert Einstein believed that supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible.

He said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.

Here are some very basic (irreducible) questions that can act as powerful checklist to assess your processes.

– Why are we doing what we are doing?

– What all we do?

– How are those linked together?

– How is it done?

– What are the dependencies?

– Who is the customer? What does customer expect?

– What are the top 3 areas where small change can lead to a big difference?

– What all is redundant?

– What can be eliminated to reduce waste (of effort/time/energy/money)?

– What can be simplified?

On a second thought, you can also apply these questions to your own set of working patterns/personal initiatives/career. It’s not just organizations that have processes. We also have our personal processes (ways of working), and they play a huge role in what we deliver to the world as individuals.

Quality (and hence excellence) is largely a personal affair!

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Note: I am scheduled to speak at Ahmedabad Management Association on the topic “Personal Mastery: They Key to Deliver Quality”. (Friday, 08-Jul-2011 at 6:30 PM IST at ). It is an evening talk open for all who are interested. Are we meeting? :)

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Related Posts:

Lifelong Learning – 20 Lessons

Three Rituals For Constant Alignment and Learning

On Personal Mastery and Commitment to Learning