The power of the mind

Having looked at several factors and strategies which can enhance our learning and development potential, it’s now time to look at the human brain and how we can harness the power within.

The adult brain weighs around 3 pounds and contains more than 60 different chemicals which affect our memory, learning and behaviour. Not only that, but it is also home to around 100 billion neurons, each one being capable of making thousands of connections. Returning momentarily to the subject of memory, it is interesting to note that we have 2 types or systems. These are spatial memory, which records our daily experiences and rote memory which deals with fact and skills.

This, however, is where the generalities and similarities end. Everyone is, after all, unique. All humans have the same set of systems, but we are all different based on our genes, our prior knowledge and our environments. It also stands to reason that the more we learn, the more unique we become. This is a notion which is becoming increasingly popular in a day and age where people strive to stand out from the crowd, and one method of achieving this for a growing number of people is by becoming life-long learners.

Brain-Based Learning is one popular theory on how we learn. While the research and focus of this theory primarily concerns formal education settings (namely how students learn and what approaches teachers can adopt in order to maximise their learning potential), there is much that is relevant for adults as life-long learners. This theory is more than just an exploration of teaching and learning, it explores the structure and function of the brain as well as the learning process and how that changes as we age, grow and mature socially, emotionally and cognitively.

That’s all well and good, but what does it mean for us?

Essentially, the brain is a muscle and, like the rest of our muscles, needs a challenge in order to grow. Naturally, there are a number of ways, and stimuli, with which to challenge our brains and enhance the learning process.

Stimuli refers to what we feed the brain, and good quality information is essential brain food. The brain absorbs information with which it is directly involved, such as journal articles, books and podcasts, but it also pays attention to peripheral information. Essentially, learning involves focused attention and peripheral perception, so it helps to be mindful of what we spend our time reading or listening to as well as where we spend our time. Challenge your brain and keep it well-fed with information which can help your development and get you closer to your goals, while also being mindful of where you spend your time and what you choose to surround yourself with.

As for the ways in which learning can take place there are many, but we will be looking at one today; movement. The learning process engages the whole physiology and body, so movement is a critical consideration. After all, sitting still all the time can be incredibly boring, not to mention tiring and counterproductive. Research shows that physical movement can enhance our readiness for learning, as it increases the oxygen in the bloodstream and can help to improve concentration. This can be done through listening to audiobooks or podcasts while exercising, or going for a walk while reflecting on what you have just learned.  Get active, whatever form that may take, in order to increase your learning potential.

On a final note, I would like to look at whether there are specific conditions under which people learn best. And the short answer is no. Everybody is different, and therefore has their own strategy which works for them. Some need time and space for quiet reflection, away from outside interference. Others prefer a collaborative climate, whether in person or through social media and blogs, in which to share thoughts and ideas. And some just need to feel safe and supported. Whatever the method, learning will occur as long as the brain is not prohibited from fulfilling its normal processes.

Thank you for reading, and as always please feel free to share your own thoughts, reflections and experiences.

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