“I just can’t learn this stuff.” That’s probably something we’ve all heard or even said at one point or another. If you’re a parent then it’s very likely you’ve heard this from your child. Needless to say, we all have had trouble learning a concept or subject and wished we could have an easier time with it. The good news is the brain is an amazing creation, and one of its principal functions/responsibilities is to constantly be learning about the outside world, which is done through our senses. We may be tempted to think we can’t learn new things, but that is false.
The first thing we need to keep in mind is, like stated above, the brain is made to learn. If we look at our lives we’ll realize how much we’ve learned- from walking, to speaking, to reading, to hundreds of other abilities that are second nature to us now. In order to learn certain elements are required- attention, short and long term memory, and being able to retrieve information from what we already know. That being said, certain lifestyle shifts affect our ability to learn and retain knowledge. The following will help us to continue learning and retaining knowledge, including learning new skills, throughout our life.
It should come to no surprise that this is the first point to make. When we are stressed the neurons in our brain go on alert. Although stressful moments are actually some of the best moments for learning, when not handled correctly we miss opportunities for growth and instead create potential problems and crisis. Some of these problems include blaming others, not taking responsibility for our actions, harboring grudges, etc. All these things lead to chronic stress and illness. Additionally, when we’re chronically stressed the mind has a hard time retaining knowledge due to the toxins that are created with prolonged stress; and we forget things easily. We’ve all probably had moments when we’ve been so stressed that we have a hard time learning something; our attitude also becomes negative and we feel like we’ll never learn.
On the other side, when we manage stress in a positive way, we are able to learn from our experiences. Instead of negative feelings and actions, we are able to see things clearer and the stressful experience becomes a stepping stone in our personal growth. Additionally, we are better able to focus on learning new skills and material.
Sleep is a vital part of memory. During the day, things we learn and experience are stored in the hippocampus as short-term memory. When we sleep, all the information gathered is stored away as long-term memory. This process however, takes around three hours and can only occur when we are in a deep sleep. That being said, we can’t think that we can sleep for three hours and retain what we’re learning. There are many important processes that the body and brain do as we sleep that are vital for both memory and overall health. This entire process requires 7-8 hours of deep sleep.
Nutrition is a vital part of a healthy mind. The brain, like the rest of the body, is made of cells. All cells require specific nutrients to remain healthy and perform their tasks. An unhealthy diet starve brain cells and leads to illness. In addition to eating well, we should be eating 5 times a day (3 main meals and 2 snacks) and drinking 8-10 glasses of water. It’s also important to have dinner no later than 7pm (although before then would be better).
Plenty of research has been done to show that exercise increases our ability to learn information. Exercise causes the release of chemicals from muscles that reach the brain and help produce BDNF. BDNF is a sort of fertilizer that helps brain cells to grow and stay healthy. Additionally, exercise helps reduce stress and improve sleep.
There are over 80 billion neurons in the brain. These cells specialize in transferring messages in the brain. Each individual neuron has thousands of possible connecting points, allowing it to communicate and make connections with other neurons. When we experience or learn something, new connections are created in the brain. However, these connections can grow weak and even die if they barely or never are used again. Connections are strengthened with repetition and with connecting a piece of information to an already strong neuronal connection. In other words, if we’re learning about statistics and we love sports, a connection can be made from the mathematical to athletics, such as basketball or soccer. Now when we think about basketball, we may begin to also think of math concepts we have learned, which strengthen the connection.
Making connections between what we are learning and what we already know is a great way to retain knowledge.
Additionally, applying what we are learning to our own lives helps the material to stick. For example, if learning about the country’s government or laws, ask yourself, “How does this affect me?” Asking a question like this helps to create connections in the mind. Thus associations are vital for fast and strong connections. In other words, it helps the brain jump to a strong neurocircuitry allowing for faster retrieval of the information, and helping it become more permanent. However, if negative thoughts are associated this won’t work. In fact, it will have the opposite effect and we won’t learn.
No matter how good you think you are at multi-tasking, it isn’t good enough. Our minds can only truly pay attention to one thing at a time. If we are watching tv while reading, our mind will go back and forth from the two and only retain part of what we watched and read.
In addition to this, eliminate distractions. Go to a quiet place or somewhere where you can focus all your attention on what you’re trying to learn.
Going back to creating connections, repetition strengthens neural connections. Whether it’s rereading a section of text, or practicing a skill over and over again, repetition is a key element of learning. However, this will be most effective if we’re following these other steps.
Whether we’re learning a new school subject or trying to improve our skills, applying these principles into our life will aid us in our learning opportunities. As a final thought, another great way to increasing our own learning is sharing what we know with others. As a company we love sharing what we’ve learned through years of research with you. It not only continues our own growth, but brings us great satisfaction knowing we may have made a difference in someone’s life today. We invite you to share what you have learned with others. Whether it be about health, math, or whatever your skill sets are; sharing them will increase your happiness as you serve others with your knowledge.
To learn more, go to Phytotherapi.com and check out our social media pages for more content to both learn from and share!