4 = Learn
“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow” Anthony J. D’Angelo
When we ask the children in our workshop why do they go to school, they always answer in the same way. They say they go to school to get a good education, to go to college, to get a job, to get more money in the future. External motivation. This is all true but this is should not be the reasoning behind why we go to school. I feel it is very well known that if the devil offered you all the money in the world or happiness, most would pick the latter. Everyone wants to be happy, or at least feel good. The reason we go to school is to learn because when we gain more knowledge, we make better decisions and when we make better decisions, we feel better. Think about it. The brutal history of Nazi Germany has led to knowledge to make sure it never happens again. Knowledge is beneficial to everyone’s mental health and that is why everyone needs learning, the fourth way of well being.
We need to exercise our brains just as much as we need to exercise our bodies. Particularly at adolescence, the prefrontal cortex is creating, destroying and connecting neurones at a rapid pace. Therefore, what they learn then will have a big influence on what they understand in the future. Now when you hear learning, you probably think that involves reading facts from a book. But just like staying active, there are a plethora of ways we can learn. For example, learning musical instruments has been found to be beneficial, sports develops the frontal lobe, xbox and playstation is a form of learning (obviously don’t tell your children that) and learning second languages has been found to correlate with reducing the chances of developing dementia.
We get many children say that learning is for smart people. Research has proven this wrong. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck coined the term the growth mindset to represent children who wanted to continue learning new things. She studied how children coped with failures by testing them with difficult puzzles. She found that some children were delighted about the challenge and they did not think they were failing but rather; they were learning. This debunked the idea that if you failed at a cognitive problem, it meant that you were not smart. Instead, your mindset determines how smart you are. If you change your mindset, you change your perseverance level, which then makes you smarter. Of course, not everyone has the same level of intelligence, but everyone can improve their intelligence by learning more. So change how you understand learning and then we can all learn. The beauty of knowledge is that it is endless. You can always learn more.
It is important to note that having more knowledge does not improve your mental health alone. There is actually a weak correlation between intelligence and happiness. However, it is instead the art of continued learning that is beneficial to mental health rather than knowing lots of things. Therefore, a person who is able to recite an encyclopedia is not more likely to have better mental health than the person who can’t. Rather, the person who is able to take one thing from an encyclopaedia and enjoy the process is more likely to have better mental health than the one who sees learning as a box they need to tick. Learning is a process. Not a contest. We need to correct the myth that people who are happy and successful are there on ability. Most have worked very hard and have made lots of mistakes. What differentiates them is their ability to continuously want to learn more. Michael Jordon was an average basketball player in his teens but he dedicated himself to his craft. He loved the process of becoming a better player and that is why he is one of the greatest of all time.
So how do we learn effectively? Well we firstly take note of how we learn everyday. Would you believe it is not in fact through textbooks. We learn most through other people. Every person is a hamper of information built up from their past experiences and education. They hold different perspectives and have different expertise. So we can learn much more from a basic conversation than we can from pages and pages of books. To get a better picture, let’s refer back to our blog post on transactional analysis. If you remember, the adult perspective for interactions is when we show an understanding that the person we are interacting with is right but we are also right. This is how we have successful conversations. This is in opposition to the parent view, where I am right and you are wrong. If two people have this attitude, then you don’t have a conversation. It’s just two people reciting what their opinion is. However, if we approach each situation as an opportunity to learn from someone else, then we actually gain more knowledge. You begin to comprehend why the other person has a certain opinion. This is why I find it frustrating when people say everyone is entitled to an opinion. I agree but this opinion must come alongside an openness to learn. Opinions are responsibilities, not rights. They should be backed up by evidence. I cannot say that the sky is green and then say that I am entitled to my opinion. I should make the claim that the sky is green and then back it up with the fact that we can’t prove how two people subjectively perceive something. How you see blue might be green to me. Confused? Me too. But this is creating new ways of understanding something. And this is successful learning. Everyone has different experiences so they have expertise in certain areas but they also have altered opinions on everything else. And this is why travel is so important. Different cultures result in different perspectives. If they can back up their opinions with evidence, then listen. You’ll learn far more from listening than talking. This is key to emotional intelligence.
Secondly, there is looking failure in the face. Learning through experience. When I did my first driving lesson, I didn’t know how to drive at all. My instructor spent ten minutes teaching me how to stop and start and I eventually got the hang of it. I was delighted with my progress. We then continued on to one of the busiest roundabouts in a nearby town and as I waited for him to request me to take a turn off before it, I became incredibly worried. With a relaxed tone, the instructor told me to take the third exit. As I approached the busy junction with complete and utter hesitation, I looked for the gap and made a burst out onto the roundabout. As I tried to change into a higher gear, the car stalled and I was stuck on the roundabout with my engine conked. I frantically tried to restart the car but it failed again and again. I eventually started the car, got away and quickly recovered from the aggressive beeps from other drivers. I never stalled on a roundabout again. We’ve all heard of a situation like this. Trainers will refer to it as throwing people into the deep end. But why would anybody cast these agonising negative emotions on someone else? Because they learn quicker. Mark Zuckerberg believes Facebook was successful because they were willing to fail quickly and this allowed them to learn quicker than anyone else. Putting yourself in unknown territory means you will probably fail but this is a good thing. Because we need to fail in order to succeed. The reason behind this is because we remember failures a lot more than successes. If people only succeed, they never have to adapt to anything. They are not learning. But others need to experience what doesn’t work so they know what does work. This is one of the most important messages you can teach our future generations, and this is why tenth place trophies in schools are not helpful. First place gets the benefit of experiencing what winning feels like but everyone else gets the benefit of knowing what they did wrong not to win. We need to continuously place ourselves in new environments to learn quicker and we need to change our perception on failure. And finally, there is the learning we do in school, University and workshops. This education is important but it will not be consolidated without using it outside of test situations. Find the balance and you'll learn efficiently. There is something known as the 70:20:10 model, which claims to be the correct balance of learning, seen below.
And how do we teach our children and students to develop the growth mindset? Well for the parents out there, always praise hard work paying off. If we praise someone’s talent, we are discouraging the growth mindset. For example, never say something like “you got an A in Maths without working. You’re so smart!”. This can have a detrimental effect, which is proven through one study which found that telling people they are smart lowers their IQ. Instead, congratulate them on getting a C in French after working very hard. Every self-help book is trying to teach you how to find this work life balance. While the ones who have made their millions make it sound easy. Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. Easy for them to say when they had one million investment from Daddy to start their own clothes range. This is not our advice. We know that not everyone can be in a job they love because it won’t pay the bills. However, in whatever job you’re in, make sure you are still learning. It is the jobs that are monotonously easy that will kill you over a long period of time. And this doesn’t matter if you are a tradesperson or an actuary. If you learn something additional every day to make you better at the job, then you’ll enjoy it more? Why? Because we like things we are good at. And remember, when we know more, we make better decisions in that job role and this makes us feel good. It always comes back to our mental health. So find a job that allows you to learn and then you deal with a different work life balance: finding the balance between two positives.
So learn. Learn anything and everything. Understand the importance of learning, see every new interaction as a learning experience and constantly place yourself in new environments to fail. Exercise your mind, develop the growth mindset and watch yourself grow as you make more and more better decisions. With more and more people listening to podcasts, reading blogs and watching realistic history lessons such as HBO’s Chernobyl rather than mindless television and over-theatrical action shows, it seems society is beginning to appreciate the positive impact of learning. It’s about time we all follow suit. If we all make better decisions, we begin to benefit the world. Why waste time trying to look smart when we can be getting smarter. Learn!