I enjoy learning about learning. How do people learn, and what prevents them from learning? I was recently watching a video by Jim Kwik talking about learning and memory. He had a lot of great things to say about improving your memory. One thing that stuck with me was a comment that, “all learning is state dependent.” He was talking about your ability to learn and how it is impacted by your current state, emotionally, physically, mentally, etc. If that is true, and I think it is, then what do we do about it?
Recognize your state
Becoming self aware is a great idea, but not one attained by many. Although I am not “there” yet, I have found a few things that help me recognize my current state. I have found paying attention to my physical body gives me insight to my emotions better than anything else.
First, pay attention to pain. Do I have pain somewhere in my body? If so, where is it and how much am I paying attention to it? If we are focused on the pain in our body, we are likely not paying attention to the larger task at hand. Pain is a great reminder of where we are out of alignment with our health and our mission.
Second, pay attention to my rates. What is my heart rate, my breathing rate, and my digestion rate. Do I feel like my heart is racing and breathing is shallow? Is my stomach churning, or peaceful?
Third, pay attention to my posture. Whether I am sitting or standing, am I doing that in a natural, healthy way? Or am I sitting in some awkward position with my shoulders bunched up and my back hunched over? Since I spend a lot of time at my desk, this is a major issue affecting my state of health and natural flow.
Correct your state
OK, so you noticed some things about your state – but who cares? What does it mean if my heart is fast and my breathing shallow and my shoulders tight and my stomach churning? Well, I don’t really know what it “means”. Interestingly, the deep and philosophical meanings are often not all that important. It is sometimes nice to have that clarity, but action can happen regardless. So, let’s talk about responding to the state rather than understanding it fully.
If you feel like you are not at your best state for learning, then try these:
- Take a Breath. Breathing is so critical to life we can only afford to avoid it for a few minutes. However, we seem to avoid doing it well for long periods of time. A good breath starts with your nose and ends at your belly button. Take a deep, slow breath in through your nose, and let it fill your belly. As you feel the pressure to exhale, then do that…slowly. This brings oxygen to your blood (and your brain) and allows so much of your body to relax. Do it now, I’ll wait.
- Get Balanced. If your posture is out of whack, fix it. Take just a minute and get as straight as you can. I don’t mean that stiff-as-a-board posture we think of from parochial school. I mean balanced left to right, front to back. The easiest way to do this while sitting is to sit in the center of your chair and wiggle your hips and shoulders a bit until they are loose. Then let them naturally settle to where they below. Now, work in that posture for a while.
- Think Laughter. It has been said that laughter is the best medicine. I am not sure that is exclusively true, but I do believe it helps. While it might seem like a waste of time, take a few minutes to laugh. This might be finding some funny video online, remembering a fun experience, or telling yourself a joke. Whatever works for you – get a smile on your face and pay attention to how the rest of your body and mind responds.
These simple things can make a huge difference in your physical, emotional, and mental state. If you would like more exercises to improve your memory, go watch Jim’s video and pay attention to the 41 minute mark for his own exercise recommendations.
Your Next Move
The next time you are not excelling, take stock of your current state, then try these few quick techniques to get back to a place you can be great.