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Learning to Learn: what can stop us from being able to learn and remember easily

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Hope you enjoy this article on learning – just in time for the semester exams!

cheers, Gay

Many people have heard of the 4 stages of learning – if you haven’t here’s a precis from Wikkipedia:

   1. Unconscious Incompetence : The individual neither understands nor knows how to do something, nor recognizes the deficit, nor has a desire to address it. (We don’t know what we don’t know).

   2. Conscious Incompetence : Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, without yet addressing it. (We know we don’t know but we aren’t ready to address it yet).

   3. Conscious Competence : The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires a great deal of consciousness or concentration. (You are beginning to be able to do it but it is not yet easy).

   4. Unconscious Competence : The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it becomes “second nature” and can be performed easily (often without concentrating too deeply). He or she may or may not be able teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned. (It is now easy and maybe you can even teach others).

I invite you to think about anything you have learnt in your life you will see you went through each of these stages. For example remember learning to drive: At first you thought once you turned 17 it would be easy – jump in, release the brake and go. You didn’t know what you didn’t know.

Then you turned 17 and tried to do just that – you then realised that it took a little more skill than you expected. You then knew that you didn’t know how to drive and started to think about how you would learn.

Next you started to learn how to do it. Put the keys in the ignition, look in the mirror, take off the clutch….. it was hard work until finally it became such second nature that these days you sometimes wonder how you got home – Right?

(If you don’t drive I am sure you can relate this model to something else you once had no idea how to do but now do with ease.)

So this is all very well if (a) you want to learn that skill and (b) you feel reasonably confident about being able to learn it.

But what happens when you are stressed or have a history of difficulty learning something new – or just plain old hate new things?

Those 10 lessons to getting your licence become 25 or 50 or the number of failed tests start mounting up…. and what about all the stuff you don’t even try?

A google search showed something interesting… On one hand a driver who failed 10 times 10 years ago but has been driving safely (if illegally) since tries to get her licence yet again. Despite her confidence on the road, her self-confessed nerves and mental demons made her fail yet again.

On the other hand there is the Grandmother who wasn’t daunted by failing her written test 960 (!) times – she only took 10 practical exams to get her licence, despite never having a lesson. She was quite obviously not stressed by her performance and just focused on the end result.

These two people demonstrate two different ways to shift from the state of Conscious Competence (stage 3 – learning) to Unconcious Competence (stage 4 – learnt).

Brain Gym and Educational Kinesiology (something I have been teaching and using for more than 15 years) teases apart the different ways we can learn. It offers a model to use to gauge whether you are learning easily and then, if not, supplies tools to transform the learning experience into a more effective (and even enjoyable!) experience.   

Let’s explore this model by considering the easy and comfortable way of moving from learning to learnt first. We call this experience INTEGRATED LEARNING. Integrated learning has two steps, when we are comfortable and excited about learning we move from Integrated Low Gear (learning) into Integrated High Gear (learnt).

Integrated High Gear is automatic, Unconscious Competence (stage 4). It is that easy ‘got it’ place where we have learnt what we needed to learn and feel comfortable and competent.

Integrated Low Gear is a little less comfortable because it is challenging, but in a way that keeps us engaged. This is our learning space where we are slowly ‘getting it’. To learn something new, process and then remember we must be able to easily access this state of being. 

These two ways of being – Integrated High Gear and Integrated Low Gear would ideally be the way we approach every aspect of our life and is, in fact, our birthright. How else did we learn to walk! However, circumstances of learning and life create stress and this stress, whether we unconscious of it or don’t know how to manage it, results in what we call UNINTEGRATED LEARNING. Once again we have a High Gear and a Low Gear.

So what does this look like? Unintegrated Low Gear is the state of being where we feel like we are are really ‘not getting it’. We keep doing things over and over, perhaps getting the process done but without any understanding of what we are doing. It becomes very hard to remember anything when it is being done without understanding. 

Unintegrated High Gear on the other hand is the ‘lost it’ place. It all just feels impossible, never going to happen. We give up learning once we are in this place. Again no place for memory here.

Sadly, all too often, our Unintegrated Learning experiences outweigh our Integrated Learning experiences and we start to live our life from this uncomfortable and stress filled place. We constantly move from working really hard but not really getting anywhere to giving up in frustration. Not a happy way of being.

The good news is that the first step out of this stressful way of living is recognising that there is another way. It is as simple as learning to identify when we are in an Unintegrated space and then discovering what gets us back into Integrated High Gear (that automatic, comfortable and joyful space). And then taking the stress out of learning so we can access Integrated Low Gear easily – thereby being able to approach and stressful situations in a measured, optimistic and interested way. 

Natural movement is one key to an Integrated approach to life. Sometimes getting out of the Unintegrated and into the Integrated space is as simple as going for a walk, having a breath of fresh air or taking your eyes for a walk in nature instead of on the ubiquitous screen. Othertimes you need more serious intervention!

I invite you to explore these concepts for a month. Notice when you are approaching something new do you feel like you can comfortably ‘get it’ over time or does that place feel difficult to impossible?

When you are getting ‘stuff’ done do you approach it mindfully and with interest or is it just another box on the to do list to tick?

And is your anchor place – the place you return to within yourself – a place of ease and enjoyment or one of stress, overwhelm and hard work?  

If you find that anchor place is not longer – or never has been – a place of ease and enjoyment find something that transforms you and enables you to return to that peaceful place once again.

©Gay Landeta2010

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