Remember Septembers from your childhood and how it felt going back to school? Excitement at seeing friends again, sadness that the summer holidays were over. Looking forward to learning lots of new things…The latter perhaps not so much! So, as September draws to a close let’s think about our own timetable of classes. What are you excited to learn about in the term ahead? What new subjects will surprise you? And who might be your teachers? Join us as we consciously pack our bags for a brand-new year at “the-school-of-life”.
I always enjoyed creating my timetable on the first day back at of school. I loved the certainty and the organisation it brought to my day. These days I look at my daughter’s timetable and I’m less focused on the planning and the structure: now I look at her timetable and envy all of the exciting things she’s going to learn! Which got me thinking: why don’t I just timetable more learning into my life!
September is a highly fruitful month for learning.
Recent research suggests that we are smarter in the Autumn, so let’s take advantage of this extra brain power by giving ourselves an intellectual boost! The study, which focused on the ‘seasonal plasticity of cognition’, revealed that we are smarter in the Summer and Autumn compared to the Winter and Spring, when people’s mental function declined by an average of 4.8 years. This month we’re taking advantage of our ‘September Smarts’ by readdressing our approach and attitude towards learning. If we can reignite a love for learning, then we can reap its brain boosting benefits… all year round!
If you don’t use it you lose it!
Want to stay on your A game right into old age? Then keep on learning. It’s one of the best ways to keep your brain sharp and savvy.
Research has long shown the cognitive benefits of learning something new. For example, a 2014 study revealed that speaking two or more languages, even if the second language was learnt in adulthood, may slow age-related cognitive decline. Every time we learn something new we create a new neural pathway in the brain and this process of learning can stimulate new brain cells to grow, even into late adulthood.
The Rush Memory and Aging Project, conducted in Chicago in 2012 with over 1,200 elderly people, showed that cognitively active seniors were 2.6 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than those who were less cognitively active. Making time for learning will help you to stay physically and mentally active and will also create more opportunities to socialise, which offers further brain boosting benefits! One study revealed that the cognitive abilities of elders who frequently socialised, declined 70% more slowly than those who were less socially active. So, let’s utilise the brain’s amazing ability to adapt and change by seeing the whole world as a classroom. You’ll be creating new brain cells and you may even bring new friends and interests into your life!
Who are your teachers?
“The teachers are everywhere. What is wanted is a learner
– Wendell Berry.
Teachers come in many shapes and sizes. Some of these teachers are obvious, such as the teachers you seek out to help you with a skill. I’ve recently started seeing a sports masseur and I’ve learnt so much about engaging different muscles in my body. However, many of our teachers are much less obvious.
Legendary keyboard player Rick Wakeman, best known for being in the rock band “Yes” talks about finding an unexpected teacher in a 17-year boy from Argentina:
I was in Argentina and a young kid, and I know how old he was ’cause he told me. He was 17. He came to the hotel and he had my original “Six Wives” album. I said “How old are you?” and in good English he said “I’m 17.” I said “I made this album not only before you were born, but before your parents probably met.” He said “Well, sign it please,” and I did. I said “What is it that you like about this old music?” He looked at me and said “It may be old music to you Mr. Wakeman, but it is new to me. I only heard it for the first-time last week. Please don’t forget that in your audience there will always be somebody there who will be hearing it for the first time. So, it is new. It will always be new.” I never forgot that, from this 17-year-old kid. He’s absolutely right.
Are you open to the teachers all around you? To use the words of children’s author Michael Morpurgo “it’s the teacher that makes the difference, not the classroom.” So, it’s up to you what you want to learn but also where you want to learn it. Perhaps there’s a great teacher right under your nose. See if you can look beyond the confinements and conditioning of our social hierarchies and consider everyone- regardless of their age, rank or role- as a potential teacher You might find a fantastic new teacher in one of your children, a junior colleague or even a pet!
How will you spend your break-time?
“Fun is just another word for learning”
– Raph Koster.
We tend to focus a lot of our learning energy on subjects that will benefit our careers. However, could this career-focused learning path be causing us to miss out on the joy of learning? The love of learning for learning’s sake!?
As we grow up much of our learning is results orientated and institutionalised: it’s focused around outcomes, grades and getting a job. As a result, learning becomes associated with a lack of freedom and play, whereas home is a place for enjoyment and fun. Why can’t learning live in both of these worlds? Well, it can and a simple way of doing this is by taking off the pressure to be good, so that you can fall back in love with the process. Not all of your learning activities need to have a definitive purpose or help to progress your career. And when you let go of this result’s orientated mindset, you’ll start to open yourself up to whole range of different subjects!
As an economics and psychology graduate my conditioned learning patterns tend to focus around business and personal development. So, choosing to read ‘The Betrothed’ a classic Italian novel by Alessandro Manzoni was a big step outside of my learning comfort zone! Perhaps my brain is wired with the stories I told myself about how ‘boring’ it was to read big lengthy ‘difficult’ novels during my school days. So I picked up the enormous book with a sigh and a heavy heart – determined though because I wanted to read it to support my daughter as it’s on her school’s curriculum. But as it turns out, I’m not only loving the story, it’s also teaching me so much about the culture of Italy- historic to present day!
Another example comes from my colleague Katie, who has recently moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. Last week, she went to her first ever American football game, and whilst she’s still got a way to go with understanding the scoring system, Katie was surprised by how much she enjoyed the game and also the amount she learnt about her new home: “It’s much more than a football game: the whole community comes together to celebrate!” So even if a subject- or a sport- doesn’t seem on the surface level to be your cup of tea, see if you can stay open to its learning potential. You never know what you might be missing out on: a new favourite hobby, an opportunity to make friends, or perhaps a whole lot of fun! The question is: is there space for these spontaneous and open-minded learning occasions in your timetable? Or do you need to start scheduling in more of those infamous ‘free periods’ which were so desirable at school?
What’s your homework?
For many vocational careers (including doctors, accountants and therapists) continuing professional development or CPD is compulsory. Whilst it may not be a requirement within your career or company, we believe it’s an essential tool for long-term career competency. Now, if you already feel overworked you might ask- well why would I choose to do more work, that is likely to be unpaid? Two reasons: livelihood and passion. I’ll start with the former…
Warren Buffett once said: “The more you learn. The more you earn.” Now whilst we believe there are many more benefits to learning besides earning money, there is a real truth in Buffett’s statement. We live in a world of constant change and never before have there been more technological advances and breakthroughs. If we don’t try to keep on top of trends, we can quickly fall behind and find ourselves over taken by younger, more ‘up-to-date’ colleagues. CPD doesn’t necessarily have to involve trolling the internet for every recent – and work-relevant- article or research paper. It could be about learning a new skill or deepening an interest that excites you. Or it could be learning something about yourself – which we can find in anything we choose to try, learn or do.
Passion is the driving force that will motivate you to learn regardless of money, career progression or acclaim. And if you can weave passion into a part of your job- even if just by focusing on one specific element- you will create an abundance of fuel for your learning fire! The key is taking the ‘hard-work’ out of work. Ask yourself what you love to learn? Maybe it’s playing netball at the weekends. Watching films with your family. Or going on long dog walks. Once you have an activity in mind, ask yourself the following: what is it about that activity which makes it so enjoyable? Really push yourself to get the root of the passion. Maybe it’s connecting with people, storytelling or being in nature. The deeper you dig the broader the subject becomes, thus enabling you to apply your passion across many different aspects of your life. How might you build this passion for learning into your ‘work’ at work? And what might it offer you and your colleagues?
How is your timetable going to look?
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
– Mahatma Gandhi.
We’ve created a handy 4D timetable to help you to learn and live from all 4 of your dimensions. Stimulate all of your intelligences- intellectually, emotionally, physically and intentionally- by scheduling more opportunities to learn in your life. Each and every day.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many courses you go on, or how good your teachers are, if you’re not willing to go home and do the work yourself, you will only get so far along the learning ladder. Teachers lead you to the door. But you have to walk through yourself. To use the wise words of Brian Herbert: “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.” So, we’re going to hand it over to you and leave you with the following questions: how much of a priority is learning in your life? And how do want your timetable to look over the next term?