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Learn Smarter Not Harder – When Nothing Seems to Go In

Do you ever have those days when your mind feels totally empty? Or full to the point it just seems to completely stop functioning all together?

It can be like you are in a small boat in the middle of a lake. And all the engines have cut out. And try as you might to pull that cord to restart everything, you get nothing more than a gurgle. A splutter. And then total silence.

You feel stuck. You feel lost.

And you sure as whatever, don’t have a clue where to go for help.

When you are in a learning situation, it is not uncommon to experience what may feel like your brain seizing up and shutting off. I am having one of those moments as I write. So what can we do about it, you may be thinking? Am I actually not very good at learning?

You, like a lot of people, may be thinking you fall into the latter category, but you could not be further from the truth. This is why it’s important to understand what exactly is going on. And it’s very simple. You see, the body has several switch mechanisms there to protect us. A mechanism to tell us when we are too hot or too cold. A mechanism to tell us when we are tired and need to sleep, another to signal we are getting full and should stop eating. Most of them we recognise, and for the most part, follow naturally.

But then we get the signals we are not familiar with. As a new year resolution we may decide to get fit and start exercising. The trouble is, we tend to knock ourselves out at the first round, and never go back. If we persist, however, over time we will become familiar with our body’s signals telling us we’ve worked hard enough, or letting us know when we can push that bit harder. And as we respond to those signals, we will start to get those results we so long dreamt of.

It is exactly the same with learning. Once again, there are signals we can also become familiar with. Are we starting to feel bored? Are we getting tired? Are we trying to force too much in all at once? And for each signal it is important to acknowledge and take action. Take the latter one, for example. I call it the signal of saturation.

The brain is like a sponge, soaking up information. But we all know, a sponge can only absorb so much water at a time. Then the excess water just runs off and is lost. Learning and taking in knowledge can also be likened to food and eating. If we were to keep eating and not listen to the signal we are full, the excess food is likely to be stored as fat. A little bit of excess fat is fine, but too much...

You get the idea. There is no black and white category saying how much we should or shouldn’t or can or can’t learn. It all comes down to recognising that signal that we are starting to feel, or that we will soon be feeling a bit saturated. Regardless of how motivated or eager we are to keep learning, if we keep pushing ourselves over the edge of saturation, we risk entering that zone where we can’t take anything more in and with that comes a feeling of failure and potentially giving up.

It may seem counteractive to stop learning when you are still in a full thrust of motivation. However, by being in tune with that signal of saturation, and stopping just before it hits, we are actually able to harness that motivation and make ourselves eager to come back to the learning, fresh and ready to start again. In this way, learning periods become more frequent, almost to the point of not being able to stop yourself coming back to them, again and again and again.

It’s very simple, really. By promoting a sense of pleasure and achievement rather than a sense of pain and inability, it is only natural we will find ourselves drawn to such a context.

And what if you have got stuck and blocked and don’t know what to? Well, look up. You might be stuck in the middle of a lake, but look around you. Look at everything you’ve learnt. It’s beautiful. And look how far you’ve actually come. Take it all in.

Yes, stop and pat yourself on the back. I guarantee it will put a smile on your face.

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