Learning a new skill

I am learning a new skill.  And it’s really hard for me.  And it frustrates me that it is hard.  Because it shouldn’t be hard.  And I do hard things.  Or, at least I used to.

Learning a new skill is an incredible brain-gain activity.  Learning a new skill primes the neurons in our brain.  It gets them all fired up and ready to sprout out little feelers in search of neighboring neurons.  And those little feelers make connections that get stickier and thicker and stronger each and every time you repeat the new skill.  

Did you know that your hippocampus (the learning new stuff/memory forming part of your brain) can sprout around 1500 new neurons everyday?  Everyday!  That is a lot of neurons.  Contrary to centuries of belief that adult brains cannot make new neurons, we can!  We absolutely can sprout new neurons.  The trick is keeping them.  You may have heard the ‘use it or lose it’ adage. In neuroscience circles they say ‘connect it and keep it.’

No doubt you have heard “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  That has been my experience with my beloved dogs, but that’s more likely due to my lack of trying than their lack of ability.  The same is likely true for humans.  We struggle to learn because we don’t put in the necessary effort. 

I cannot refute the fact that children are magnetic sponges for information.  And it is certainly true that some brains retain information with greater ease than others.  This I know, because medicine tends to select for individuals with high speed digital photographic memories, while my brain labored along with old fashion stone and chisel technology.

Given my 60+ year old stone and chisel technology, learning my new skill is proving challenging.  Perhaps, at the very least, it’s time to sharpen my chisel and get a fresh piece of stone!

To paraphrase Jim Kwik (Author of Limitless, unlock your brain, learn anything faster and unlock your exceptional life), ‘there is no such thing as a bad memory, only an untrained one.’   How freeing is that?  I wish I had known that when I was chiseling away in medical school (but sadly Jim had not even been born at that time!) 

So what do the experts suggest we do to upgrade our stone and chisel?  There are literally hundreds of ‘how-to’ books on improving memory.  Read Jim’s book for those details.  

I believe we should learn from the true experts – kids.  

How do kids learn?  They make it fun – they squeal and giggle with delight.  They fail and try again and again.  They experiment and adjust.  They explore.  They share their success.  And there is a lot they don’t do – at least not until we teach them.  They don’t judge.  They don’t quit.  They don’t fear failure.  They don’t criticize their efforts.  They don’t compare themselves with others.

Kids have an innate drive to learn, to explore and to be curious.  Guess what?  So do adults.  We have just learned to ignore that drive.

Tap into your curiosity. Explore.  Have fun.  Make it important.  You just might discover that your chisel and stone technology is just as fast as the high speed digital technology.

So what is my new skill? Board governance.  Snore!  I know, right?  My course starts next week.  Time will tell how the squeal and giggle philosophy will work.