During the past couple of months, I have been privileged and overjoyed to have spent some time with my Brother and sister-in-law’s beautiful 6 month old baby. It is truly amazing to behold how she learns and develops.
While most of us are holding down jobs and/or raising children, and generally leading busy lives, learning things faster would be a very welcome skill to acquire. Wouldn’t you agree?
If you want to know how to accelerate your ability to learn, it is useful to engage in a little modelling of the most amazing learning machines in the world: Babies, toddlers and children. Seeing my niece developing so fast made me think. When we were children we learnt a phenomenal amount in a very short time, not just information and knowledge but also social skills, body-mind co-ordination and much, much more. So how did we do this?
I want to show you how to identify the right conditions for learning, so that you can once more be free to learn as effectively as you did when you were a small child.
So how did you manage it all those years ago? The first five years of your life represent the most amazing accelerated learning programme ever developed. Not all of this is necessarily “good”, of course, in terms of its usefulness later in life but certainly small children learn thoroughly and with every part of themselves. They learn without labelling what they are doing as learning. They begin to map out their world through the fullest use of all their senses every waking moment. This is truly total immersion learning. Everyone starts out as a fast learner. I mean everyone.
8 Steps To Fast Learning:
Step One: You have to want to learn.
When we are little, life is fascinating because everything is utterly new to us. We don’t yet have experiences or filters that tell us some things are more important or more worthwhile than others. Everything is new, everything gives us more to absorb.
Learning is highly meaningful for a number of reasons: because it is interesting, because it relates to some immediate goal, because it is rewarded, because it helps us to model someone who is important to us, because it gives us more autonomy, power or means of self-expression – and because we are curious and just want to know.
All these reasons give us important incentives to learn fast and learn well. The process of learning is something the learner actively wants to do.
So, make sure you are motivated – have a good reason for anything that you want to learn, and know what it is.
Step Two: Engage In The Moment.
Very small children pay a lot of attention to what is going on around them and what they are doing. They are not thinking about how today compares with yesterday or looking for references of similar experiences. Those concepts come later in life.
They are not distracting themselves. They can and do get distracted, but then they are totally immersed in the distraction. Attention is 100 per cent. They focus and are concentrated.
So, catch wandering thoughts. It may well help to write down things that require action later, so that you do not have to carry them alongside what you are currently doing. Having done so, bring yourself back to the here-and-now.
Step Three: Be immersed in the learning experience.
At those young ages, learning is done in a highly associated state which produces high neurological and physiological engagement and enables the learner to make huge strides very rapidly.
Choose your timing, and your setting, and your state to give yourself the best chance of becoming immersed. Cultivate the art of being fully associated in your experience. So really tune in, be aware of what you are seeing, hearing and feeling. This leads nicely on to our next step…
Step Four: Use all your senses when learning.
Children do not think about how they learn, or should learn. All their senses are on-line to pick up and process information.
This means that what they are learning can be encoded in multiple ways, making it more rapidly and effectively part of them.
Therefore, engage more of your senses in the act of consciously learning. Always consider how you can incorporate more of the senses into even formal learning using more visual, more auditory and more kinaesthetic stimulus. For instance, you could make notes, construct models and literally walk things through (kinaesthetic), create mind-maps, colourful visuals and use coloured pens (visual), or play music by Baroque composers such as Bach or Vivaldi, which has been shown to enhance concentration and learning (auditory).
Step Five: Your efforts are frequently praised or rewarded.
Very young children usually get plenty of praise for trying to do things, as well as for actually achieving them. You know when everyone delights at them doing something. Even if there comes a time when the grown-ups start to take their skills for granted, there has usually been a good grounding of positive encouragement for first efforts at sitting, crawling, and standing, talking and walking. With luck, a foundation has been laid, which can become the basis of self-encouragement in their willingness to take on the risk of trying new things.
Today, find ways to praise and reward yourself. Use encouraging internal dialogue. Break your goal down into stages and give yourself treats for accomplishing each stage.
Step Six: Free yourself of success and failure notions.
The early learning child or baby has not yet learnt to think in terms of “success” and “failure” – so they are not easily daunted when something does not work out. In fact, being frustrated is more likely to make them want to try again.
Very small children mostly do not get labelled as failures when they try something that does not work. Children’s first words, or first steps, are too exciting and too major for most adults to discount them as not good enough. A new walker who falls is likely to be encouraged to try again.
Be kind about your mistakes and limitations. People who endlessly criticise themselves tend to become disheartened. Those who forgive errors and lapses make much better progress.
Step Seven: Pace Yourself.
When they lose interest, or get tired, babies simply switch to something else or fall asleep. They have not yet learnt to pressurise themselves unduly or to make unreasonable demands of themselves.
Pace yourself- do not drive yourself too hard. Even when you are doing well – perhaps especially when you are doing well – have a break. And do not move the goalposts because you achieved something sooner or more easily than you expected.
Step Eight: Digest and process.
The early learner sleeps long and deep, which gives the unconscious mind time to process what has been learnt, and the body time to recover from exertion and build its strength.
Sleep is a major ingredient in successful learning, it allows the body to rest and repair itself after exertion. Mental exertion requires energy and stamina, so any kind of learning is potentially tiring. Learning is processed and stored unconsciously – which is why we relatively soon forget the actual processes that are involved in even complex skills like walking, talking or reading. And sleep is a time when the unconscious part of the mind is very active in processing new material and making connections.
Respect your body’s need for rest. Give yourself enough sleep time to process what you have learnt.
So, now we have seen the criteria for that kind of fast learning that babies and toddlers do. Think of ways that you can apply these seven simple steps to your own learning processes whenever and wherever they may be. Have some fun with this.