"A mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimension."
Oliver Wendell Holmes
"All 'graduations' in human development mean the abandonment of a familiar position....All growth...must come to terms with this fact." (1)
Erik H. Erikson
"Without memories, we are nothing. But with memories, we can remember to the point of believing and creating our own unshakable beliefs. Sometimes we need to forget in order to relearn new and better ideas and beliefs for a better future."
How do we change our beliefs?
To change our beliefs, and ultimately our behaviour, we need to know something about how to think.
Thinking is just another term we use to describe the process of problem-solving, or learning in its most broadest sense. Even the words changing and organising oneself is also called learning, and can involve the act of thinking.
In fact, just as heat and cold from the environment outside can change and hence help you to learn how to feel and behave, thinking will also change you from the inside out. Your brain has reached a level of sophistication to allow you to do this.
Hence learning is all about change.
Changing beliefs, behaviour or acquiring new knowledge is all about learning.
How do we effectively learn in a nutshell?
To effectively learn is to effectively know how to think.
Learning may be defined as the acquisition or modification of beliefs that permanently change behaviour by thinking about those beliefs. Conversely, learning may also be defined as the application of new skills and other action-based behaviours that permanently change beliefs and ultimately how you think.
The process of learning never ceases in life. No matter who we are or how old we may be, we are always learning something new everyday, which in turn changes our way of seeing, feeling and doing things in tiny increments. Thus learning is a continuous 'forward-moving' process.
So what makes learning effective?
It involves a balanced combination of R-brain skills, namely creative visualisation, together with the L-brain skills to pick out from memory or whatever is being observed those things that are relevant to helping you remember, or is important and that you greatly desire to be part of who you want to be.
But how do we learn effectively and in a balanced way?
Before learning can ever take place, there must be an emotional desire within us to change (or learn) and a willingness to be open-minded to new, creative and easily visualisable ideas. Once we make this concerted effort to open our minds and have the emotional desire to learn, we must seek out the things that makes learning enjoyable (i.e. easily visualisable and applicable to everyday life and is fun to visualise and apply as measured by one's own positive emotions), relaxing and easy. This is the secret to truly effective learning.
Learning is not meant to be a chore or a pain in the butt if it is done properly and people are to come out of it as happy, well-adjusted and balanced individuals. It should be enjoyed right through the entire "cradle to grave" process.
As Paul Goodman put it elegantly:
"Enjoyment is not a goal, it is a feeling that accompanies important ongoing activity."
The secret to effective learning
The first step to effective learning involves a deep relaxation of the mind (resulting in a high level of measurable alpha brain wave emissions coming from the brain) and body (to help reduce high levels of electrical signals from the brain and sensors all over the body overwhelming the mind with unnecessary information not relevant to the item of learning). You shouldn't be asleep. It is the kind of relaxation where you feel completely at ease yet you can choose to be conscious and fully awake at any time. You are merely heightening your awareness of the here-and-now by quietening the body and mind and letting both the mind and body become highly sensitive and aware to all the sounds and perhaps sights if your eyes are open and focussed on some particular item. Relaxation is critical for opening up our communication channels between the environment and the body and mind. Opening your mind means ensuring a harmonious balance between the L- and R-brain (i.e. you can concentrate on visualising pictures).
Need help to relax?
Meditation is one technique. Another is to try Yoga exercises to get the body to more easily relax after the exercise. If you need help to apply Yoga exercises, try visiting this web site. Or why not learn to relax by allowing another person to apply massage techniques to your body.
For details about massage health therapy, visit this web site.
The second step involves the utilisation of the entire body and the environment as an instrument for learning. This is especially true if you want to learn a new skill. For example, it is best to apply the whole body to imitate the skill you want to learn in an environment that is best suited to the skill. Otherwise you must imagine your whole body being sensitive to the thing you are learning and visualise how to move or apply something.
This brings us to the third step: visualisation of the thing you are learning. Without even moving the body, you can visualise something not only to remember something, but also any actions you need to apply in real-life. The visualisation helps you to learn. So when you are asked to apply those actions, it becomes less fearful and you are more confident in applying those actions. It will be more effective than just being shown once the actions and being asked to do it immediately.
And the fourth step is to apply the entire triad structure of the brain, consisting of the L-brain, the R-brain, and the old brain structures where the source of our two primary emotions are found. The emotions are there to help you recall the thing you are learning with great ease. And the L- and R-brain are there to pick out and simplify the thing that needs remembering or to be applied in real life, and then you visualise those specific things and how they are interconnected.
And all this is done in an environment that is relaxing at every step of the way.
Thus the process of effective, or accelerated learning is simply to relax and let both sides of the brain naturally balance themselves through an opening up of the biological channels linking the two sides of the brain (called the corpus callosum in physiological terms) and transform experience into knowledge and simplify the knowledge into emotionally-charged and visualisable beliefs necessary for easy assimilation of the information; and then to transform those beliefs back into experience as required for the development and reinforcement of new skills and other action-based behaviours as well as the original knowledge itself.
Indeed all good knowledge needs to be recycled many times over through your own action-based behaviours and by thinking to make the knowledge easily remembered and applied.
The importance of our emotions, our visualisation skills and the ability to relax will help to simplify the knowledge
Learning is both a L- and R-brain activity (for processing and storing information) and the use of our fundamental emotions (the door to opening our minds and remembering information more easily) and body (the instrument for sensing information and applying what we learn) in a relaxing manner.
Firstly, we learn by using the left-side of our brain. It involves the transformation and breaking down of experience into knowledge and the simplification and organising of that knowledge into basic and interrelated symbols.
Secondly, we learn by using the right-side of the brain. It involves creatively visualising through sight, sounds and other sensory information these symbols as a form of indirect experience, testing and reinforcement of the newly-acquired knowledge. In this way, the knowledge can enter more directly into the long-term memory of the cerebral cortex or subconscious mind as beliefs where it can affect long-term behaviour and so further help reinforce the original knowledge.
Peter Kline, an educationalist, said:
"The music is the main audio route into the subconscious." (2)
And Dr Win Wenger said:
"I believe that as much as 80 percent of the brain's functions is visual. Visualisation involves the subconscious." (3)
Dr Wilson Bryan Key commented on the importance of accessing the subconscious part of the mind or cerebrum for effective learning when he said in his book, Subliminal Seduction:
"[We must] circumvent the conscious control systems that we erect during our formal schooling [which promote L-brain activity] and allow the greater subconscious capacities to be used. It is quite possible that the education processes of the West may be, in effect, limiting man's intelligence by forcing him to repress greater and greater amounts of what he actually perceives. The implications to mankind are enormous, if individuals have innate neurological abilities vastly beyond their apparent conscious levels." (4)
And the best way to access the subconscious mind is through pictures and music (i.e. the more R-brain approach). This is particularly important for young people who are now facing a glut of information and need ways to quickly learn the essential patterns of life and the universe. As David Cameron, an educator/lecturer from the school of communication at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, NSW, Australia, said:
"They [young people] have a different way of learning. They want to learn in a collaborative manner, they want to look at pictures instead of reading text, they want random access to everything and they want convenience [because of time constraints]." (5)
However everyone needs pictures as an aid to learning new ideas. Adults will only ask for pure text material containing a poverty of pictures because they usually are already familiar with the subject and hence there is little need to learn significantly through visual and auditory aids. But if adults really want to learn something wholly unfamiliar to them, pictures are crucial to effective learning.
Thirdly, we learn by doing. It involves getting the body to participate in the learning process by communicating with others and the environment and/or by practising appropriate behavioural patterns or skills, as a form of direct experience. In this way, the mind intuitively deduces the nature of, or reinforces, the knowledge to be learnt. We communicate with others by asking questions; we communicate with the environment by sensing (e.g. observing and listening to) the environment; and we practice new skills by dancing and playing. As Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) said:
"What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing."
And fourthly, we learn by making our actions and specific symbols as emotionally interesting and pleasant as possible to help with the learning process. In other words, we must have fun while we are learning. As Charles Mercier said:
"What we learn with pleasure we never forget." (6)
French writer Jacques Anatole Francois Thibault (1844-1924), also known as Anatole France, once said:
"For knowledge to be digested, it must be absorbed with relish." (7)
Dr Melvin S. Hattwick, a noted advertising psychologist, commented on our ability to remember information well when he said:
"When the feeling aroused is pleasant, the advertisement has a better chance to be remembered. When the feeling aroused is unpleasant, the reader or listener tends to forget the advertisement message. The unpleasant runs counter to what we want, we don't want to remember it." (8)
Marketing firms are applying this emotional technique to getting people to perform certain types of actions. The aim is to help people relax in shops and clubs through sweet pleasant smelling odours, friendlier smiles from sales staff, free samples of food and so on in the hope of enticing people to buy more products or to spend more money on gambling machines etc.
It is important for marketing firms to establish a link between buying and a pleasant feeling/experience in the minds of customers if it can mean making an extra buck for businesses.
To boil it down, the total learning package must involve the presence of a relaxed individual immersed in a playful and interesting environment conducive to learning, and the desire for the individual to learn.
This means effective learning requires the development of our (i) emotional intelligence (to feel and make things interesting); (ii) rational intelligence (to break things down, simplify and organise specific information); (iii) creative intelligence (to visualise and link specific information to form a single picture); and (iv) motor control intelligence (to dance, play, observe and apply what we learn).
As the Greek philosopher Plato wrote in Book VII of the Laws nearly 2,400 years ago:
"Who is unable to count one, two, three, or to distinguish odd from even numbers, or is unable to count at all, or reckon night and day, and who is totally unacquainted with the revolution of the Sun and Moon, and the other stars....All freemen, I conceive, should learn as much of these branches of knowledge as every child in Egypt is taught when he learns the alphabet. In that country arithmetical games have been invented for the use of mere children, which they learn as pleasure and amusement..." (9)
In other words, Plato was trying to say that whatever we learn, we should learn it like we were a child playing a game because this is how every human being learns and learns fast and effectively. If necessary, do what the African natives do when they learn - use potent tribal rhythms and music to help create interesting chants and sounds while learning something specific. This helps get the entire body and mind involved in the learning process and makes for a better recall of that information at a later date. Just do something out of the norm and people will remember.
In fact, differences in sex, culture, or racial background have no barrier to the principle of accelerated learning. (10)
Accelerated learning techniques applied throughout human history
The technique of effective learning is not a new concept. It has actually been applied ever since the dawn of humankind:
In primitive ritual ceremonies of many isolated communities, information passed down by elders to novices are transferred in ways that maximise the learning of such information. People involved in the ceremonies use spectacular colour, sounds, rhythm, music, dancing, writing symbols and speaking in order to heighten a positive emotional response for effective learning. Quicker assimilation of information is also achieved by representing information in symbolic picture form. Further reinforcement of the information occurs by repeating, sometimes rhythmically, the information like a chant.
If only we could apply these same techniques to modern western education system. What kind of a society could we have by now? And what would the individuals in that society be able to achieve for the good of all?
Other things to consider when applying the techniques of effective learning
It is important to remember that if something is not visualisable in the mind, or if it is not simple, meaningful, interesting and emotionally significant to us, our memory of it is poor. Also continually bringing the item of learning to mind will help you to remember it.
And take the time you need to learn the item. The more time you take, the better the learning.
Some mentally-ill patients are known to suffer from poor emotional brain development. Apparently, in some studies, the emotional centre of the brains of mentally-ill patients where one could distinguish a smile as a positive emotion and a frown as a negative emotion was either damaged or poorly underdeveloped. In other words, mentally-ill patients couldn't distinguish a positive happy face from one that isn't when presented to them in picture form or directly by another individual.
Poor emotional brain development for whatever reason will lead to poor frontal cortex development and eventually all other brain functions needed for effective thinking and learning.
Furthermore, it must be appreciated that learning does not just depend on the individual's self-motivation and the brain to learn. The environment also plays a vital role in the learning process. In an article in the Australian Health 84 magazine, Number 14, January 1984, p.16:
"A good environment probably improves a person's brainpower. At least that's what research at the University of California seems to suggest. Rats raised in large cages with other rats and playthings had heavier and more chemically active brains than rats kept in small cages without toys."
Therefore, the use of small, dull, grey classrooms as the environment for learning should be eliminated. A more peaceful, enjoyable, natural and open environment relevant to the nature of the information to be learnt and tailored to the individual's needs is essential for maximum learning.
When applying the skills of effective learning in our everyday life, remember to incorporate both knowledge and experience in the information to be learned.
Experience provides us with stories to tell. Knowledge provides us with a summary of life's experiences. To experience things in life, try active experimentation and participation. To gain knowledge about something, try abstract conceptualisation and visualisation to help uncover an understanding of the fundamental patterns of life. Extracting knowledge from experience is a R-brain activity; whereas obtaining experiences to support the knowledge is a L-brain activity.
Furthermore, the manner in which knowledge and experience is presented is also vitally important. For example, new knowledge should contain imaginative and humorous stories as well as straightforward and concise details of the essential concepts behind the stories to help satisfy the needs of both the left and right-side of the brain and the emotions. Also the experiences must be direct, simple, relevant and emotionally enjoyable (11) for learning to be truly effective.
And finally, too much experience or too much knowledge can overwhelm the mind with useless information. Always choose your knowledge and experiences well, especially as these, together with your perception of those experiences and knowledge, will determine how well you learn and function in society.
There is also a physical contribution to good learning; primarily, clean, fresh air with plenty of oxygen and a diet low in sugar and high in carbohydrates and Vitamin B-complex will improve mental alertness and ability. In addition, regular breaks from mental work, together with good physical exercise and ample time to play and put skills into practice are necessary for good development of the brain. This latter point has been confirmed by French researcher Henri Pieron (12).
But most of all, people should be empowered with the skills for effective learning so that individuals can decide how they will acquire knowledge and experience and what that knowledge and experience should be. In the words of Carl Rogers:
"The most socially useful learning in the modern world is learning the process of learning, a continuous openness to experience and incorporation into oneself of the process of change." (13)
When we do all of this, it becomes virtually impossible to damage the human brain. The brain in a relaxed state learning because it wants to and not because it has to, in its proper and natural environment, and in an enjoyable fashion, can never lead to behaviours that we would classify as mental illness.
In a World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) Public Hearing on world problems and environmental issues held on 8 December 1986 in Moscow, I. T. Frolov said:
"To successfully advance in solving global [or any] problems, we need to develop new methods of thinking, to elaborate new moral and value criteria, and, no doubt, new patterns in behaviour.
'Mankind is on the threshold of a new stage in its development. We should not only promote the expansion of its material, scientific and technical basis, but, what is most important, the formation of new value and humanistic aspirations in human psychology, since wisdom and humaneness are the "eternal truths" that make the basis of humanity. We need new social, moral, scientific, and ecological concepts, which should be determined by new conditions in the life of mankind today and in the future."
This fundamental social, moral, scientific and ecological concept talked about by Frolov and many others should permit a harmonious balance and synergy of the two cerebral hemispheres of the brain, together with our emotions and a supportive reinforcement of a similar balance in society.
Unfortunately, our modern society tends to frown on this balanced approach for whatever reason. And because of this attitude, we are now paying a heavy price as can be seen by the number of people ending up in mental health institutions, in the levels of unemployment, the overburdened prison systems, crime on the streets, and the stress being experienced by many business professionals as we speak.
If only we could unlock the full potential of the human brain through balanced thinking, then nothing would be impossible to achieve and all problems will be solved, quickly and simply to its deepest level.
What kind of a society could we have by now if we learnt to think in a balanced way?
What happens on the biological level when we learn?
In a series of experiments on newborn animals, Dr William Greenough of the University of Illinois, USA, showed that the number of connecting nerve cells increased with periods of intense learning. Generally speaking, when newborn animals acquired skills such as walking on bridges and wires, the size and amount of connections in their cortical cells increase, with a consequent increase in those portions of the brain used during the exercise.
The only problem, however, is whether the connections are due to a natural development of the brain and nervous system over time or to a definite period of learning (14). But there is a growing consensus among scientists that the size and amount of connections in each neuron increases with greater mental usage. Dr Carl Cotman, a neurobiologist, agrees with this view, saying:
"...in early development, activity influences how and where connections are made. Current thinking holds that connections are being modified throughout life." (15)
Therefore, it is believed that if the brain is not used, it will deteriorate and learning will become more difficult. As psychologist Dr Herbert Weingartner explains:
"...someone with a history of doing more rather than less will go into old age more cognitively intact than someone who has not had an activated mind." (16)
So learn, no matter how old you are or how small the change in one's life may be, and learn creatively and with emotions and not just rationally and life will get easier and more enjoyable as time passes.
As ABC TV and radio personality Mr James O'Loghlin (and the host of the television show The Inventors) said, the best thing a teacher and ourselves can do is to develop and apply our creativity in everything we do and encourage others to do the same:
"[We should] encourage people to think and encourage people to be creative, rather than filling heads with facts and figures." (17)
When Mr O'Loghlin was at university "you just had to ingest all this information and just spew it up on the exam paper". Now, with the advent of the Internet, you can spend around 30 seconds to find nearly all the facts you want.
It is far better to develop creative problem-solving skills and letting people take a journey of discovery for themselves for who knows what new discoveries will be found to benefit all of humanity.
And it doesn't matter what area of life you apply your creativity. As O'Loghlin said:
"If you equip someone with the ability to think, they'll be well suited in our world to answer any challenge. And if you encourage them to be creative they'll have a more fulfilled and happy life, which is what we're all on about really...
'But I actuallly think if you're creative and that doesn't necessarily mean inventing something or writing a book, it can be gardening, or cooking, or whatever if you do something that's creative I reckon it's an enormous sense of satisfaction and pride that comes with it." (18)
Learn for a healthier brain
And now there is a biological incentive to learn. As Dr Robert Wilson of Rush University Medical Centre's Alzheimer's Disease Centre in Chicago, USA, said:
"The picture that's emerging is that there are a lot of environmental factors that contribute to your risk of getting dementia later in life.
'We're focussing on mental activity and its protective effect, but we're also finding that physical activity and social activity seem to be somewhat protective.
'We need to shift the thinking away from treating Alzheimer's disease as a disease of late life." (19)
How do we change the person we are to the person we want to be?
Well, you could get someone to apply in a military-style a technique to forceably drill into you from the external environment directly into you the behaviours and ultimately the type of thinking that may make you a better person. However, we do not recommend this approach. Indeed it is often frought with danger. One of which is the method of stopping you from thinking for yourself.
Instead, you change yourself from the inside out using your own brain through the act of thinking. And you do it for yourself, including gathering the thoughts and ideas that make for a more balanced and better person. Thinking must a decision you make for yourself.
When applying the balanced accelerated learning/thinking techniques for yourself, you can focus either on those memories that make you happy and a better person. Or you must create new images and visualise them to create the new person you want to be.
Too many memories you would rather not think about? Fortunately this is where the R-brain comes into play. By using more R-brain skills, thinking will give you the power to create the future you want and with it the behaviour and type of thoughts you seek to generate by forming new images of the kind of future you want to see rather than holding onto the wrong memories of the past. Indeed you will see the benefit of learning to let go of old memories by visualising the future in order to transform yourself to a new person the one you really want to be.
This is the key to making grand transformations in who you are today and where you want to be.
Why do students in traditional public and private schools socially misbehave and what should we do?
Children who enjoy and find it easy to learn have no time to socially misbehave. The desire to learn is always there and they will seek to learn whatever they desire. The only reason why children misbehave is because they are frustrated by the difficulty or get bored with the learning, and later spend the free time causing mischief to others.
Some education experts claim a good smack or belting is the answer. In fact, some Christian-based schools are considering this option and asking parents to sign a consent form to allow teachers to apply physical punishment to children in order to get them to behave and learn in the way they want to see it happen. Some children may live through it and grow up to be reasonably good citizens. However, there is also a risk some children may choose to go against society simply by the way they have reacted and learned this harmful approach to learning.
Accelerated learning techniques have no need for physical punishment. To think otherwise would reveal the failure of the person in not knowing how to apply the power of the brain to learn things in a positive way. It is all about having encouraging and positive-minded people with the faith in knowing great things can be achieved by those who are doing the learning. It is also about choosing the right educational material at the right time in children's lives and making the educational material interesting and fun to learn. Children should not be taught maths, science, English or other traditional subjects. Instead children should be taught how to learn for themselves. Then they should learn how to socially interact in a positive way. This means playing games in a team situation so that children can see the value of other children in solving problems and achieving a common goal. It should also include conflict resolution techniques.
Later as the children grow older and keep applying themselves to the skill of accelerated learning, they should learn about the psychology of people's behaviour.
Then introduce children to the traditional subjects such as English and maths. But the key here is to make the learning as easy and interesting as possible. This is where the skill of the teacher and the latest technology in presenting information should come to the foray.
And more importantly, the skills of accelerated learning by the children will determine how quickly and effectively the learning is in the long term. You will see it in the eyes of the children when they are clearly happy, balanced and well-adjusted individuals.