Welcome back to Wellness Wednesday everyone! This week I thought we could talk a little about the importance of continuing to learn throughout our lives.
Sometimes we tend to think of learning only in the context of formal education, but the truth is that more learning takes place outside of the classroom than it does inside.
For example, one day I got a phone call from my Mom. The conversation started out in the normal way, but then took an interesting turn….. She said, “I just got a smart phone, but I’m not so smart.” Now, I just have to say, this is absolutely not true. My Mom is one of the smartest people I know. Anyway, she was having some trouble getting her new phone set up and was calling to see if I could help talk her through the process. We managed to get some basic things set up, and she was able to start putting contacts in….enough to get her started with it.
My hubby and I took a drive down to visit them shortly after that, and she and I played around with it until she was comfortable. She actually caught on pretty quickly. She had never used a smart phone in her life, but she was willing to learn. My Mom is a wonderful example of a lifelong learner. She doesn’t shy away from new technology or learning new hobbies, and she’s constantly on the lookout for new cooking techniques.
Continuing to learn throughout our lifetime is vitally important.
As we talked about in the post How’s Your Intellectual Wellness?, Intellectual Wellness involves both “recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills”(SAMHSA) and using “the resources available to expand one’s knowledge in improved skills along with expanding potential for sharing with others.” (Stanford Health Care).
In his book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, Dr. Daniel Amen, neuroscientist, psychiatrist, and brain-imaging expert, says,
“New learning creates new connections in the brain, but the absence of learning causes the brain to start disconnecting itself. No matter what your age, mental exercise has a global, positive effect on the brain. Learning has a very real effect on neurons: it keeps them firing and it makes it easier for them to fire. There are approximately a thousand trillion synapses in the brain, and each one of them may wither and die if not actively firing. Like muscles that don’t get used, idle nerve cells waste away.”
Wow! That really puts it into perspective, doesn’t it? I certainly don’t want my synapses withering and dying! How about you?
“The best mental exercise is acquiring new knowledge and doing things that you have not done before.” – Dr. Daniel Amen
As Dr. Amen explains it, when we do the same things over and over, our brain adapts and starts to use less and less energy to do those tasks. Learning new things creates new connections and helps improve function in other areas of the brain, areas that we may not use as often if we’re doing the same things over and over.
The new learning doesn’t have to encompass the type of learning we do in school, though that would certainly qualify. Some other ways to continue a lifestyle of lifelong learning could be:
- Be willing to make mistakes. Often, as we age, we think we should have it all figured out. The trouble is that if we do have it all figured out and aren’t ever making any mistakes, then most likely, we’re not learning anything new. Go ahead, try new things, and make mistakes – and when you do, turn those mistakes into another learning opportunity.
- Know how you learn best. Do you have certain tricks you use, such as mnemonic devices, or making up songs to help you learn? Make sure you know what helps you the most and use it.
- Take up a new hobby. Doing new things forces us to learn new skills, develop creativity or skills, and even help reduce some of the stress that’s so harmful for our brains.
- Listen to audiobooks, podcasts, Ted Talks, etc.. The possibilities for learning are endless with this one.
- Read. Again, the possibilities are endless!
There are so many opportunities for us to keep learning throughout our lives. Our preferences may change as we go through different life stages, but no matter the stage of life we’re in, we can continue to build our Intellectual Wellness.
The important thing is just to be intentional about continuing to learn. This will keep us strong mentally throughout our lives, and who knows, we might find a new passion in the process.
Do you believe lifelong learning is important? Have you learned anything new lately? Please share!
Daniel G. Amen, M.D. Change Your Brain Change Your Life. (New York, NY: Harmony Books, 1998), 354-355.