To love, to learn, and to enjoy. For me, these are the most important things we can do. These are what life is about. I try to keep these as my compass, to remember to stay focused on these, to keep them as my primary intention, so I don’t lose my way, getting caught up in worries or irritations.
These three activities are interdependent. We cannot do one without the other. This is not philosophy. This is neuroscience. This is the way the brain is wired. We cannot learn if we are not at peace with ourselves and those around us. We have to be open to learning, we have to enjoy learning, we have to allow ourselves to love.
What does that mean? The brain is the control center for the body, enabling it to survive. It does this by integrating information from our body about our needs, with information from the world about what is available; our longings and worries, which are extensions of our basic needs, and the opportunities and threats our environment presents.
So it is the Affective system – the emotional motivational system – that is in charge. It drives the Executive system, which supports the Cognitive system. Learning depends on our emotional state – our mood state and our priorities, our fears and our longings. Whether we pay attention to something and respond to it, and whether we understand it and remember it, depends on the motivational charge that the Affective system assigns to it. Basically, we either want it (a positive charge) or we are afraid of it (a negative charge). Whichever event (or thought) has the strongest charge is the one we pay attention to and respond to.
In fact, we can figure out what has the strongest charge by observing what we are doing. Are we distracted or procrastinating? Then something other than the task at hand has a stronger charge on it! One of my favorite examples of this is the real answer to “Why can’t you just hang up the towel when you’re finished using it?!” Why? Because the towel no longer exists once they are dry. Since it is no longer important, it has no emotional charge, it is no longer processed by the brain.
So learning, which I try always to be doing, depends on my emotional relationship with what I am trying to learn. When children have learning difficulties, it is most often because 1) there is not enough positive charge on what they are trying to learn, or 2) there is too much negative charge on taking a chance with something new. More to come…