Learning something new can be exciting but also stressful. Sometimes we learn for fun, but there are times when we are under pressure to learn.
For example: when we need to learn something for our career, when we have left something to the last minute and are now pressured to meet a deadline, or when our career advancement relies on a qualification or skill.
The role of wellbeing in learning
There are people who think wellbeing is a ‘nice have’. A fluffy ideal where looking after our wellbeing involves having a massage or sitting around on cushions listening to whale music.
However, our wellbeing is more critical than that for several reasons.
When we are under stress, our brain reverts to fight or flight mode and, according to Dr David Hamilton, we lose 60% of our brain’s ability to function, as we effectively shut off our frontal cortex.
In times of immediate danger, we need to run away or stay and fight.
When we are under stress…we lose 60% of our brain’s ability to function
Fight or flight isn’t right for learning
However, these days our fight or flight response switches on when sitting at our desk, or during prolonged busy periods, particularly when there is pressure to perform or meet a deadline.
When under fight or flight, our attention span dips and we are unable to get into a deep focus to learn.
In our distracted state, we may also struggle to retain the information that is presented to us.
We may not give ourselves the time and space to reflect on the concepts we are learning either, viewing our learning as a ‘tick and move on’ exercise.
If we are experiencing poor wellbeing and high stress levels our mind and body may be fatigued.
When under fight or flight, our attention span dips
Getting ready to learn
Perhaps we have had less sleep, no time to exercise, or insufficient time to rest and recover.
We may have been eating on the go choosing convenience or ‘beige’ foods, or we could simply be dehydrated…all of which will impact our ability and willingness to learn.
So how do we get ourselves ready to learn?
In modern times there are always opportunities to learn, and our working world is going through constant change.
Keeping up with the times
From new social media platforms, to time saving apps and professional qualifications, we have an environment where we feel as if we need to be absorbing and learning 24/7.
However sometimes we need to say no…or not yet!
If you decided to run a marathon, would you put your trainers on and just do it?
Speaking to athletes and having attempted a few challenges myself (walking five marathons in five days and running a 10k when previously not running for a bus!) I know these things take preparation and time.
Our working world is going through constant change
Preparation is key
When we get the opportunity for training, we also need some preparation time:
- To clear our diary so we have sufficient time
- To clear our mind after a busy period
- To rest and recover
- To prepare our body and mind
- To be present
I find that planning in the above over a period of a few weeks gives a better result than a week of cramming in prep.
Tell yourself how wonderful and exciting this is, to keep that fight or flight mechanism at bay.
To be present with a clear mind, there are a few of things that can help:
Tell yourself how wonderful and exciting this is, to keep that fight or flight mechanism at bay
Putting pen to paper
First, journalling. Often, we have a mind that is full and most of what is happening is playing in the background in our subconscious.
So when we put pen to paper, we allow our brain to bring all of this to the front of our mind; the positives, but also the fears and worries.
We can be surprised by the full extent of what we are thinking about, but when we see it in black or white, at a time when we are relaxed, solutions or other choices can appear too.
I find the best way to journal is to put some relaxing music on or light a candle.
Give yourself plenty of time and have no expectation of what you will write.
Allow your vision to softly focus and your mind to drift. If you struggle initially, I suggest trying this a few times to get used to the concept.
Often, we have a mind that is full and most of what is happening is playing in the background in our subconscious
The positives of practising meditation
Second, meditation. Adopting a regular meditation practice has many benefits. It can give us a more positive outlook, by boosting our feel good hormones like serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins.
It can promote neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to switch between tasks – and help us to retain information.
Adopting a regular meditation practice has many benefits
The benefits of getting outdoors
Third, time in nature. Getting outdoors is good for both our body and mind. Moving our body for at least 20 minutes will mean that we are more able to settle down to work for a period of time.
Being in nature can be used as a mindful activity; focusing on the world around us rather than our inner dialogue.
Learning is something that is needed and in the right environment can boost our wellbeing in itself, allowing us to retain our brain health as we age and to increase our career prospects as well as broadening our outlook.
With a few extra preparation steps it can also be a very enjoyable experience!
If you enjoyed this, read: Employee wellbeing vs wellness: What’s the difference and why it matters