Forget learning and learn interrupting forgetting

I’m knee deep in books I need to read although I’m being distracted by some other interesting books, such as “Making it stick” (Peter Brown). The book’s information has certainly stuck and has made me think about my training and coaching. The basic premise is that to learn thoroughly you need to struggle somewhat in applying the learning to your actual situation. I know we all say that we construct our training to do this but I think this book challenges what that really means. It encourages: Trying stuff before you really know how to do it; swapping between topics you’re learning; struggling to apply the learning until you can do it and spacing the sessions. Overall, it is about interrupting forgetting and being competent rather than just being able to recite textbook pages. It’s about needing to ‘dig deep’ to recall what you learnt thus strengthening those neural pathways. The book has many examples of how this improves exam grades and robustness of application. Sadly and despite the proven outcomes, owing to the effort it takes most people don’t do it this way. I think this is also to do with the social norms around you and whether colleagues are doing the same. But I think it does explain my youngest son’s shock exam result. Over the Easter break he really struggled with one particular subject. There was lots of frustration as he tried past questions and struggled until he worked them out. He was worried he might fail that subject or barely pass. So he really wasn’t expecting to get 93%. I’m hoping he continues to put this level of effort into his learning as not only will he get a good degree, he’ll also be able to apply his knowledge well.

So in my coaching I have decided to be more comfortable with coachees struggling to understand or apply insights: To pull back on how soon I ‘save them’ and to think of different questions to get them to apply it themselves. Also in training, I will be more congruent in handling the participants’ desire to have the learning made quicker and easier for them, as my focus is not on whether they can recite the information but on them making a difference with it in their work. Also I would be more in favour of a modular approach spaced over four or five weeks rather than two full days. Five years ago we were forced to design a training workshop in that manner and it was highly successful. I had always wondered how much having weekly sessions had contributed to that. Now I am sure it did.

It is spooky how things come together: Two weeks ago I attended an alumni day for neuroscience and coaching although it was very much about wellbeing. At home I have a copy of “The Polyvagal Theory” by Stephen Porges as it is about the ‘neurophysiological foundations of emotions, attachment, communication, self regulation’. A number of articles referenced it so I thought it would be good to read at some time. Ten years ago I had been recommended to read “Healing without Freud and Prozac”. Despite the title, the first chapter on cardiac coherence turned out to be a revelation. I called it ‘happy heart breathing’ as fundamentally it was deep regular breathing focussed on breathing in warmth and compassion, on the in-breath. It really did calm my nerves and anxiety although it was difficult to know when you had coherence so I didn’t use it with others. Anyway, back to the Alumni day. So I was really excited when HeartMath gave us a demonstration of their device which is all about monitoring and achieving cardiac coherence or Heart Rate Variation (HRV). If you work with people around stress, anxiety, self regulation or anger then I would suggest having a look at the Heart Math website or the ‘Healing’ book I mentioned. I’ve started using a HeartMath device so I’ll let you know how it goes.

Now I’ve started to read ‘The Polyvagal Theory’ and it is about the same thing (HRV) although in much more technical detail. The real icing on the cake, for me and my doctorate, is the statement on page 6 “…I immersed myself in the literature and read hundreds of articles and numerous books …. The polyvagal theory was the product of this work …” Sounds very much how I envisage my research being undertaken in Phase one. It is such a relief to know that someone else has done something similar and has been successful. I suspect the push back will be that he’s been in this arena since the 1960’s. Also, as with my starting point, his work emanated from his “curiosity in biobehavioural systems and (his) dissatisfaction with the prevalent models that integrated physiological state with behaviour”. I think this could be part of my opening statement when presenting my research proposal.

I have now started investigating which neuroscientists are looking at ‘The Self’ or something which unifies or regulates everything we do for our own survival. There seem to be quite a lot of promising leads although I could do with knowing who is currently working in this area – any thoughts?

Currently I have come across Ramachandran and he has some interesting material: Radio 4 lectures, Brain website and article on the Electric Brain. He is at the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California. He appears to be the person who developed the mirror technique for resolving phantom limb problems.

Finally, I need to look deeper into Dan Siegel’s work as his introduction to the HeartMath eBook talks about the Mind as a self-regulating and complex system. Seems as if I need to read up on Complex Systems Theory but I think I need another cup of coffee (and a holiday) before I do that. Oh yes, and there’s those 500 dense pages of Schore’s book as well!