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Random Learning? the 8 Random Facts Meme

Orli from Neu­ron­tic tagged me with a new meme –writ­ing about 8 Ran­dom Per­sonal Facts– that is cir­cu­lat­ing among sci­ence blog­gers.  Well, I will hap­pily write about 8 facts that appeared in unex­pected ways yet, seen with per­spec­tive, seem to be a type of non-random ran­dom­ness, if that makes sense…  

  1. As the old­est child, I was the most responsible/ serious/ with best grades…you get the pic­ture. One of my youngest sib­lings spe­cial­ized in teas­ing me and mak­ing my life dif­fi­cult (from my per­spec­tive then). At some point, I real­ized that my auto­matic men­tal reac­tion to any­thing sus­pi­cious that hap­pened in my life (my bike is not where I left it, there are 2 books miss­ing…) was an angry “this must have been my brother!” fol­lowed by intra-family con­flict and the need for UN peace­keep­ers. Let’s say he was respon­si­ble for only 40% of such events…so I real­ized my atti­tude made no sense and it was some­thing I needed to con­trol. So, at some point, I devel­oped the men­tal habit of mak­ing fun of my own stu­pid­ity when­ever that auto­matic reac­tion appeared, and pro­tect­ing a more ratio­nal approach to solv­ing the problem.
  2. Around the same time, at a rou­tine meet­ing between my mother, school staff and myself, some­one made a com­ment along “Alvaro has spec­tac­u­lar grades, but he must under­stand that suc­cess in life does not depend on grades alone”. Fas­ci­nat­ing, I remem­ber think­ing, how can that be pos­si­ble? What may that mean? Is it not “fair” and self-evident that if I have great grades every­thing good will fol­low in life? Maybe this opened my mind to under­stand­ing that “intel­li­gence” goes well beyond IQ…
  3. For many years I kept a journal-like doc­u­ment with brief “lessons learned” and “concepts/ say­ings / real­i­ties I don’t under­stand yet”. Some­thing like a “diary of learn­ing and things to be learned”. I don’t keep such a doc­u­ment anymore…and cer­tainly not because now I under­stand everything.
  4. My last 2 years in high school were extremely social, hav­ing relo­cated to a dif­fer­ent school and form­ing a wholly new group of friends (prob­a­bly try­ing to explore what Point #2 could mean…).  I remem­ber meet­ing dozens of new peo­ple, relat­ing to them, cre­at­ing friendships…yet strug­gling to process all the infor­ma­tion I was gath­er­ing. Many times I would be com­pletely absorbed talk­ing to some­one, unable to add much value to the con­ver­sa­tion, sim­ply fas­ci­nated by lis­ten­ing and try­ing to remem­ber things. Often, 10–20 min­utes after some­thing had been said would I think-too late to actu­ally say it– “hey, there is a funny remark I can make about the pre­vi­ous point”, or “inter­est­ing, the thing before links to news­pa­per story XYZ”, and many other com­ments that, for­tu­nately, today I can mostly make on the fly. I remem­ber think­ing often “ok, what could I have said in that sit­u­a­tion” and men­tally rehearse my remarks. Imag­ine my sur­prise, and self-confidence build-up, when in a few months I could see a marked improve­ment in this abil­ity of “online think­ing and com­ment­ing”. It was one of the many exam­ples I expe­ri­enced of a tem­po­rary strug­gle and frus­tra­tion with the demands of a new situation/ envi­ron­ment that, with atten­tion and prac­tice, led to learn­ing and, now I know, neuroplasticity.
  5. I loved math and for­mal logic in school and under­grad, which may explain why even today I tend to enjoy and remem­ber con­cepts in formula-like expres­sion, such as Learn­ing = Chal­lenge x Feed­back, Hap­pi­ness = Real­ity – Expec­ta­tions, Con­scious­ness = Atten­tion x Work­ing Memory.
  6. Life often feels like play­ing ‘real-life exper­i­ments”. For exam­ple, right after I read Elkhonon Goldberg’s The Wis­dom Para­dox, I FedExed him a let­ter ask­ing for some clar­i­fi­ca­tions and invit­ing him to open a dia­logue to see how to build a com­pany based on some of the con­cepts he dis­cussed in the book. For­tu­nately, he responded. When Andreas, our new sum­mer intern, wrote to me a sim­i­lar email last month propos­ing a sum­mer project, I knew I wanted to help in his own experiment.
  7. In a Stan­ford class I defined myself as a “learn­ing micro-organism”. The pro­fes­sor said some­thing like “that sounds a bit exces­sive”. Well, I meant it, and I still mean it. Maybe now I would sim­ply say the “micro-organism” part, given both that learn­ing is implicit and a new empha­sis on con­tribut­ing to soci­ety and cre­at­ing change in other micro-organisms. Or maybe not, given that learn­ing is core.
  8. In another class, on Cre­ativ­ity, I learned some basic con­cepts and prac­tices that my most “ana­lyt­i­cal” mind hadn’t appre­ci­ated until then. Breath­ing, med­i­ta­tion, mind­ful practice…are extremely pow­er­ful tech­niques for cre­ativ­ity, emo­tional self-regulation and hap­pi­ness, that I dis­cov­ered quite by chance at a Stan­ford Busi­ness School class on cre­ativ­ity. Ran­dom? I’d guess only up to a point.

In short:  “what is ran­dom”? what is “not random”?

Btw, now I know that I was chang­ing my brain all along…who would have known?

Finally: this meme also asks me to now tag 8 other blog­gers. But I pre­fer not to impose this on other peo­ple: if you have a blog, and want to con­sider your­self tagged with this “8 Ran­dom Per­sonal Facts” by me, sim­ply do so and write about it!

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