Many of us associate learning with studying, teachers and textbooks, but we fail to look at learning in a broader context. Throughout your life, both in and out of the classroom, you are constantly learning—even when you don’t consciously realize it’s happening.
At a young age, we begin to observe and absorb information in all areas of our environment—at home, in school, from family, with friends—all of which help shapes who we are. And when we learn something new and have new experiences, it is directly linked to the ability to change our minds.
When you learn or experience something new, neurons join together to build new synaptic connections, which literally rewires you. And when you remember something, you maintain or sustain those synaptic connections. Then, that fact or idea gets stored as memory in the brain. This newly learned thought remains there until another experience either strengthens or alters it.
So when you say “I learned something new today,” what you are really saying—neurologically speaking—is that you have been exposed to data, stored that information to memory, and can recall it when you need to. And by paying attention to how we learn, we also can understand how habits form and take the necessary steps to break them.
As an adolescent I was not a sporty child, never went to the gym, or did anything physical. When I got older I became aware of my body and wanted to take care of it—but the thought of going to the gym wasn’t appealing to me. One day a friend forced me to go with her. At the end of our session I felt pretty good, so we made it a 3 days a week activity. As time went on, the stronger my synaptic connects became the more exercise became a regular part of my life. To put it simply, I introduced a new thought followed by an emotional reaction, which repeated over time and created a new habit.
Interestingly, experience creates the strongest, most long-lasting synaptic connection. Through your senses of sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing, you mentally record all the information into the brain’s synaptic wiring. These newly formed neural networks cause a release of chemical neurotransmitters that, in turn, produces specific feelings. This is why every experience is followed by a feeling or emotion. To put it simply, feelings are chemical memories.
It’s important to understand that knowledge and experience go hand-in-hand. When you acquire knowledge, you are prepared for new experiences. This explains why the interaction between knowledge and experience creates insight and emotional maturity. Your ability to change is based on your ability to learn from experiences and then to adapt or modify your behavior in the future.