Note: This was one of the earliest posts on this blog, written almost four years ago. I think it is still relevant and useful, so I’ve moved it up to the top. -gf
In the early 90s, I was a flight instructor at Watsonville, CA (WVI), teaching primary students how to get an airplane off the ground, take it somewhere else and land again without bending anything important. For the students, this took a fair amount of effort, not to mention a sizable investment of time and money.
One of the things that I realized after a while was that very little learning was done in the airplane. It’s a high stress environment, in which (at least by the end of their training) the student needed to aviate, navigate and communicate simultaneously and there was no pulling off to the side of the road to sort things out. Because they were operating at full mental capacity most of the time, there was simply no space to absorb new information. So my mantra became: you learn on the ground, you practice in the air.
In my current life as a web developer and adviser to many people on all things Internet, I often find myself in mental overload and I know that at those times, my ability to learn and think creatively is diminished. I don’t have a solution to this, other than to recognize it and know that at those times all I can do is practice what I already know.
It’s clear to me that we need time away from our daily chores to create, generate new ideas, take the long view, to learn. A few things that I find help facilitate this process:
- Spend some time focusing your attention on one thing, while not actually working on it. I often spend 15 or 20 minutes doing this before getting out of bed in the morning.
- Spend time in the presence of something that inspires you. For me, this almost always involves music but it could be just about anything.
- Talk with other people about Big Ideas. They don’t need to be put into action but who’s to say that they won’t be.
Of course, in most cases we want our learning to have a practical outcome. It seems to take a lot of switching back and forth between learning and practicing before we can produce something of value, especially something new. I’m very interested to know how you go about about finding the balance. Please leave your thoughts and ideas in comments.
Piper Tomahawk Photo by Simon Schoeters. [Note: I’ve spent a lot of time in Tomahawks, including during my own primary training at Santa Monica (SMO), where there was a tower controller who insisted on calling them “Tommyhawks”. Good times.]
tom maguire says
I find that project oriented learning is the most efficient way for me to acquire new abilities. Once I know what I'm trying to accomplish, whether it is a dialect for acting or software facility for a web site project, I then can go about learning. It requires a "no procrastination" policy for me to do this and be comfortable learning and producing as I go.
Kristi Robinson says
This was very interesting Greg. What you are describing can be supported by brain research. We know now that there can be no new learning unless someone has been brought into a relaxed state. Under any type of stress or pressurized situation, the front part of our brain (frontal lobes) actually shuts down. It's yet another reason why I love being a Waldorf teacher. I get to spend most of my time finding out what the perfect rythm for my class is before I bring something new. I can gauge the class's ability to absorb the new material. Then I can bring the new concept or we can spend more time experiencing what we already know through art, activity and practice. Thanks for the link! 🙂
P.S. Also not a surprise that you find it comfortable to do some concentrated work in the morning. As we sleep we digest new information and activities and we awake with a healthy level of forgetting and remembering. We are then the most fresh for a little bit of something new. Hence…..morning main lesson…….only practice in the afternoons!
I do find it easier to do creative work in the morning. To do so later in the day, I find it helps to take a short break between tasks and make a fresh start. Even with that, I'm only good for one or two sustained creative tasks in a day.
Full disclosure: Kristi (Mrs. Robinson to her students) is my son's 5th grade teacher. She knows whereof she speaks.