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What Will You Learn Today?

What Will You Learn Today?

What Will You Learn Today?

    A Typical Life?

    I gotta be honest, I really like my life. Of course I have my moments (being human and all), but for the most part, it rocks. Not a day goes by where I am not thankful for, or totally aware of, what I have and what I’ve been given. Of course it’s not always a normal, conventional or typical life by any means (but who has that?) – and sure, I’ve disappointed my long-suffering mother by not providing her with the expected grandchildren to this point in time – but it’s a fun life nonetheless. Sorry about that, Mary. I’ll do better.

    Naah, I probably won’t.

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    What do You Like Most About Your Life?

    Anyhoozle… someone asked me recently what I like most about my life. “Good question”, I replied. I pondered for a moment and while I get to do lots of cool things, I concluded that the funnest (a word) thing about my life right now is the people I get to meet and learn from. To say I meet a broad cross-section of people would be a massive understatement. From elite athletes to fat business people. From celebrities to people battling life-threatening diseases. From the arrogant to the humble. From the powerless to the powerful. From the well-known to the unknown. From the financially rich to the spiritually rich. From prisoners to prophets. From the angry to the enlightened. And from the obsessed to the apathetic. Yep, they have all taught me something. Knowingly or not. Intentionally or not.

    Interestingly, some of the most negative, self-obsessed, self-destructive and problem-focused people have taught me the most. Specifically, how not to be and what not to do.

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    Where we Choose to Learn

    I have always been a keen observer of people and a passionate student of human behaviour; even as a young boy. Long before I understood what the term behavioural psychology meant, I was studying people, absorbing and processing information and learning lessons. Life lessons. People lessons. Communication lessons. Leadership lessons. Management lessons. Lessons about manipulation, influence, power, humility, fear, health, success, attitude, happiness…  and a whole lot more. While I enjoyed school and university (to a point), I have always understood that (for me) there were many more valuable truths to be uncovered beyond the (traditional) classroom. I have always found people to be fascinating, inspiring, curious, amazing, confusing, selfish, selfless, fearful, courageous and profoundly interesting creatures.

    I have learned that being a student is a choice. As is humility. As is honesty. As is personal growth.

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    My Philosophy on Learning

    I have a somewhat “cheesy” mantra that I wheel out periodically and while I hate the over-used, self-help cliches that typify so much of what’s painful and annoying about the field of personal development, the following statement is an accurate and honest representation of my attitude towards learning:

    “The world is my classroom, each day is a new lesson and every person I meet is my teacher.”

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    As trite as it might sound, the above ideology can be both enlightening and transformational when we truly understand and embrace the power and potential that comes from living in this kind of paradigm.

    The Non-Learner

    In truth, some people have not learned (listened, changed, grown, improved, adapted, paid attention, asked a question) in twenty years; just take a look at the kind of results they produce, how little of their ability they use, how much of their time they waste and how their existence is typically one of repetition, frustration and mediocrity. And complaining. Groundhog Day for the perpetually miserable and unfulfilled. For a range of reasons, they have chosen not to learn new things. It seems that some people are too proud, fearful, arrogant, busy, distracted, insecure or lazy to learn. What a pity, what a waste (of everything) and what an unnecessary reality to inhabit.

    Opening Our Eyes

    If we so choose, our world (the one we create and inhabit) can be different from now… or like too many others, we can keep living our life in a holding pattern. We can be problem-focused or lesson-focused; it’s a choice. It’s a mindset. Some choose to whine and bitch, others to learn. From right now we can open our eyes, shift our attitude, learn new things and produce better results, simply by looking at old things in new ways. Internal shift produces external shift. That is, transformation always works from the inside-out. If there’s a genuine desire to learn, the lessons will always be there. In fact, they are always there but we fail to pay attention. If only we would listen to what life (God, the universe, subconscious us) is saying. The wisdom is there. The truth is there. The joy is there. And the lessons are there for anyone who chooses to be a seeker and a student.

    So what have you learned lately? Do tell! Feel free to teach the rest of us something by sharing any recent revelations, insights, life-lessons or moments of clarity. And as always, feel free to share your thoughts on this article.

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    Craig Harper

    Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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