Whadaya KNOW?

I know, I KNOW, I KNOW yelled by son from the other room. Yeah, I thought, you KNOW but you won’t do it! How many times have we heard the familiar trio of I know’s from our kids, subordinates, or spouse? Better yet, how many times have you said it to your parents (even as adults), your boss, your teacher or your spouse? I know I have many, many times.

Knowledge is a funny thing. Our brains record, categorize, file, and retrieve billions of bits of information every day, but it doesn’t ENSURE we use the most recent data.

If you’ve ever tried unsuccessfully to stop a behavior you KNOW is no longer serving you or learn a new way to deal with an undesirable one, you understand what I’m talking about. Usually, whatever you learned first is what sticks unless you work at it.

For example, I have spent more than a little time trying to move my hands in a graceful manner when dancing. I know how to do it when I am going very slowly and concentrating, but when I dance ‘naturally’ my hand go right back to being sticks on the sides of my body, all close-fisted and stiff. Why, I kept wondering…especially after all these lessons?

Well the answer has to do with the way we learn and specifically, how we learn new things. There are essentially two ways we retain new information: through Assimilation or through Accommodation.

With assimilation, new information is linked with the closest match to what has already been learned.  By linking new knowledge with past learned behavior, the new knowledge will become easily cemented into the memory banks of the brain. So if I had taken dance class as a child, I would have some rudimentary link to attach this new learning.

But I didn’t so my brain only knows two things to do with my hands: 1) sit on them or 2) clench my fists so they are not visible. I know it comes from years of being a nervous little nail biting left handed catholic girl. I was reprimanded so many times for doing things ‘left handed’ (it was very bad to be left handed when I was growing up) that I became extremely nervous and began biting my nails. Then I got in trouble for biting my nails, so, I started hiding my fingers and hands from everyone.

So, as in my example, when there is no previous, closely related connection available to the skill, the brain will try to force the new material into some area of prior knowledge (like hand-hiding). Unfortunately this usually causes more confusion than anything, especially if you have had a prior intense or traumatic related learning experience in that area. In this case the new skill must be learned through accommodation instead.

Accommodation requires the brain to create new fields in the brain to accommodate the new information. This process is more difficult and requires more of an effort on the part of the learner, however, just as in repeatedly exercising a muscle creates a stronger one, using the information repeatedly and in many different ways accommodates – so you will actually begin to use the new knowledge when you need it. And the more of your senses (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting) you can employ in learning new information the better chance you will have of actually consistently using the new data instead of playing the old tapes.

So I am trying to use my new knowledge everyday, I no longer expect it to magically begin working for me just because I spent money ‘learning’ something new.

Can you think of ways that you know something but don’t use that knowledge to change old or unhelpful behaviors? For example, do you know how to eat slowly, but you still swallow your food whole everyday? Or do you know you feel better when you exercise but still can’t seem to get your butt off the couch? Or how about knowing how to talk calmly to your children instead of yelling at them, but then still get all crazy-in-their-face before you know what happened?

These are all examples of how you must learn to accommodate the new learning by exercising the muscle. Again, that means you must USE the new information again and again and again, in as many ways possible each and every day. It won’t just happen because you KNOW it now; you must practice the new knowledge. And if you start with just one new thing and practice, practice, practice, you will succeed! But be patient with yourself. It won’t happen overnight…but it will happen – I just KNOW it.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lyka Ricks
    Dec 16, 2011 @ 23:19:22

    How honorable is knowledge, that the one who does not have it, says he does. How dishonorable is ignorance, that the one who has it says he does not. ~Ali bin Abu-Talib obtained from Knowledge quotes

    Reply

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