July 20, 2015

Learning #7

Here is something so obvious that it is a truism: You can’t learn very well or not at all if you are not present. That is, if you are not fully in the here-and-now as far as the time-zone that you are in, you will not get very much or remember very much, to wit, you will diminish your learning. How could you not? If your mind is drifting off into memories of the past—nostalgic members or memories of regress and distress, or if your mind is drifting off into the future—worrying about remembering(!) or planning for dinner or a hot date or whatever—then you are not even present in the present moment to learn whatever is available to learn.

One of the readers of Neurons, Antonina Bivona, wrote after last week’s Meta Reflection (#30) the following which nudged me to write yet another one on the Cognitive Filters which can undermine the ability to learn.

“I think one of the most debilitating mental frames is one’s perception of time. I have noticed over the years a distinct escalating of anxiety about time: how this anxiety affects us, as individuals and as society, seems to me a very important, but not widely acknowledged factor, in diminishing our learning, both our disposition towards new learning and our ability to enjoy the process of learning. Many thanks and best regards, Antonina.”

“The escalating anxiety about time.” Ah yes. I saw and heard this last week in Guangzhou China while doing the ACMC training for Meta-Coaching. What I saw and heard were people so worried about getting the score and reaching the benchmark for their coaching skills that they were not listening to the client who was sitting in front of them. And of course, if you are not listening— then the quality of your support, rapport, questioning, state induction, frame, pattern detection, and on and on will suffer. It will actually suffer a lot! After all, the quality of all of the other coaching skills depends on listening. In other words, on learning— listening to learn the client’s objective, style, patterns, state, etc.

In NLP we recognize that there are several “perceptions of time.” One time-filter is the time-zones (past, present, and future), another is the meta-program of in-time and through-time (actually, out-of-time). The cognitive filter of the time-zones is what keeps seducing all of us to not be present, but to be somewhere else. Regarding this filter, the more I spend my mental-and-emotional energy, focus, and time in the past or in the future, then I will not be present. And if I’m not present, not in the here-and-now, then I will be missing what’s going on in this moment. In terms of learning comprehension and memory, no wonder I don’t do well in comprehending and remembering— two key facets of learning. Here then are two additional cognitive filters which will diminish your learning and your capacity to learn.

Suppose you are anxious about the past, reading what’s happening now in terms of some past event and not able to truly see, recognize, and deal with today for what it is, but constantly coloring it in terms of the past. Then whatever happened in the past will keep blinding you from learning what is possible for you to learn today. Suppose you are anxious about the future, worrying about what the things of today (studying or being assessment) will mean for you tomorrow. That, of course, will send your mind and awareness away from what you are doing now thereby reducing your learning in this moment.

So as obvious as it may seem, you can’t learn very well if you are not present in the here-and-now moment. Yet being present in the now is not easy. In fact, the more you experience and learn— the more likely you will not be present but in another time zone. No wonder Perls constantly urged that we “lose our mind and come back to our senses.”

Regarding the cognitive filter of being in-time or out-of-time, this meta-program enables two divergent skills: spontaneity in the moment and awareness of the movement of the moments and how they fit into the larger scheme of things. This correspond to being in the sensory-awareness of a primary state (in-time) and being in the ability to recognize larger patterns of time from the meta-state of perspective (out-of-time or through-time). Both are important and necessary which explains why you need at least two time-lines to be effective in life.

The in-time filter enables you to be present to experience the moment and to make a vivid representation of what you’ve seen, heard, felt, etc. However, if that’s all you do, you will have lots and lots of experiences without a way to sort things out or meta-learn about them. The out-of-time (through-time) filter enables you to encode when, where, and with whom you had an experience and learning and to put it within a larger framework of meaning.

When you are in a learning mode, how anxious are you about time? Are you worrying that you don’t have enough time? That you are under pressure and have to hurry? Do you use past learning events as a reference point for what the learning that you are now engaged in? When in a learning experience are you fully present and able to slow your sense of time down? How effective are you in your use of time for accelerating your learning? If this interests you, see the book, Adventures in Time (1997) that Bob and I wrote.

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.