How do we learn things? What causes us to remember events? Why are these questions not mandated in the public school’s curriculum?
There are two primary types of events we remember: 1. A cause of happiness and 2. A cause of severe suffering. Our brains have evolved in order to repeat happiness. To see this, be mindful of your habits. Why are you doing what you are doing? Why are you drinking one more beer? Why are you eating ice cream? Why are you listening to music on your way home from work? I may be wrong, but the answer to all of these is for enjoyment. We’ve learned to act in a certain way in order to feel happiness. And according to The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, the easiest way to change a habit, in other words learn, is to maintain the same reward but change the act.
I understand if you think this is difficult. I love ice cream and it makes me happy. In order to maintain that happiness, I decided to switch to portion-controlled yogurt AND add the thought of the benefit to my health. These two things results in a happiness feeling. Though it is a struggle from time to time.
On the other hand, we have memories full of moments of intense suffering. For me, I remember watching my mom convulse before she died. The feeling of guilt washed over me as I realized I hid from her the months prior. And I remember the time I smashed a milk carton and received 5 minutes on the wall during recess. Plus, the breakups of my life. Oh, the tragedies!
We remember tragedies in order to avoid the suffering which follows. Again, we want happiness. And remembering the causes of great pain helps steer us on a, hopefully, happier path if we are ever to come across a similar situation.
Powerful emotions are connected to our learning. Yes, repetition can help us learn skills, but if they do not have a strong emotional attachment, then those skills will soon be, at least partly, forgotten. We learn toward happiness and away from suffering.
What have you learned today?