Life Style

A New Years resolution that really gets you ahead: Learn new things

Getty Images / Guido Mieth

When the new year arrives, everyone has gone crazy and life slowly starts to roll again, I’ll go to the mailbox and pull out a certificate. I am then an interior decorator. What does that bring me as a career writer? Nothing at all. And yet this course was a great idea for me. I can draw now. I now know how cables should run sensibly, where the light should come from on the desk and what kind of white belongs in which room.

I like further education. Always. If studying were a job, I would apply. Goethe wrote in a letter: “You only see what you already know and understand,” and this is how learning affects our perception. Only when we know that a phenomenon exists do we notice it.

There are many good reasons for further training. Today I would like to look at the neurological perspective: Learning something is worthwhile for your brain. Learning makes you smart and happy.

Learning is a growth explosion for the synapses

Exciting things happen in the brain while learning. With every impression of our everyday life, something changes in the structure of the brain: Synapses, the data structure of our brain, increase each time we walk the same route to the supermarket. The information is strengthened and can be accessed more easily and quickly. The same thing happens when we pull a certain book off the shelf and our eyes wander over the titles of the others. The first time the connection becomes weaker again after a few moments. But at some point the knowledge of the order is firmly anchored.

Learning something new plays a special role in this everyday process. The brain has to work harder. The more ways you go – the more diverse ways you deal with the new knowledge – the stronger the learning effect and the more your whole perception benefits from it.

At the same time, the brain combines information with other information. This is why some of you may think of an old Christmas carol when you smell orange and ginger. I still see my professor of business informatics and project management wandering back and forth through the corridors of our huge lecture hall when I talk to someone about coordinating processes.

Learning makes you smart and happy

All these structures in the head help to process new impressions better. The broader the basis on which we build our knowledge, the easier it will be to sort further information. That is why a drawing course and a nature documentary can move more than the brain jogging app on the train. The knowledge about neuroplasticity is old, it goes back to the psychologist Donald Hebb, who formulated the functioning of the synapses in 1949.

New is a different context: Positive psychology researchers believe that learning makes us happy. The neuropsychologist Rick Hanson points out in an essay that just training to concentrate on something can make us happy. There are now numerous experiments and studies that suggest that the distractions we indulge in everyday make us unhappy. Those who often jump between tasks do not know afterwards what they have done – that makes them unhappy. Training attention with a learning process is part of the happiness effect.

The pride and the self-efficacy you experience are part of it: When you learn, you show yourself that you have something to offer. This experience strengthens connections in the brain. It stores the feeling exactly as described above the factual information.

The turn of the year is a good place to start

Of course, it is actually completely irrelevant when you start learning or how long it takes. But let’s be honest: We humans like distinctive days and self-contained, manageable units. And New Year is probably the most distinctive day of the year, namely the first. It doesn’t matter whether you start a project for the whole year or for January or a quarter. With the decision to learn something new, you are doing something good for yourself.

I still have a few tips: How you approach your further education

1. Be brave when choosing a subject

You can choose something that will advance you professionally. But don’t fall into the trap of wanting to keep collecting certificates to secure your working life. It just doesn’t work in most industries. What counts is what you can do and who you are, not how many training courses you have completed. If you are a young expert, inspiring conferences will take you further than other courses.

For further training, you might prefer something that broadens your horizons. Or satisfy an old longing.

2. Assess the workload

For many courses, the description already tells you how many hours you have to spend per week. It may seem a bit too much to you at times – but don’t underestimate any mid-term exams or homework. It is mostly you who demand the hours. Of course, you don’t have to spend exactly 9 hours every week. But think very specifically about where you can find the recommended time.

3. Make a schedule.

Very simple: write yourself a schedule with deadlines for your progress. You can get an overview of all the teaching material at the beginning of the course, so that you know where you will be faster and where you will be slower. In my further training, I always set myself deadlines of three weeks – only to then find out that I am making pretty quick progress for tasks that have to do with color design or learning knowledge – while drawing tasks, a lot of attempts, time and nerves costs.

4. Think about delayöstruggled after

The training takes a year, but you are sure that you can do it faster? That may be true – but don’t underestimate life. After five months in my training, a huge project came up that absorbed every free minute for four months. That’s okay, that’s normal – but you have to find your way out of such phases. The hardest thing about this situation was starting again.

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