Learning to Learn, A Reflection

Learning to Learn,

A reflection on returning to higher education after six years out of formal education

It was January 2016 when I first had the idea for this post. I was beginning the spring semester of my third year. At that time, I imagine I must have felt lighter than ever. I must have. Why? Because there's no other way the idea for this post would have come to mind.

The first two years of my education were brutal. From the very beginning, we were running. Constantly going. Trying to keep up, all while needing to look alive and absorb as much information as possible. That pace continued throughout year one and year two. I struggled. We all struggled in our own way. Simple daily tasks became difficulty, like grocery shopping, preparing meals, exercising and doing laundry. Personally, I was also working a 25/30-hour work week on top of a 30-hour class schedule. Anything and everything was a complete distraction from learning.

I know what you're thinking; there's always an adjustment period when going back to school or starting a new job. Yes, this is true. However, the educational expectations were demanding. I imagine it is comparable to medical or law school. Nonetheless, I was suffocating in my own choices and desires.

Even when learning to learn was hard, then harder, I couldn’t walk away. There was a piece of me so deep inside that wanted this education. You might be thinking that I was out to prove others wrong or that I'm a person who never gives up. I mean, maybe. I've walked away from success and failure before. This process and this education were different. It had captivated me in a way that I can only understand now.

Back when I was defending my learning, I would say, I'm a kinesthetic learner. I must learn in a tactile way. To read a hundred pages does nothing for me. It means nothing. It represents nothing. The truth is, although those are viable statements and every students does learn differently, it was still an excuse.

After two years of devastation: failing quizzes, tests, and even major end of the year comprehensive exams, I finally figured it out. If I wanted this degree, the only person that could help me was myself. That seems obvious. We’re often caught up in how others or things can help us. There were study groups, tutors, flash cards, and other countless avenues of learning. However, the truth was, I needed to stop struggling. I need to stop resisting my own desires. I needed to slow down. I needed to connect to this medicine in my own way. I needed to make it mine.

So what was it? How did I learn to learn? Well, I had to change my tune, my song, my mantra, and my thought process. Once I started to believe that I could study this medicine, work 30 hours, take care of myself and handle day-to-day adult tasks, the fire in me burned stronger.

It sounds silly, but you have got to believe in yourself! Really, truly believe in yourself. Give yourself permission to move through the process of learning to learn. I cried, got angry, made excuses, and threaten to quit. I had to go through any and all necessary emotions to make space within myself. When it felt like there was nothing left and I was exhausted from emotion, the desire to learn this material continued to burn inside!

That was the moment when I decided to empower myself. I began looking for ways to empower my weakness, learning to learn. I read books and websites, talked to classmates and instructors and, watched YouTube videos. I was in search of the absolute best way to learn. Here's what I found:

• Quizlet.com: This website allows you to create flashcards for free. Once the cards are created, Quizlet has many ways to help you learn and remember the materials. My favorite is their test option. Quizlet will automatically create a test of your choice either multiple choice, true/false, fill in, etc. You can test yourself and use their service as much as you like. One of the key ingredients to really learning is to test yourself on what you've learned or think you've learned.

• Make it relatable AND visual. See your material come to life. Create a silly story, watch a short video on the topic, draw, or create a play on words. The more relatable, crazy and outlandish it is, the more likely it is that you'll remember it. For example and to name a few, I used these silly zoo cards to study herbs and watched this YouTube video to remember the cranial nerves. When learning to learn becomes fun and relatable, you are more likely to remember it and want to remember it. Learning is supposed to be fun anyway, right? Pre-school and kindergarten taught us that.

• Make time to forget. I'll explain through an example. On Day 1, study and test yourself on topic A. On Day 2 study and test yourself on topic B. On Day 3, test yourself on Day 1 material. Don't study first. Test yourself first, then study what you missed/got wrong. When we allow time to forget, we call upon our memory for recall, which then creates a stronger memory. This method also demonstrates what category or topic you need focus more on.

• Eat the Frog. Thankfully I don’t mean that literally and neither did Mark Twain who coined the phrase. “If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that it is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.” In my own words, if you spend most of the day or all day doing life administrative tasks that do not contribute to your goal, then you are likely in avoidance. Try eating the frog first. I guarantee you’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment and pride. Plus you’ll be able to the enjoy the rest of your day without the weight of the Frog on your shoulders.

• Last and most importantly, meet resistance with ease. This education clearly wasn't going to come easily to me. I had to come easily to it. I stopped resisting. I had to settle down. When I prepared to study, I was as present as possible with a completely open mind to receive. I also made sure I created an environment to receive information. My space was quiet, I was breathing deep, sometimes I had calming tea and more often than not, I was sitting on my couch. This position and environment helped my whole body to relax, which also relaxed my mind.

 If you’re struggling to learn, formally or informally, look for help within yourself and from others around you. With any struggle or challenge, we need to understand why it is a challenge. Get curious about why you are struggling. Make the choice to empower yourself so that you can empower your weakness!

If you have specific questions, concerns or are looking for guidance on this process, please contact me. I'm happy to help!

Disclaimer: This information is intended for general reference only. It is not a replacement for professional health advice. The content in this post intentionally does not provide dosage information or possible interactions with prescription drugs or other medications. Please contact a certified health practitioner such as a physician of Oriental Medicine or Herbalist before considering use. To schedule an appointment with Malerie, visit the services page.