Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to change or learn something new like another language or a new skill?
Most of us know that our brain is divided into 2 sections, the long term and the short term brain.
The long term brain doesn’t think much; it just retrieves stored information and can do this very fast.
While the short term brain is capable of dealing with complex problems, it’s much slower in processing them and generally very lazy.
When we are asked a complex question, the long-term brain will try to answer that question first and depending on the connections between information stored in our brain, comes up with some idea. If for whatever reason, it can’t find any connection, it passes the question on to the short-term brain, which is far more analytical and better designed for complex situations.
However, because the short-term brain is so lazy and the long-term brain so hyperactive, often the long-term brain will spit out anything that could be seen as an answer without checking if it is correct.
I am sure you experienced this yourself when someone asks you a trick questions, and you completely fall for it.
The reason the long-term brain can be so active is that it manages the vast amount of stored information in the brain and doesn’t have to compute much to retrieve any data at all. In contrast, the short-term brain can only manage a few items at the time (4-6).
There is a simple test you can do to see this in action. Remember the numbers 4013. Now cover it up and add 1 to each of the numbers.
If that wasn’t difficult enough, try the same but add 3 to each number. So 4013 becomes 7346.
This is our short-term brain in action. Try to remember the following number 7102. Again our short-term brain will keep it in memory, but as soon as it is distracted with something else, it loses focus, and you forget the numbers. Now turn this number around to 2017. This is this year. You will have no problem remembering this number as it is stored in your long-term brain. If I ask you what year it is, your always active long-term brain will spit out the answer without bothering the forever lazy short-term brain.
Coming back to learning something new, this means you need somehow get this new information into your long-term brain, and this can only be done by repeated input from your short-term brain. But because the short-term brain is so lazy, it does require some effort to move it into action. As we know, today, only tasks which can’t be quickly answered by the long-term brain are passed on to the short-term brain for processing. And that will only work if you put yourself into positions your long-term brain can’t deal with, and this feels very uncomfortable.
If I drop you off in the middle of Paris and you can’t speak a single word of French you could probably say that this is an uncomfortable position to be in. Especially if you need to communicate to find your way home when talking to someone, you will most likely be highly concentrated on understanding what they say, and this is your short-term brain in action. Everything it picks up, it will pass on to the long-term brain, and if the information is repeated often enough it is entirely stored and connected in the long-term memory. These are the things you will remember once you get back home and probably won’t forget that quickly. You’ve learned something new.
If you want to learn something new, put yourself in a difficult situation. Sometimes it can be something as simple as changing the font of a text to a font that is difficult to read to get your short-term brain engaged. The balance on one leg while conjugating a new verb or anything like this could work for you. Have fun with it and challenge yourself and learning something new won’t be a problem any longer.
When are you going to feel uncomfortable next?