Written By Lara Gillease
Have you ever noticed how young babies are constantly doing new things, things that are brand new to them?
What a thrilling experience it is to be present the first time a child crawls or walks or says “mama”. When the child, for the first time, puts together things to form a first new intention, you can see the wheels turning.
As an observer, it’s almost palpable to feel the ‘Aha’ moment. Anyone who has closely observed a child do something intentionally for the first time (or an adult for that matter) can say it is a one of a kind experience.
Think of a time when you were attempting to figure something out or understand something new.
You may have felt frustration as you explored different ways to solve the dilemma.
When you found a solution, did you notice feeling the ‘Aha’ moment as a great revelation? Did you feel a sense of accomplishment? A feeling of ‘I did it!’? A sense of – ‘Wow that was amazing – to not know and then to know.’
If so, then you were experiencing turning your Learning Switch* on or being in learning mode.
It’s a very internal process, recounting how you accomplished it exactly.
This recently happened to me when I took up learning a golf swing a few years ago. I found a golf pro named Jack to give me a few lessons. He gave me all the instructions on how to hold the club and swing.
As with most beginners, I found myself missing the ball or nicking it so it just rolled off the tee.
Then there was this one swing when it all came together. I actually felt and heard the ‘crack’ of the club as I hit the ball. And for a moment I had this euphoric feeling – the feeling of the movement of twisting myself during the swing and the impact of the club and ball reverberating up through me as I hit it.
But then I heard Jack yell and jump up and down (relieved and thrilled I finally hit the thing), “Good! Good! Good!”
His excitement completely took me by surprise. I was already completely surprised by the feeling of intensity in hitting the ball that squarely.
Just moments before, I had been internally focused with a very calm mind. Then, in the next moment, I was caught up his excitement – taking the focus off my process.
After we watched the ball soar thru the air and land some distance away, he turned to me and said, “Now do that same thing again.”
I thought and thought, but realized I had no idea what I had just done – the movements or even how I set up the swing. In fact, my only memory of the whole experience was his excitement. I couldn’t remember a single thing I did or felt that produced my desired outcome. It had quickly evaporated.
For the rest of the lesson, I continued as I had previously – either not hitting the ball at all or barely nicking it with the result of the ball barely leaving the tee.
Now that may have been my outcome anyway, even if Jack hadn’t responded with so much excitement. However, it is possible that my ability to recall at least some of the sensations I had during the good hit vaporized because of his reaction.
This way of showing intense enthusiasm could have interfered with my process of learning. I knew Jack was only well-meaning in his teaching. However, he didn’t understand how our brain works when we do something new for the first time.
If Jack had waited quietly and calmly as the ball soared through the air, it would have let me experience the outcome of my being able to act in accord with my intention. The reward of hitting the ball itself – both the inner sensations I felt as this happened and observing my mechanics that led to this great connection with the swing, were interrupted.
I believe if he had waited quietly it would have helped me study what just happened and be more likely to re-produce a similar kind of swing. As well, he didn’t need to say, “Now do that again.” I already knew that.
As an observer (Mom, Dad, family member, or therapist) of seeing a child accomplish something new for the first time, and possibly being a contributor to that process, you may want to jump for joy and clap your hands.
This can be detrimental, however, to new learning and from being something they are able to repeat. It distracts them from their inner experience and draws attention away from their self-study and the feeling of how they achieved it. (Much like in my golfing experience.)
So while it is amazing when a child learns something new for the first time, like seeing a child roll over for the first time, crawl toward a favorite toy, or take first steps, it is important to not take their focus away from them and interrupt it with your reaction. When you do it outwardly, like clap your hands and cheer the child on, it can detract from the child’s inner experience.
What can you do instead? You can feel the joy inside – glowing with your own Enthusiasm*. But be a silent, benevolent observer. Inwardly you can revel, but outwardly remain neutral and calm.
New learning is fragile initially. Another way of saying this is that new neural pathways are extremely delicate when they are first formed. It is only later after the pathways have been solidly formed through multiple times of use at different times and in different situations that this kind of excitement will not inhibit the pathways.
So stay calm, rejoice inwardly and remember to let the child have their inner experience unremarked. This gives the learner greater organization to their brain and ultimately helps the brain become a better problem solver, as increased capacity for problem solving in one area can produce better problem solving globally.
*The Learning Switch and Enthusiasm are two of Anat Baniel Method (ABM) NeuroMovement’s Nine Essentials for learning. Anat Baniel’s easy-to-read book, Kids Beyond Limits, is a guide for parents and caregivers that identifies the process that is necessary for positive brain change and learning.
Lara Gillease teaches special needs children and infants how to learn to do new things, become better learners and start thriving. She is an Anat Baniel Method NeuroMovement Practitioner/Teacher as well as a Teacher Trainer to certify new practitioners in ABM NeuroMovement. She is President & Founder of Lara’s Integrative Movement since 2000. To learn whether the child in your life could benefit from one-on-one lessons, set up a Free Get Acquainted Call with Lara by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.