Tag Archives: Norman Doidge

Learning How to Learn

We humans are born poised for learning. But we don’t necessarily know how to learn what doesn’t come easily to us.

Blue exam book cover. Tests are useful to the learning process, it turns out.For years after I finished college, I had a recurrent nightmare. I was sitting down to take a final exam, and I realized I hadn’t even opened the textbook. As you might guess, I’d had a rocky time in college. It was a liberal arts school where the ideal was to be studying all the time. Our workload reflected that. I literally got every grade you can get, from A+ to F.

A lot has changed since then, but one thing hasn’t: I’m still curious about myself and the world around me. I love learning. So when I stumbled across a reference to “learning how to learn,” I immediately clicked on the link.

It lead me to a New York Times article about an online course taught by Barbara Oakley and Terry Sejnowski. Oakley had failed science and math in high school. She decided in her twenties to get an engineering degree and taught herself how to learn the material which didn’t come easily to her. Now she’s an engineering professor.

When I read that, I signed up for the course immediately. Hey, it’s free! (Unless you’d like a certificate: then it’s $49.) And the info’s invaluable.

The material, backed by research in neuroscience—with plenty of supplemental material if you want to dig deeper—complements what I’ve learned, from a different perspective, as a Feldenkrais teacher.

tomato kitchen timer

A Pomodoro kitchen timer. “Pomodoro” means “tomato” in Italian.

Just a few of the concepts from the course:

  • Emphasize the process not the product
  • Practice the Pomodoro technique: studying in 25-minute periods
  • Give yourself rewards
  • Alternate between focused and diffused attention
  • Spread your learning out over time; don’t try to pack it all into one or two days
  • Get a good night’s sleep before exams

I wish this course had been offered before I went to college. I’m certainly glad I’ve taken it now.

Going deeper with learning

Are you ready to learn how to learn? Register for the course here, on Coursera. Apparently it’s their most popular course, by far. I’m not surprised.

Would you like to discover more about how the Feldenkrais Method® supports learning? Here are core principles suggested by Norman Doidge, MD.

Learning More about the Pioneer of Feldenkrais

To learn more about the pioneer of the Feldenkrais Method®, Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc., there’s no better source than the recently published first volume of his biography, Moshe Feldenkrais: A Life in Movement.Cover of the biography of Moshe Feldenkrais, pioneer of the Feldenkrais Method

At 566 pages (including footnotes), the book is a remarkable achievement. Author Mark Reese worked closely with Dr. Feldenkrais, and was himself a teacher of the method, as well as a scholar.

Describing Moshe Feldenkrais, Norman Doidge, M.D., writer of two bestsellers on neuroplasticity writes in the book’s preface: “Genius of the magnitude possessed by Moshe Feldenkrais, defies categorization. . . [it’s] a fastidiously researched, exciting, profoundly insightful story, that gets deep inside the mind of the swashbuckling, theatrical, brilliant integrator, as he lived through many of the greatest intellectual, political, and scientific events of the the 20th century. . . who in his struggle to overcome his own major injury, pioneered a unique way of teaching people to learn how to learn, and to change their brains, by increasing awareness of whatever they did. . .”

May 6 is Moshe’s birthday. I never met him in person, but am forever grateful to have discovered his work. Here he is teaching a public workshop, speaking about good posture and Campbell’s soup. Happy birthday, Moshe!

Moshe Feldenkrais: South Bend, Indiana Feldenkrais Method Workshop

Watch the Video

Core Principles of Feldenkrais: Norman Doidge’s Perspective

Adapted from The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge, MD, 2015, pages 168-176.

How the Feldenkrais Method facilitates neuroplastic healingThe cover of The Brain's Way of Healing by Norman Doidge, MD

1. The mind programs the functioning of the brain.

We are born prepared to learn. We can adapt our brains and movement to particular surroundings. Even when we damage our brains, usually plenty of brain remains to take on damaged functions.

2. A brain cannot think without motor function.

Just thinking of a movement triggers that movement, changes tone in that part of our body. Using our brains triggers four components: motor movement, thought, sensation, and feeling.

3. Awareness of moving is the key to improving movement.

Doidge writes: “It may seem ‘magical’ to think that movement problems. . . can be radically changed simply by becoming more aware of the movement, but it seems magical only because science formerly thought of the body as a machine with parts, in which sensory functions are radically separated from motor functions.”

4. Differentiation—making the smallest possible sensory distinction between one movement and another—builds brain maps.

5. Differentiation is easiest to make when the stimulus is smallest.

The less effort we use, the more we can notice. If you’re lifting a piano, you won’t notice if a fly lands on it; if you’re lifting a feather, you will.

6. Slowness of movement is the key to awareness, and awareness is the key to learning.

If you leap too quickly, you can’t look before you leap.

7. Reduce effort whenever possible.

If you are straining, you aren’t learning: if strain, no gain. No pain is gain.

8. Errors are essential, and there is no right way to move, only better ways.

If you don’t make mistakes, you won’t learn. No one speaks her native language perfectly from day one.

9. Random movements provide variation that leads to developmental breakthroughs.

Sometimes it’s useful to wander!

10. Even the smallest movement in one part of the body involves the entire body.

When you’ve got a ball of yarn, whichever part of the yarn you take hold of, the whole ball comes along eventually.

11. Many movement problems, and the pain that goes with them, are caused by learned habit, not by abnormal structure.

Often there’s nothing to “fix.” Improvement can come from changing your movement patterns.

About Norman Doidge, MD

Norman Doidge, M.D., is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, researcher, author, essayist and poet. He is on faculty at the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry, and Research Faculty at  Columbia University’s Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, in New York. He is the author of two New York Times bestselling books on neuroplasticity. Learn more about Dr. Doidge on his website.