I watched my toddler granddaughter’s anxiety mount as she attempted a new task. “I tan’t do it!” she announced and went marching down the hall with her head down, in the dramatic way she has of dealing with technical mysteries. Her mother followed to offer encouragement and asked, “Are you frustrated?” “Yes!” the little one agreed, “I am fuss-u-wated.” Her mother urged her to try again. The answer was “I don’t want to.”
Each time I visit, I see her learning so many new things and I wish I could help her understand a concept she’s too young to grasp – that experience makes everything easier. The knowledge of how we learn can offer the assurance that we will get it if we keep trying.
I’m reminding recalcitrant beginners of every age that new isn’t as scary now as it was when we were younger, because we already have experience at learning. Older people can’t learn? Nonsense. Won’t learn? Unfortunately sometimes true.
My learning process hasn’t changed much with added years. I digest new data by going through it three times, and then, most of the time, it’s mine. First, when approaching something involving substantial motor skills, I like to see it demonstrated. For other kinds of tasks, I learn by watching it or reading it for myself. Second, I need to write it down, making notes I can refer to later. Third, I’m ready to try. Eventually I’ll absorb some version of what’s being taught.
The biggest difference these days is that I’m selective about when and where to fire up the learning process. I’m aware that I don’t have all the time in the world and I know what interests me, so I choose to learn first the stuff that I want to know or need to know.
For people who’ve decided they don’t need any new data, there’s plenty of science at work to show that using our brain cells really does help keep us healthy while at the same time forming new brain cells.
I wish people wouldn’t say “I can’t” when what they really mean is “I don’t want to.” We don’t need any more negative myths about aging.
Ó By Anita Garner