I am still pushing the importance of paying attention, as I move into lesson three. That’s because the most significant thing you can do to undergird your learning and study is to “Pay Attention”.
The code-word I use for this first of the three keys I am presenting in this series is “Recognition”. Recognition summarises all that you take note of as you give attention to the matter at hand. Whether you are in a lecture, reading a book, researching something or in a group investigation session you can only understand and give attention to things that your recognise.
Can You Hear It?
I recall an incident when I was learning clarinet as a young teen that is relevant here. My teacher noted how poor my tone was. In order to help me see the importance of practice and improvement he asked me to play a particular note. I did so. Then he played the same note.
He then asked me, “Can you hear the difference?”
He could tell by my blank expression that I could not, so he had me repeat the process. I played the note and then he played it. Again he asked me, “Can you hear the difference?”
He looked hopefully into my eyes and I so wanted to make him happy. But I could not tell any difference between his playing and mine. I told him so and he slumped in his chair and went back to teaching me something else.
I could not recognise whatever he wanted me to see. So how could I learn or memorise what I could not see. And that same principle applies to you. You cannot learn or memorise something if you don’t even see it in the first place.
When you recognise something you have a chance to get a handle on it, study it, learn it and memorise it. So opening your eyes, paying attention and comprehending what you see is a vitally important issue in your learning journey.
Be attentive to the chance to perceive at a deeper level. If those around you claim to see something you don’t see, jump in and ask them to explain what they see. Be sure to get your eyes open to the meaning, distinctions, discrete elements and relevant issues of the thing at hand.
When Austin Henry Layard and other archaeologists first discovered the ruins of ancient Nineveh the sites were pillaged for the valuable and beautiful artefacts. Museums scrambled to get the best items on display.
The sites also contained thousands of clay tablets, but no-one could read them and they were piled in abundance. Those who worked at the sites could not understand the “bird tracks” scratched on the tablets, and neither could most of the experts. So they were treated with disregard before many were shipped back to London and stored in the museum basement.
The man who deciphered the bird tracks was George Smith a self-taught Assyriologist, with a background in engraving. His eye was trained to see minute distinctions and read tiny text. Under his discerning eye the clay tablets yielded their abundant wealth of information.
He could ‘recognise’ what others could not discern. And thus was opened a wealth of knowledge.
Reticular Activating Device
A great tool you have on your side is your brain’s Reticular Activating Device (RAD). This mental facility causes your brain to either notice or discard information.
If you are in the habit of discounting the things you see you have probably programmed your brain to not pay attention. If, however, you have a reason to take note of something, your RAD gives priority to that thing and pays attention to it.
The popular example is that when you buy a car you suddenly notice all the other vehicles of the same make and colour as yours. Or when a name is made noteworthy to you, maybe because you have a new friend by that name, you become much more aware of others that have the name. Your brain is switched on to that particular reality now and pays attention to it in a new way.
As soon as you have given mental note to a name, date, design, colour, fact, or whatever, your brain will signal you when it crops up again in your field of attention. The brain begins to pay particular attention to whatever you have so programmed, even though you are not consciously looking for it.
Since the RAD is so powerful you are wise to use it to your advantage. You can do that by programming it to look out for key things. This is a great study tool.
When you introduce a new concept or element into your thinking your brain puts that thing onto its scanner and alerts you to its occurrence. If you are a poor student, who does not pay attention and does not make mental note of things, then the RAD is operating in a fog.
If you are a disciplined thinker and make mental note of the new bits of information being given to you, taking care to “recognise” them and their significance, then your RAD is well primed to be attentive to that thing.
If I spent time with you pointing out how often different news services give reports of the same event each day that are contradictory to each other I could probably activate your RAD, so that you notice them yourself. If I do not program you to recognise that happening then your mind will blur it over and not see it happening, even before your very eyes.
So, look for ways to get your RAD working for you. Program it effectively and get your sensory perception on side for your study and learning experiences. Activate your ability to be attentive to things you previously missed.
Attention is the heart of learning and study. It is your mental focus. Don’t blame the teacher or the text book if you do not have the ability to pay attention and focus your mind.
It is up to you to be aware of what is going on around you and in you.
In the 1970’s someone popularised the saying, “Be Alert! The world needs more “Lerts”! That stupid saying attempts to address the very issue I’m pressing on you here. You must give mental focus to your whole life. If you are not good at that, then today is the time to make the change.
My Kiwi friend Sam gave me a great example of how attaching understanding transforms our ability to recognise and remember information. Sam’s Swiss surname was hard for most English people to cope with. The name is Abplanalp. Just seeing the written word was enough to have people pausing.
Sam developed an effective way to get people comfortable with his name. He told the story of the origin of the name.
Sam explained that in the Swiss Alps there are places where large elevated planes have formed high in the mountains. Homes and villages grew there, and that is where his family lived for centuries.
People who came from these alpine planes were given the name that means ‘from the plane on the alp’. In Swiss that is, “Ab” (from) “plan” (plane) “alp”, Abplanalp.
From that moment on I found Sam’s name a piece of cake (so to speak).
Build Your Vocab
A final suggestion on this first key of Recognition is that you build your vocabulary.
Vocabulary expands our awareness and increases our powers of discernment. If we do not have words for things then we very likely don’t even know those things exist, so we don’t ‘recognise’ them. By building your vocabulary you introduce new ideas, distinctions and shades of meaning.
Missionaries going to remote tribes in Papua New Guinea found some whose counting went, “1, 2, 3, 4, Many”. Once they got to five they could not distinguish the many. They described 12, 187 and 22,000 with the same word, “Many”. A limited vocabulary means that an abundance of distinctions are lost to you.
Do you talk or mumble? Are you grumbling, mumbling, whining, whimpering, whispering, wailing, rasping, raving, rambling, reminiscing, responding, reacting, reiterating, berating, bellowing, bragging, boasting, belittling, explaining, expounding, expositing, exploding, confusing, corroborating, crowing, or clowning around? All those various shades of meaning and significance rely on the meanings of those different words. The word “talk” does not do justice to the many possibilities.
In case you missed the point of these first three lessons on Study Skills, you need to PAY ATTENTION. Develop the ability of Recognition, with your mental antenna twitching and taking note of things known and unknown.
Find the meaning, focus on things, expand your vocabulary to expand the degrees of distinction you can make, and Be Alert. Remember, the world needs more of them.
To see the other posts in this series click the links below….