Foundations of Learning and Memory: Power in Practice

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If you’re committed to a new result or outcome, it becomes necessary to learn new techniques, then develop them into skills and habits.

The primary difficulty in learning new skills and habits is … we must overcome our existing skills and habits.

If the techniques, skills, or habits are totally new, we must create and burn in entirely new thinking, neuromuscular, and memory pathways to create the required thoughts, action patterns, and reliably reproducible habits that apply themselves in real time, when it matters.

How do we create well-worn new thought patterns and neuromuscular pathways?

You do what your football coach or piano or dance teacher would tell you to do: you practice.

Two child playing arrow: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

What is practice?

“Practice: to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient.”

–Merriam Webster

Whatever your new undertaking, it’s probably not rocket science. Even so, the folks who invented and practice rocket science just worked at it until they got it right. Right? Right.

After a class on learning and memory in college, I left with the clear and now permanent recollection that learning and memory is developed and reinforced with the 3 R’s.

The 3 R’s:

  • Repetition
  • Review
  • Rehearsal

Repetition and Review

Repetition and review are key to the success of affirmations (Policies). Affirmations are nothing more than new beliefs and thoughts we invented or took from elsewhere (just like our other thoughts, but affirmations are always chosen intentionally).

In affirming and re-affirming our affirmations (policies) often, we actually begin to believe they’re possible, then probable, then inevitable.

They work on us over time, as we continue to expose ourselves to them. Our brain works on them over time, and sooner or later it constructs an understanding of ways they can be possible, probably, and inevitable in our daily experience.

“The idea felt fragile at first, but like all thoughts it grew stronger the more consideration she gave to it.”

– Legendary – Stephanie Garber

Then, we just have to act like it (this is where visualization, planning, and execution become powerful additions to our arsenal).

Repetition and Rehearsal

Repetition and rehearsal are key to skills development. Every time we perform an action, our brain, nervous system, and body develop an increasingly integrated model for that behavior.

Just as the baby is incapable of walking at birth, it slowly and repetitively develops the core strength to roll over, then sit up, then stand with help, then stand on its own, and finally, take its first steps. Eventually it walks independently, and finally it runs.

None of this happens “automatically”, except the baby is driven by whatever motives to do the things it does that lead to running.

In the same way, the adult can do anything it wants…it’s literally just a matter of “baby steps” to get to the goal.

An old dog CAN learn new tricks. Photo courtesy

An old dog CAN learn new tricks

With the knowledge that any change is possible with intention, focus, and action, it’s no longer a question whether change is possible.

The ultimate question is, what change is worth the bother?

An old dog CAN learn new tricks. The real question is, “why would it bother?”

The advantage to the adult is the baby didn’t even have a plan or the benefit of forethought. Adults can learn faster because they have the capacity to actively set a goal, get help, devise a plan, and actively work toward the goal.

The disadvantage to the adult is they have many distractions and, often, no real need to develop new skills. The baby, however, often has nothing better to do, though it does “suffer” the disadvantage that all its needs are often met, with an available and caring “support staff” — so it has no clearly understood “need” to sit, stand, walk, or run. …unless we conclude that just laying that and waiting to be served may not offer all the richness a human needs in their life.

All 3 R’s are necessary to the development of a skill.

It is a fact that if we tell ourselves or hear something from others often enough, we will begin to believe it.

Analogously, if we practice something enough, we will get good at it. It will become a habit that occurs reliably — whether we like it or not. Every habit we have, good or bad, is the result of intention (whether conscious or unconscious) followed by action.

We can build any new habit we want through exactly the same mechanisms.

Use this neuroscientific fact to your advantage.


Write short answers to the following questions, and include them in your PowerBoard:

  • What was most useful for you here?
  • What one new idea can you take away and begin to use immediately?


Your PowerBoard now contains one or more ideas you can put to use immediately.


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