There are many ways to learn. I know that multi-tasking is something we do to fool ourselves into thinking we’re accomplishing a lot, but really, the approach to learning that has always proven most successful for me is to do just one thing. I love any activity that requires intense focus. For me, this usually means busy hands. Baking, drawing, writing, gardening, swimming, skiing, playing piano-I can’t even list the number of solitary focused activities I love to do. I’m very lucky to have these interests, but the monkey wrench thrown into my enjoyment of all of these pursuits is concussion. Sustained attention takes energy and a brain that has been altered by an injury needs support.
This is where my professional background can come into play. I have taught students who need support for their learning for a little more than 25 years. My current assignment (me) is going to rely upon my knowledge of accommodations to support learning. When I have written individual education plans for students, I usually have the classroom environment in mind. A typical classroom may be full of noises and activity, but it is a somewhat controlled environment. There are routines, rules and prescribed expectations for behaviour that are set out and agreed upon by the teacher and students. So when I approach learning for myself now, I approach it in the same way I would set up a classroom.
My current challenge is to teach myself how to draw. It’s mindful, relaxing, and very satisfying. I have organized a space and time to allow myself to succeed in this learning. If you are working on your own healing from a head injury, I offer this 4-pt checklist to help you succeed in your own learning:
- Get organized: Set up a table/desk workspace free from distraction. Take some time to organize materials you will need, keep it tidy, and just for you.
- Background: I need music. I always have a radio or laptop with some type of music that I don’t really listen to, but it blocks out the sound of the ringing in my ears. If you are suffering from over-sensitivity to external stimulus, pick one modality (one sense). For me, music is the obvious choice, but for you, it could by scent- aromatherapy can be very relaxing. A fan, a heater, a lovely fireplace, whatever is calming to you will help you to tune out distractions that may seep into your learning environment.
- Balance: Fatigue is a big issue for a healing brain. If you are at the point at which ten minutes is enough, then that’s fine. You can extend your tolerance for learning by alternating the types of activities you do within an hour, or even a day. I approach learning by alternating the types of activities I’m doing. It’s really important to get up and take breaks from whatever activity you are focused on, so keep an eye on a clock (set a timer if you need to) and move from visual to auditory activities, as well as small and gross (large muscle group) activities.
- One thing at a time: It is really hard to focus on one thing at a time, and I think I have mentioned this in a previous post, but make a decision to complete a task, and stick to it. Then, when you get distracted and find yourself doing something completely off-task, don’t get mad at yourself. Similar to meditation, it’s important to catch yourself off-task, then get back to what you were doing. It’s the awareness of focus that matters, not the ability to maintain it. That’s what you’re rewiring your brain to do through the new activity that you’re learning.
I’m going to leave you today with a link to some background music to augment your learning, whatever it is you choose to do. My niece just posted her own study playlist on this site. I really like it, but if it’s too mellow for you, I’m sure you’ll find something here to enjoy while you work. Concussion recovery is a field of study, and if you have found yourself immersed in it, approach it like a student.