How Learning for fun supports the brain

How Learning for Fun Supports the Executive Functions of the Brain

I love the beginning of a New Year. It’s a marker to pause and spend some quality time developing that fundamental executive function skill of planning and prioritizing, what I refer to as “future thinking.”

Designing the Seeing My Time planner system for adults began with the goal of supporting balance in my life. The yearly Goals/Projects page and the Weekly To Do form has seven categories of focus, not just work and family. I included finances, health, community and learning.

LearningYes, learning is on my list. In fact, just the other day, my dear friend and first EFS team member, Madeline Wyse, gave me what I consider the greatest compliment: “Marydee, you are a learner.” Since she and I began EFS just 10 years ago, I have learned so much about the brain, publishing, developing online courses, manufacturing and building a business that has a global reach. My drive to learn has enriched my own life and those EFS has had the honor to serve.

However, all of THAT learning falls into the category of work. Today I want to focus on learning for fun.

For many people, learning gets a bad rap. That may be due to the association with school and grades, especially for those with executive function challenges. Yes, to be a learner means that you have to step outside of your comfort zone and be a newbie again. It takes courage to risk feeling being incompetent at something new.

Here’s my advice: breathe. It can be difficult to reverse those negative associations. Little by little, embracing new skills will increase your positive associations with learning.

How Learning Helps the Brain

Learning changes our perspective and challenges negative thought patterns. We need daily experiences to think deeply as a learner. According to researcher and author Sandra Chapman, such deep thinking is critical for our brain’s health. Deep thinking builds “bushy dendrites” and increases the neuron connections in the brain. Bushy dendrites are especially useful for supporting executive functions in an aging brain.

Learning something for fun is exciting! It makes life more interesting, in turn making us more interesting. Building a new competence increases self-esteem, something critically important for those who struggle with their executive functions.

What I’m Learning: Self Defense, Bread, History and More

In 2019 I took a self-defense class for women. Though I was smaller and older than just about everyone there, learning those skills was so empowering. This year I want to take a refresher course.

Bird Sketch

Looking forward to my field sketching class!

This fall I entered the world of heritage grains and now I grind my own wheat for baking delicious bread and sourdough crackers. Next week, I’m so excited to spend four afternoons in a Seattle-based class devoted to artisan whole-grain bread baking.

Next fall I’m thrilled to be taking a bucket-list trip to visit Greek archeological sites. To prepare, I’ve been brushing up on ancient Greek history through a course offered by Great Courses (a GREAT resource for learning all kinds of things). I listen to lectures at lunch time.

I will be restarting an online course on Nature Journaling and Field Sketching that got dropped last fall because I was simply working too much and didn’t have the energy and time. I’ve cut back my hours to stop that barrier. I have this adorable little watercolor set, and I am finally going to learn how to use it.

Finally, I learned to cook a goose for Christmas dinner! That was an adventure. It was such a hit that it may become our new tradition.

So, pause and answer the question: What have I always wanted to learn? Write it down as a goal in your planner. That is the first step. Your brain and your soul will be happier!

Happy learning and a healthy new year!

PS: If you need ideas for learning check out all of the courses available from EFS. Join us and other folks who are excited to learn!

About the Author Marydee Sklar

Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program® and the Set Up Success and Seeing My Time® planners. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.

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