It’s never too late to learn

It is a common misconception that our capability of learning declines with age and it becomes difficult to learn and master new stuff in the later part of life. This false belief keeps us from acquiring new skills and as a result of that our lives become stagnant in terms of self-development.

However, a number of researches in the field of neuroscience have proved that the brain’s ability to change and form new neural connections (knows as neuroplasticity), which is the key to learning, remains intact through most of our lifetime and only declines due to certain disorders and diseases. Even in case of trauma or injury to brain, the brain is very much capable of compensating the damage by forming new paths.

One of the proven ways of learning and mastering a new skill is derived from the Japanese way of learning martial arts, known as Shu-Ha-Ri. It is a pattern of learning that takes you through three sequential stages: Shu (follow the rule), Ha (break the rule) and Ri (be the rule).

In the first stage, follow the rule (Shu), you must follow the prescribed pattern consistently. Following the same pattern rigorously, ensures that connections in brain are wired permanently (hypothetically) and can be recalled with minimal effort. As a result, you not only become confident but also realize the value and underlying importance of each small step. The most important factor at this stage is focus.

In the second stage, break the rule (Ha), you become confident enough to start tweaking parts of the pattern to make it more suited to the context and situation on hand. This tweaking or fine-tuning is only possible if you have mastered the basics. In this way, you always have a proven standard way to revert back to in case your experimenting does not come up with the desired results. So, you do more of what have worked and avoid what have failed based on your previous experiences at this stage.

In the last stage, be the rule (Ri), you start integrating your learning into a new pattern or approach. Now that you have mastered every step and you understand more about what works well in a particular situation, your unique style starts to emerge from your journey through the previous stages. The process, which once seemed scientific and mechanistic, has become your new art.

The importance of going through each stage can be derived from the famous Qantas Airline QF32 case, when Captain Richard de Crespigny was able to land an Airbus A380, handing for disaster, and saved 440 passengers by simply focusing and following the basic principles of flying, which he learnt while flying a very basic Cessna aircraft, with almost no computerized controls.

This article first appeared at

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