Interest – the vital component of memory

memoryA middle school student from the United States recently wrote to me to ask me why people are better at remembering different things and why they seem to find some subjects easier than others. Her questions got me thinking and the following is based on what I told the student…

The Role of Interest in Learning and Memory

When I was growing up – in a small city in England – I had to learn Latin for 3 years. Like all subjects, Latin can be a fascinating subject, but the teacher I had for those three years (age 11 to 14) managed to make it unbelievably boring – and his monotone voice didn’t help either. At that stage and age in my life I couldn’t see the point of learning the language and nothing the teacher did or said made it interesting in any way. So within a few short weeks I had decided – “Latin is boring”, which, subconsciously, I told my brain before, during and after each and every lesson. Of course my brain responded accordingly! Bombarded by the “this is going to be/is/was boring” message, it switched off. And of course this became a destructive loop – I kept saying how boring (and difficult) Latin lessons were going to be; I put nothing into the lessons and got nothing out of them; this reinforced the feeling (to my mind the certainty/knowledge) that Latin was boring etc.

A few years later I had completed a Business Degree at university and was studying for my accountancy qualification. As a part of those studies I had to pass complex exams in ‘principles of corporate taxation’. To begin with I found the subject very ‘dry’ – even boring (surprising huh?). But by then I had learnt that labelling something as ‘boring’ or ‘dry’ or ‘difficult’ or ‘uninteresting’ – was not helpful! So instead I focused on the bigger picture – what I would gain by being successful in gaining my accountancy qualification; more money; better career prospects; more interesting work etc. That provided me with the motivation and enough interest to engage properly in the topic. And incidentally although I couldn’t deny that there were aspects of the module that I found very challenging, as my attitude changed, I started spotting all sorts of ways in which the knowledge and understanding I was gaining, was going to help me in the future.

It is now many years since I worked as an Accountant. After stints as a Management Accountant, Finance Director and Management Consultant, I set up Illumine Training because the thing I found the most interesting of all was how we learn and how to learn and think more effectively. But of course, all that stuff I had learned about corporate taxation has come in very useful throughout my career!

The very first course that Illumine ran was Mind Mapping and we have been delighted to run many more since – and other courses covering related aspects of learning such as speed reading, memory skills and accelerated learning – as well as a wide range of other courses!

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