Olle Lindholm

The ways we learn

Published 10 months ago • 1 min read

Take a moment to think about your habits.

Why do you act the way you do?

Psychology offers three explanations:

Learning by association (classical conditioning):
Some things we don't need to learn. They're "hard-wired" into our system from birth; we pair a stimulus (e.g. a loud noise) with a response (fear). This learning is often unconscious and happens quickly.

Check out Pavlov's dogs if you're curious to learn more.

Learning by consequences (reinforcements/punishments):
Some things we learn through rewards and punishments. It's more likely that we do something if we get a reward for it. Another word for this is positive reinforcement. Bear in mind, the reward can be either external or internal, i.e. it can come from the outside world or from within.

Intermittent reinforcement is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals, and it's very addictive. Smartphones, social media, and casinos shape your behaviour using this type of learning.

Learning by imitation:
Children do this all the time. Unfortunately, adults tend to forget this simple but effective way of learning. Copy someone else, do it yourself, and see what happens.

Imitating can be helpful when you're in a new setting and you don't know the rules. For instance, I will do my internship at a hospital at the end of the month. I haven't spent much time in hospitals, so you bet I will mimic my colleagues' behaviour in the patient room. I'll learn a lot from observing and imitating them.

Learning by association, consequences, and imitation can describe our habits. Problems begin when these behaviours a.) cause us immense suffering, and b.) impair our everyday life (school, work, home, relationships and so on). That's often when we need seek help for our mental health. But that's a topic for another newsletter.

For now, think through what behaviours you'd like to change. How can you use association, consequences, and imitation to learn something new? You're more capable than you think!

Have a great week!


Olle Lindholm

A Sweden-based author and coach.

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