Have you ever wondered how you acquire skills?
Have you ever wondered how some people seem to learn better than others?
Well, so did a researcher Pascual-Leone.
Way back in the early 1990s, he did a series of experiments that taught us how we learn skills.
And Pascual-Leone didn’t just theorise. Instead he used high end technology called TMS to map the brains of blind students who were in the process of learning Braille. And in doing so, he stumbled on the Friday-Monday learning phenomenon.
What was this Friday-Monday learning phenomenon?
As you already know, the blind students were learning Braille. They had to spend two hours a day, five days a week in the classroom (that’s Monday to Friday). They also got about an hour of homework. In short, they were doing about three hours of study every day from Monday to Friday.
And Pascual-Leone measured their brain maps on Friday.
And then again on Monday. And he found something dramatic after each weekend. The changes in the brain map were different for Friday and completely different for Monday. The Friday brain maps were vast, sweeping changes. There was huge expansion as the map grew bigger. But by Monday, these brain maps had returned to their baseline size.
Six months of frustration followed
Every Friday the brain maps would show rapid expansion. Every Monday it was back to baseline size. And six months later the Friday maps were starting to slow down a bit, but the Monday maps started to change. The Monday maps started to grow (for a change) all the way to ten months. And then they took a break.
So what’s so interesting about this Friday-Monday learning phenomenon?
We know that the Monday changes weren’t dramatic, yet their learning of Braille co-related to the Monday maps. Somehow the Monday maps were the real benchmark of learning. What this told Pascual-Leone is that daily training led to extremely powerful changes during the week. These were short term changes.
The long term changes seemed to co-relate completely to Monday.
Pascual-Leone believes the difference in the results are because of the plastic nature of the brain. The Friday changes strengthened existing learning. The Monday changes seemed to be the foundation of new pathways, new bridges in learning.
And there’s a simple analogy that goes way back to school.
In school you crammed for a test. You then did a brain dump on your test, and then you quickly forgot most of what you learned. It was easy-come, easy-go learning. And the connections in your brain’s neurons were not permanent at all. To make permanent connections you needed to keep at the learning till it made sense. You had to go over it again and again, always making mistakes, always learning from the mistakes. This method was slow, frustration-laden and wanted you to pull your hair out in despair.
And yet this is the most efficient way the brain learns
It learns slowly. You may well dart ahead but the real learning isn’t going to kick in till about six months down the line when the Monday phenomenon jumps in big time. For about five months and 29 days, you seem to move one step forward and two back. Then the practice pays off.
The lights go on.
Suddenly all the effort seems to make sense.
What you’re experiencing is the Friday-Monday learning phenomenon. It’s why some of us are so good at learning, while others are just hopeless. Those who are really keen to learn have to persevere for months on end, because their brain needs the solid daily effort to keep moving forward.
They have to put in at least two-three hours a day.
Yes, every day from Monday-Friday.
And that’s how your brain learns.
How far away are you from the six month mark?
Source: “The Brain That Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge. (Yes, I borrowed heavily from this book). And yes, I really wanted to learn about the brain and how it works. I've been reading this book for a long time. First I read the book in paperback version (and forgot about 99% of what I'd read). Then I bought the Kindle version and read it on my iPod and Mac. And then I bought the audio book and listen to each chapter as many as three-five times. As you can tell my progress is frustratingly slow. But meet me after six months
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Peter Gluck says
Real scientists and passionate researchers are NOT using such a sharp distinction between the workdays
and the weekend days.
The 4th commandament is actually a damaging one- even if you are religious it is not real sin to work all the days if you are doing something useful and important.
Continuity of learning is essential- and a pleasure, I tell
you this based on my +50 years in research- polymers, energy and now I am editor of a newsletter for websearch and real life problem solving.
I ma writing my editorials usually Sundays and, by Jove- it is fun!
Troyann Williams says
I LOVE your article for many reasons… Here are my top 2.
1) It proves that PERSISTENCE plays a major role in creating success! It truly pays to hang in there and keep going – even when it feels like you’re moving one step forward and two steps back. The shift WILL take place – you just have to be persistent in your efforts!!!
2) It supports my long-time belief that the saying, “It takes 21 days to change a habit” is just NOT TRUE. All it takes to change any habit is to change the thought-pattern that creates the habit. These thought-patterns can be changed in an instant (as in a sudden ah-ha or “paradigm shift”) or over long periods of persistent work to change what’s happening in the brain.
Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom!
“From a steady pace of moving toward his goal, the snail reached the ark!” (A bit of a paraphrase from the original quote, but you get what I mean!)
Keep on keepin’ on!!!