The Stages of Learning

4 stages of learning

The Stages of Learning is a model we talked about in Why Awareness is Essential for Your Wellbeing. It is a simple and effective model/theory explaining the different stages of learning experienced when approaching any new skill or technique. It applies to all learning and growth, from trying something completely new, to changing a habit, such as a new healthy eating regime.

Let’s look at this in a bit more detail so you can add it to your toolkit to help you when facing a new challenge.

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Why Greater Awareness is Essential for Your Wellbeing

Ice berg with the tip showing representing conscious mind and the mass under the water line representing subconscious mind
Awareness require effort to become conscious thought

Looking after your physical and mental health and wellbeing requires constant attention. There are many factors that impact your wellbeing which fluctuates in response to your life circumstances and experiences.  In the Eat, Move, Be Happy Mental Health series, we explore the link between our physical and mental health more, introducing self-awareness as an important tool in helping you develop good health and wellbeing practise. See How Healthy are You? and How can we fight the stigma of mental illness?  In Eat Better we also talk about the essential role of regular debrief time in helping you develop healthier eating habits.

When something is worth valuing, it also requires effort and energy to build and maintain. For example, people accept that relationships, be they with a partner, friendships or colleagues, need attention to be at their best.  When learning something new or developing a skill, you expect to spend time to understand the theory and knowledge required and then to practise the steps in how to apply the knowledge or skill in the right way. You are prepared for this to take time, with some repetition, mistakes and for this not to go without a hitch or two along the way. No-one expects to be able to jump behind the wheel of a car for the first time and be an expert driver.

Maintaining optimum health and wellbeing is no different. It doesn’t happen by magic and requires energy and effort to understand your personal complexities and nuances that help you be the best you can be. You know yourself better than other people do.

This module looks at ways you can help yourself develop greater awareness of your health and wellbeing and channel your energy and effort more effectively.

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Is the Water Getting Too Hot to Jump Out?

cartoon frog leaping away from a pot of boiling water

I came across a story several years ago that I refer to frequently, including once in an interview. The boiling frog phenomenon describes how, if a frog is placed in a pot of boiling water it will immediately jump out, the water is too hot. However if a frog is placed in a pot of cool water and a low heat applied, the immediate surrounding is comfortable so the frog stays in the water.  Eventually the water heats up and gets too hot for the frog to jump out.  

I know that is a pretty grim analogy, however how often have you found yourself in a situation where you suddenly feel totally overwhelmed, helpless and maybe even hopeless? When you find yourself in this place, not only do you not know what to do for the best, but often you do not have the energy to do it. 

It is likely that your feeling of being overwhelmed increased gradually, much like the temperature of the water for the frog.  By the time you recognised the potential impact of the situation on your stress levels, it was too late to avoid that feeling of lack of control and hopelessness. Not a good place to be and a sign of chronic stress, or a long-lasting exposure to stressful triggers. 

Not all stress is bad for us. Some stress can be motivational, for example physical training is a way of putting your body under acute stress to challenge it to improve in either fitness or strength. Acute stress responses are also the body’s way for humans and mammals to prepare for fight or flight, an evolutionary survival trait. 

The trick is to be able to pay attention to the temperature of the water isn’t it? At Eat, Move, Be Happy we also think it is about paying attention to what is causing the water to heat up in the first place and having ways of cooling the water down, or of jumping out, before it gets too hot to handle.   

This article looks at ways you can improve awareness of your stress levels and what triggers an increase in stress for you. It also explores why some people appear to be able to cope better than others with more stress and ways you can be more effective at maintaining more acceptable stress levels more of the time. 

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The Myth about Willpower

What is Willpower?

hand reaching for a fairy cake

At Eat, Move, Be Happy we regularly have conversations with people about the habits they want to change and how, for all sorts of reasons, they think they can’t. Typically these habits are about healthy eating and exercise. And what we hear are comments like:

‘I can’t resist the cake/chocolate/crisps, I haven’t got the willpower.’

‘I am too tired to exercise today. I will try harder tomorrow.’

‘I haven’t got the willpower to resist all the things that are bad for me, so what is the point in trying?’

They think about willpower as something you either have or you don’t.  And people who have it are better in some way, than those who don’t. Using this logic, people who can resist a slice of cake or get out of bed half an hour earlier to run in the morning are somehow seen as being better than people who eat cake or stay in bed and snooze. 

And that is ridiculous, right?  That seems to seperate us out into “have” and “have nots”, or “elite” and “lower” classes and by implication, we are destined to stagnate with no potential to improve or choose not to eat the cake. 

So I started wondering about this mystical willpower that seems powerful enough to influence people’s belief in their ability to make decisions and shift habits to more healthy eating and to exercise more consistently. 

I thought answering the question, what is willpower? was a simple enough place to start an exploration of willpower. Why do some people seem, on the face of it, to have more willpower to resist temptation and stick to their intentions than others? I wondered if this was actually true and, if so, where people who have more willpower get their supply?

However, it turns out the answer to the question ‘what is willpower?’ is not so simple. Understanding this is tricky. There are many variations in the definition of willpower and how people think about it. Even dictionary definitions vary and this in itself creates confusion. 

Rather than beating ourselves up because we ate the cake, is there a different way? And what part does willpower play?

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It’s Ok to be Selfish…

Self-care is commonly referred to in relation to looking after mental health and wellbeing and is often mis-understood. I have heard it described as being indulgent or selfish, putting personal needs above those of others and as a practise for people who want to spend time alone.

Broadly speaking, self-care is about looking after yourself and it seems like common sense and pretty straight forward doesn't it? 

Human behaviour tells us time and time again that common sense is not so common. There are many examples of seemingly obvious choices that would benefit our health and wellbeing, for example eating less junk food, exercising more frequently and yet we don’t do it. We have looked at why this happens in What is Stopping you from Starting? 

Self-care is another classic knowing-doing gap (see Turn Your Plan into Action for more on this). On a basic level it makes perfect sense and not many people would disagree - and yet we don’t always think this applies to us. 

This article will help by:

  • Improving awareness of what self-care is and what it isn’t
  • Challenging thinking about your current self-care approach
  • Sharing practical Top Tips on how you can broaden your range of self-care resources and practise it more of the time.

Let’s start with one of our favourite stories…

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Look after your Wellbeing and Build your Resilience

What is Resilience? 

Resilience is often thought of as a quality that some people have and described as the ability to ‘bounce back’. Lots of social and psychological research confirms this is only part of the story.

According to the charity Mind:

“Resilience is not just your ability to bounce back, but also your capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances, whilst maintaining a stable mental wellbeing.” 

This makes sense to us at Eat, Move, Be Happy.  We would also add resilience is learning from tough experiences, gaining confidence and growing emotionally stronger as a result. We particularly like thinking about resilience as something everyone can develop with practice, rather than a personality trait that people either do or don’t have. 

We all have resilience.  And it’s in our capacity to increase it.

This is where this story continues...

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Lessons from Lockdown

As this time of lockdown continues amid the huge impact of Covid-19 on our lives and lifestyle, I have been struck by the number of times I hear about what life will be like once this is over. Which got me thinking… 

When Lockdown is over...

The issue of ‘when lockdown is over’ seems to mean different things to different people. I hear about ‘looking forward to getting back to normal’ and ‘I’m going to keep going with my exercise…’ or ‘I can’t wait for this to all be over’. And in this time of uncertainty, one thing is certain, lockdown and the restrictions that come with it will not be over in the flick of a switch. I think a more accurate way of thinking about this is as lockdown relaxes. However, as the restrictions change this will also bring new levels of uncertainty and take time to adjust.

In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.

David Hollis

Which raises some interesting questions?

  1. How can we focus on the things that really matter to us and move forwards?
  2. How will we continue with the important things once lockdown relaxes?
  3. How can we get better at living with the uncertainty that impacts our everyday life?

So looking at these one at a time...

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Turn Your Plan into Action

This is the third step and final chapter in our Wellness Planning series..

The first step, Why considering a Wellness Plan is a great plan explores what wellness means for you. This is the foundation of your plan. It is a good place to start your planning.

The second step, Build your Wellness Plan gives ideas on creating a practical, personal plan using the 5 Ways to Wellbeing framework.

So the first two steps have all been about building your knowledge around your wellbeing. And this chapter focuses on using your plan to help you when you need it the most - turning your plan into action! This part is the doing.

Remember,

Without this step, nothing changes.

So now it's time for action!

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Build Your Wellness Plan

This is the second chapter in our Wellness Planning series. 

The essence of wellness planning is that we can help ourselves when we are not at full mental fitness by using our understanding of how we think, feel and behave when we feel great. 

A quick reminder of the 3 Step Approach:

  • Step 1 – Know Your Wellness

We covered this in the first chapter Why considering a Wellness Plan is a great plan! This explores what wellness means for you. The foundation of your plan.

A key thing to remember is that wellness is a personal thing and unique to each of us.

  • Step 2 – Build Your Wellness Plan

The focus of this chapter is to create a practical, personal plan using the 5 Ways to Wellbeing framework.

Create your road map to guide you when you feel less twinkly, more vulnerable and your resilience is lower. And do this... when you feel amazing!

The final chapter in this Wellness Planning series. This focuses on how you turn your plan into practical ways to feel amazing. The doing. Without this step, nothing changes.

yellow start on blue background with caption 'it's okay not to feel twinkly.'

So, we are ready to build our plan!

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Why it is important to stay playful in full lockdown

Playing and having fun when we are facing this health, social and economic crisis may seem ridiculous. And yet this is a very real human necessity for us and one that can help us look after our mental health and wellbeing, particularly during this tough time.

Play and being playful is not just for children.

two older women playing a guessing game and laughing
We can all play and have fun

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

George Bernard Shaw

What is playful?

Playful is a way of describing behaviour when someone likes to have fun and doesn't take things too seriously.  We don’t have to play all the time, just as we don’t have to be serious all the time either.

We start off playing - a lot. Children learn through play about themselves, relationships and the world around them. Unfortunately often as we grow up we can forget to play at all. Sometimes in adolescence, playing may seem child-like so teens shy away from it. Yet playing is so good for all of us!

We have all heard the phrase:

‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’

There is a lot of research about the importance of play for children developmentally and for adults psychologically. We are not going into the specific details here, just to summarise that the evidence supports the fact playfulness helps us (as adults) develop our creative thinking, problem solving, openness to change and flexibility. Playing is fun and also helps us enjoy the moment more - we feel better. It has a real, positive impact on our wellbeing:

“Engaged play increases your happiness, aligns you with your deepest needs and is a huge predictor of your well-being.”

“Don’t Miss Your Life,” Joe Robinson 

Ironically, as adults, we tend to play less, especially when we are facing challenges and feel more stressed. Just when it could potentially help us more.

And given the current challenges and uncertainties we all face with the Covid-19 pandemic, our instinct is likely to take the serious stance.

Another significant barrier to adults playing is simply - we often don't want to look silly!

Man pressing his face against a window to make a silly squashed face
Be silly - and feel better

Recognising there is a time and a place for playfulness, how can we embrace this more to help each other through times of greater stress like this period of isolation?

How to increase our opportunities for play together

Staying connected when our social interactions are restricted is more important than ever. Focussing on relationships, well established and newer ones, is vital for our wellbeing. And, in the words of a wise man, we might need to enlist the help of Plan B to help!

So we need to get creative. There are some ideas as a starter below.

Talk to each other and engage in playful activities virtually:

  • Play games over the internet - cards, pictionary, charades, name that tune, quizzes. Take it in turns to host the event and prepare the games.
  • Virtual film night - complete with movie snacks. All coincide the start of the film and watch together staying connected via skype/ facetime etc
  • Virtual afternoon tea/ breakfast/ tea break - invite colleagues and friends to share their favourite biscuit or snack.

Be purposeful in building group connections - Eat, Move, Be Happy Peer Support group is an example of just that. This aim of our online community is to create a shared experience where we can support each other and keep momentum. This is also a great way of keeping in touch with lots of people and sharing information. 

Remember, groups and particularly virtual groups don’t replace talking and real conversations. We also need to keep talking.

Ideas for play in groups:

  • Photo challenge - set a theme and encourage people to share the photos they capture. Prizes or a scoreboard for the funniest or wackiest taken.
  • Fancy dress challenge - engage the group/ family in finding and making a fancy dress costume/ models from items around the house. You can set time limits - 10 minutes to a week!

Schedule playtime

No matter how little time, schedule time to daydream, reflect and consider new ways of doing things with a playful twist. This does require some positive thought and a desire to engage in playful thinking. Getting help from others if you find this more difficult would be a good place to start.

Learn from children - if you can spend some time observing how children play and join in! They are experts at it. Play balancing games, dancing games, hide and seek games, imagination games… embrace your inner silliness and feel the difference!

Play Games together

Some of the classics are the best. Remember Simon says, Hick Hack Hock, chocolate games - have I got your attention now?

chocolate, knife and fork, die, hat, gloves and scarf for the chocolate game
Eating chocolate with a knife and fork

There are loads of ideas on the internet if you cannot remember. You could introduce a new game every week - and these could all be played virtually connecting digitally with a bit of imagination.

And finally, a couple of no brainers for me:

Sing and dance - lots. It doesn’t matter how badly or how out of tune. You can do this on your own, though as with most things, it is better with someone else! And that can still happen virtually.

Be silly - lots. You may be surprised at how much brighter and better you feel when you have had a moment of pure silliness and laughed hard. 

Smile more and laugh when you can - laughing is a huge benefit psychologically and physiologically. If you are singing and dancing more our guess is you will also be laughing more! Enjoy!

So your homework...

Find three different ways to play this week. Mix it up a bit, on your own and with others. And let us know how you get on through the Peer Support Group. Some photos to accompany your updates would be great!

multi cultural dad and daughter wearing tutus dancing and smiling

Need further support…

If you are worried about your mental health please seek professional help and advice from your GP. If you cannot visit your GP and need urgent help visit A&E. 

Other sources of help include:

  • The Samaritans who offer a free, confidential 24 hour helpline.
  • Mind a Mental Health Charity offering information and support line.

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