Urgency + Focus = Learning

In this podcast extract, Joe Rogan is conversing about learning with Andrew Huberman, a neurobiologist at Stanford Medical School. As pointed out in the clip, as we get older, we generally lose the fast-learning ability we had when we were kids. That is precisely when Rogan asks Huberman: “Say if you’re a 35-year-old man or woman, and want to learn a new skill, what is the best way to accept these new patterns?”

Huberman points to two factors to attain significant brain plasticity. First, you need to induce a sense of urgency that leads to the release of norepinephrine. This hormone will make you feel agitated like you need to get up and do something. Second, you must apply intense focus to fight that urge, leading to the release of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that combined with norepinephrine induce brain growth.

The previous two factors deeply resonate with my understanding of how learning works. I believe that as kids learning is essential because it is directly connected with survival. As adults however, learning new skills becomes secondary as the tendency is to use the pool of knowledge already accumulated. We enter an energy conservation phase.

Therefore, to learn, we need to actively factor in urgency and intense focus. A lot of modern concepts are actually built to simulate these. For example, deadlines create urgency. The word can be decomposed into the words “dead” and “line”, you could imagine that if you did not finish the task before the date, you are basically dead. This kicks-off the primal part of your brain, that wants to survive and learn.

The ability to focus deeply is more than just glazing on a cake, it’s at the core of how us humans adapt and thrive in an ever-more complex world.

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