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Back to Basics

By Ken Ward

The 'Back to Basics' cry is heard every now and again. In fact, over the past hundred or so years, politicians and educators have looked back to earlier times and realized that in our modern times (or in theirs) something important had been lost.

Of course, in order to study to gain qualifications or to do our work, we need to remember things. Sixty or more years ago, part of the art of teachings was to teach students how to remember the facts they were taught. Yet, half-way through the last century, the emphasis on teaching memory declined and students were required to remember less. For instance, in mathematics examinations students are often given a crib sheet of formula, so they are no longer required to remember them.

This left students with the feeling that they had learned little, and left parents and teachers thinking that something had gone wrong in education and that perhaps some of the techniques of former centuries should have been built upon rather than scrapped.

Even at the beginning of the last century there were concerns about education and attempts were made to teach students how to think and how to remember. Yet 500 years ago such subjects were an essential part of teaching young people to take their parts in the real world. Shakespeare, for example, would have studied the Trivium - grammar, logic and rhetoric - as a means of teaching students to think, communicate and to understand.

Nowadays learners are expected to think rationally, remember, and study effectively, but these subjects are rarely dealt with in great detail. There are exceptions. Medicine still uses memory techniques to teach medical students to remember vast amounts of information about anatomy and treatments. But in general learners are left to sink or swim in the ever increasing masses of data in their subjects. The amount of information to assimilate has increased exponentially, but the help given to deal with it has dwindled.

In our modern times, we need to remember far more than we were required to remember in the past, and we have to assimilate (usually by reading) far more than existed before. And we need to think clearly to avoid falling prey to false ideas. We experience more stress and need to learn how we can cope with that. We need to concentrate in a world full of distractions, and effectively plan our way through life to get anywhere. Strangely, many of these techniques were taught hundreds of years ago when the need was far less than it is now, and nowadays they receive little more than lip service.

Luckily, some people have continued old traditions and developed new ones and preserved the best of what has past and kept it available for those who wish to benefit. One such person is Gregory Mitchell - author of the Mind Development site - who has developed and collected the essential information to enable us to better deal with the demands of modern life. Those who realize its importance have the option of taking full advantage of it. Over to Gregory...

The Importance of Drills

By Gregory Mitchell

Today, most students and indeed many teachers are unable to understand the importance of drills, i.e. structured repetitive practical exercises. Many in this present generation are motivated to get only that which can be obtained without effort: they are looking for a prepackaged off-the-shelf therapy: the Emotional Nirvana of the Single Solution.

I am informed by students that there are courses which can pin-point your problem in half an hour and give you enlightenment in a weekend. They ask me: Why are you still presenting courses that require hundreds of hours of drills?

Authentic mind therapies can and do make changes. The best of the recently invented therapies can increase your ability to remember, to know, and to change the things that you desire. But they do not, to any large extent, change your behavior, i.e. what you can do.

Such a therapy may change the tone of your voice and your emotional sensitivity, but it will not enable you to sing, unless you can do so already. These therapies remove emotional and mental blocks, but they do not produce the positive gains of practical ability.

To learn to sing, play an instrument or think with a trained mind, and do this with above average ability, requires hundreds of hours of practice, much of which is in the form of drills. This requirement for drills cannot be by-passed if the practical skill is desired.

Modern education neglects drills. Mostly it consists of something grasped in a stumbling sort of way. This becomes the foundation of the next thing to be learned, which is also often learned in the same stumbling sort of way. Drills, as such, form little or no part in modern education, outside of music, sports and the military: the concept of overlearning has been all but lost.

In the army, a lot of time is spent taking your gun to pieces and putting it back together again and similar types of activity. This is an example of overlearning. Likewise, in singing there is practice, practice, practice. When a behavior or skill is overlearned in this way, it tends to become automatic: it cannot be easily disrupted under stressful situations. The gunner will be able to repair his gun under the stress of battle and the singer will not be put off her stroke by anything that happens in the audience.

The human mind consists of layers of behavioral programs (a special kind of habit), all of which have been overlearned until they are automatic. Cognitive development requires the addition of new layers of programming and programs of greater effectiveness. These programs must be overlearned, if they are to become automatic, and the vehicles for doing this are called 'drills.'

Psychological blocks
A mental block is a counter-intention to the activity of the mental process being blocked. Removal of a mental block or more accurately, facilitating an individual to let go of a mental block, can have sudden and dramatic results. A person is lightened, as if a large burden has been taken away. He/she can confront a task with enthusiasm and courage, rather than the negative emotions of fear, anger or grief.

A release of emotion may occur, and there may be an insight as to how the mental block got there in the first place; yet in many cases, behavior remains unchanged and performance, in relation to a skill, changes but very little. The simple answer is, that the dimension of behavior has been left unaddressed.

Results of releasing a block
Through psychotherapy or self-help personal development, an individual may have been released from a communication block, e.g. a fear of speaking in public. At the end of the therapy session, the room will look brighter and the individual will feel good about the idea of speaking in public. At the moment of release, the conscious mind will have become unhindered by the counter-intention of the unconscious mind, and the original fixed idea or decision, which gave the mental block force and life will have come to light.

However, whether or not the above individual continues therapy and handles the next mental block on the list, there will be little change of a permanent nature. If change is to be permanent, the individual must change his/her behavior in the world outside the therapy room, in order to adjust or add to the behavioral programs, that are embedded in the structure of the brain. This process demands repeated practical application of the newly learned pattern of behavior.

Part of the force of the unconscious mind comes from habit patterns, recorded at the level of brain, and these habits, for the most part, are derived from and reinforced by a person's typical lifestyle, i.e. the way in which he/she confronts and handles the problems and challenges of life.

Within days to weeks, the mental block released in therapy will start to re-assert itself. Habitual ways or being and doing in the world will act as a form of autohypnosis and before long, the individual will be right back where he/she started form.

Argument for drills
In the example above, in which a communication block was released, were he/she to take some time out from therapy and exercise this new freedom - give some talks or lectures or join an amateur dramatics group - a new set of habits, a new way of being and doing, would be established. The old habit would be disengaged, or set aside: the mental block would not re-assert itself. Then and only then, would be the time to handle the next mental block on the list. Here then, is the argument for drills. Personal development consists of 5% cognitive insight and 90% drills and exercises to establish new skills and patterns of behavior.

Humanistic psychotherapy works from the premise that mental flows of energy, particularly emotional energy, are blocked, as the result of traumatic injuries of the psyche, usually in early childhood. Cognitive psychology, e.g. rational-emotive therapy, starts from the following premise: we do not suffer from the shock of our experiences but instead, we make out of them whatever suits our purposes. We are not determined by our experiences, but we are self-determined by the meaning we give to them.

Both approaches, in therapy, are partially correct. Even a planarium worm can be traumatized. I doubt that a worm has the power to conceptualize and add meaning to traumatic experience. However, higher animals, especially humans, do add a further cognitive dimension and they do this either for better, or for worse.

The facts of the matter
The true situation is more complex than allowed for in either the Humanistic or the Cognitive psychologist's model. Unless a problem is addressed emotionally, cognitively and also at the level of behavior, there will only be a partial resolution of a problem, at best. Although the humanistic-emotional aspect may contain elements of classical conditioning (a part of brain function), both the humanistic and cognitive aspects are, by-and-large, aspects of mind. Mind consists of viewpoints, beliefs, ideas, memories, decisions and goals. Mindstuff is not the same as material stuff. If the correct fixed idea or wrong goal is discovered, or the correct memory of a traumatic event is brought back into consciousness, the mental block being worked on will usually fall away.

Changing behavior or improving the performance of a skill is another matter. When we are working on the dimension of behavior, we are working at the level of embedded brain circuits. Old habits have to be extinguished and new habits, more effective habits, have to be learned. New habits require new connections in the brain and this requires work in the forms of exercises and drills. These drills rely on the principle of overlearning for their force.

Overlearning described
A drill or an exercise is first learned until it can be demonstrated, then practice continues, i.e. the drill or exercise is overlearned until the new skill or behavior displaces the old. The new skill or behavior is practiced until it is assimilated. Once assimilated, it cannot then be distinguished from our first nature and the new behavior or skill operates automatically in the appropriate situation. A new skill or behavior may be said to be fully assimilated when it can be demonstrated effortlessly, i.e. it can be demonstrated without resistance or reactive emotional stimulation.

The purely mental dimension that may appear to produce sudden results is directed towards getting an individual to change their mind. Once a person has let go of a fixed viewpoint, he has changed his mind, and if that viewpoint had been obstructing him, the mental block would dissolve away. It can happen suddenly, because all the person has to do is change his/her mind, and do so in the correct kind of way. That is all there is to work at a cognitive level: a change of mind.

Working on the cognitive level will handle attitudes, emotions and unwanted sensations and pains, it can improve certain types of memory, particularly long-term memory of personal experience. Forgotten skills and languages can be recovered, but these are rapidly lost unless an educational stage is applied, as soon as possible, after the release. Much behavior will be left unchanged, as behavior is given force by habit. With the exception of reading speed, the performance of the individual's current repertoire of skills may change hardly at all. These are the limitations of all therapies which work at the level of mind and ignore the dimension of behavior. Unless the dimension of behavior is addressed, personal gain will only be subjective.

Working at the cognitive level of mind tends to change what we are able to know, whereas working at the behavioral level of brain, tends to change what we can do.

Change of context
It is easy to demonstrate that we know more than we are aware of knowing. What is apparently unknown to a subject can, under appropriate circumstances, be brought back to consciousness. One of the commonest examples is hypnosis. An adult may be asked what he received for his twelfth birthday and be unable to answer, but under hypnosis this data may be easily retrieved: the use of hypnosis has caused a change of context.

A change of mood is a change of context. In one context a person will remember differently to another. Many of the methods that are used at the level of mind are methods to create a change of context. To change context without addressing the dimension of behavior will increase the size of a person's mind without increasing the power. A person will have a better long-term memory, thus greater access to his/her database, without the concomitant increase in powers of reasoning and understanding

Brain, servant of mind
The brain is the servant of the mind. Pathology has shown cases where an individual has lost a cognitive ability through disease or trauma; the person has then regained the ability by training other parts of the brain to take over this function. This fact is important. The mind can influence the brain, and the brain is only a tool of the mind - its most important tool, but only a tool nevertheless. We can improve the tool and enhance the cognitive functions.

By and large, therapies operating at the level of thought produce effects at that level. To produce change at the level of brain (behavior and performance change) requires appropriate exercises and drills, and the amount of change is directly proportional to the frequency, duration and intensity with which these drills are applied. Use a less militaristic term if you like, such as 'practical exercises,' but these tasks cannot be by-passed if the desired behavioral change is to be achieved.

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