Category Archives: Learning

Seven fascinating facts that prove the value of learning

It’s said that one key to maintaining a positive state of mind is to keep learning, so let’s try a brief experiment.


1. When clocks and watches are shown in advertisements, their time is nearly always set to 10:10.

2. The city of Los Angeles developed from a settlement originally known as ‘El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula’.

3. One historical definition of the informal time unit, a ‘jiffy’, was how long it takes light to travel one centimetre in a vacuum.

4. In the 1980s, American Airlines saved $40,000 by eliminating one olive from each salad served in First-Class.

5. On a QWERTY keyboard, the word ‘typewriter’ can be formed using only keys in the top row.

6. Among many others, William Shakespeare invented the words ‘luggage’ and ‘advertising’.

7. If you were to stretch an original Slinky toy to its full length, it would be approximately 67 feet long.

Seven pieces of trivia: how did you feel as you read them?

You may have been a little intrigued.

You might have seen some before, but perhaps not all.

Although I did my best to check them, you might have questioned their integrity

At worst (and I hope not) you may have wondered why I was wasting your time.

If nothing else, though, for the 25 seconds or so it took you to scan them, you’ll not have been concentrating on other matters which might be on your mind at the moment – perhaps things which are getting to you.

So it’s given you a brief respite from your troubles and – just maybe – demonstrated that there really is value in keeping up with your learning.

A useful ‘hint’ perhaps (another Shakespearian word invention).

Fill your head with learning, leave less room for sadness

The word ‘learn’ comes from the Old English verb ‘leornian’, which meant to learn – or to teach. Interesting that. Until the early 19th century, there wasn’t always a distinction between learning and teaching, and it would have been quite proper grammar to say ‘The teacher learnt the students their lessons’.

Therefore when we hear a thug in a movie telling a victim ‘that’ll learn ya’, it’s actually a throwback to the English of the 19th century.

See what I’ve been doing over the past couple of paragraphs? By looking at the word itself, I hope I’ve demonstrated that learning new things can be rewarding. It also seems highly likely that a willingness to think in new ways, about new things, makes a healthy contribution to maintaining a good state of wellbeing.


Learning comes in all manner of shapes and sizes of course, and it doesn’t necessarily have to involve the formality of a teacher and student.

All that’s required is a thirst to acquire new knowledge, and the recognition that the process is likely to work most effectively when you’re motivated by your interests. If you’ve no appetite for languages, you might not benefit greatly from learning Japanese. But if you enjoy cooking, perhaps you’d love finding out how to prepare sushi or sashimi, say.

Your learning could be how to perform a card trick; how to hang wallpaper; how to play the ukulele; how to write a simple computer program; how to change the ringtone on your phone; how to tell a bedtime story; how to knit; how to grow tomatoes; how to dance the tango; how to darn a sock.

It doesn’t matter. There’s a world of things out there waiting to be learned, and a world of advantage to be had from doing so.

Old dogs, new tricks

In the sixteenth century, an English gentleman by the name of John Fitzherbert wrote what he believed was crucial advice for shepherds: ‘The dogge must lerne it, whan he is a whelpe, or els it will not be: for it is harde to make an olde dogge to stoupe.’

They didn’t have spellcheck in those days, of course.


By ‘stoupe’ (or its modern spelling, stoop) Mr. F. meant the act of getting your dog to put its nose to the ground so it would pick up a scent.

Of course, the whole sentence would probably be better recognised today as the adage: ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’

But is this literally true?

Probably not.

It may well be the case that older dogs take longer to pick up new things, but the U.S. television show Mythbusters, for instance, was able to train two pretty mature canines from scratch in just a few days.

The truth is that as a human (I’m assuming that no dogs happen to be reading this, but Woof! if you are) you’re never too old to learn, and the process of doing so is a sure-fire way to keep your mind and mood in fine fettle.

It’s never been easier to lerne/learn of course.

With a computer in front of you, and Google fired up, the world is your bivalve mollusc.

One query leads to another, and before you know it, you’re an expert in marine biology.

But learning needn’t simply be limited to acquiring new-found general knowledge.

In the next 24 hours, you could learn a new way to make a paper aeroplane.

You could learn the words to a favourite poem.

You could learn how to cook a new dish, to play a new chord, to dance some new steps, to juggle (a bit), to check a car’s oil.

There’s all sorts of ways to learn, and all sorts of things to learn.

The only question is, what are you going to discover in the next 24 hours?

Time to thinke like a whelpe.

Try a new food today and get a mood boosting side order

To be honest with you, I hadn’t really set out to eat deep-fried locusts that day, but who was I to refuse when they were served up with a squeeze of lemon juice in little paper cones at a kick-boxing match in Thailand?

What were they like?

Well, crunchy and a bit on the leggy side if you know what I mean, but surprisingly not unpleasant really.


That said, I’ve not been tempted to sample them again, and wouldn’t place any kind of insect on the menu if I was choosing my last meal.

I’m glad I tried them, though, as I’m a firm believer in experimenting in life (after all, my mood tracking work and this blog itself came from a period of my own self-experimentation) and I’m certain that there’s sense in the idea that breaking away from the straight and narrow, and doing things differently, is one great way to keep your mood up.

Although it may not seem like it, when you eat something for the first time, you’re learning.

You’re discovering what it tastes like, how you react to it (and in the case of locusts whether you’ll actually be able to bring yourself to swallow them).

It’s easy to believe that learning only takes place in classrooms, but the simple truth is that you have the potential to discover plenty today, if you open your mind to new experiences.

So actively seek out these opportunities today, if you can.

If not today, then soon.

Mind you, if you’re tempted to try a locust or two, I should start modestly if I were you.

I’m told the servings come in three sizes.

Small. Medium. And Plague.

5 unexpected ways to boost your learning today

School’s in session again in the northern hemisphere, so perhaps it’s a cue to remember that you don’t only learn in formal situations.

As a kid yourself, while the summer break from school meant you probably had no formal lessons, I bet you carried on learning through those months.


In my case I remember discovering how to make things, how to build camps in the garden, how to read and make maps, how to fool around with a tape recorder producing ‘radio shows’, how to turn garden canes and string into bows and arrows.

This was learning, it was fun (dangerous in the latter case, too), and in some ways it was probably even more important than what I was learning in term-time.

Maybe you feel you’ve no opportunities to learn new things today? In that case, allow me to make five suggestions.

Perhaps one will inspire you: at the very least they might help you come up with an idea or two yourself.

1. I bet you don’t know exactly where someone close to you was born, so ask them. Find out the circumstances in which they entered the world.

2. Buy a fruit or vegetable you’ve never tried before, then hunt out a recipe online which uses it.

3. Picking an uncommon word at random, perhaps you already know the meaning of ‘jentacular’? If not, Google can tell you what it means, and this page will fill you in on a plethora of other unusual ones, too:

4. Ask the next person you speak to whose first language is different from yours how to say Hello in their tongue, then use it next time you see them.

5. In which year was your home built? Maybe you already know, but if you don’t, how close can you get? Who else might already have the answer? A neighbour? Why not find out, simply for finding out’s sake?

Some of the best learning doesn’t happen in classrooms, so what could you teach yourself today? (Maybe after you’ve attended to your jentacular arrangements, that is.)

Reflections? Please post them on the Moodnudges blog:

See you next time,


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Will you earn yourself a badge today?

When I was in the Scouts, there was (and still is, I believe) a proficiency badge for almost everything.

Whatever your interest, it seemed as if you could earn a badge by demonstrating your ability or knowledge in it: something else to ask your mum to sew on your sleeve.


Towards the end of your Scouting ‘career’ it was common to sport a whole armful.

While they weren’t all necessarily fun (whose idea was the ‘House Orderly’ badge, part of whose conditions involved me having to clean the examiner’s extensive collection of brass ornaments, for goodness’ sake?) there was considerable satisfaction in acquiring new knowledge and skill in return for a small embroidered mark of recognition.

Learning new things is generally agreeable, regardless of whether or not there’s a tangible reward at the end, and in fact, whether you enjoy it or not, there’s broad acceptance that it’s good for you, making an important contribution to maintaining a healthy state of mind.

Perhaps you can earn yourself a virtual proficiency badge today? It could be for working out how to fix something that’s broken.

It might be for persuading someone to walk you through a period of their life you’ve often wondered about.

Or how about getting yourself a badge tonight for cooking something you’ve never tackled?

‘Photocopier Repairer’, ‘Family History Researcher’, ‘Adventurous Chef’ badges, anyone?

Why today’s a good day to be curiously curious

You may agree with me that being sure to keep on learning new things can play an important part in keeping you healthy and (at least relatively) happy.

A desire to acquire knowledge is one of the ways in which a therapist might know that someone is doing well, whereas an aversion to new experiences may be a sign that all is not so well.

So if that’s the case, why did curiosity apparently kill the cat? What’s meant by this well-known proverb?


In fact it started life in a different form.

Back in 16th century England, it was expressed as ‘care killed the cat’, with the care (pay attention now) actually meaning ‘worry’ or ‘sorrow’.

Who knew?

What began as an exhortation to ‘don’t worry, be happy’ became a warning about the hazards of unnecessary experimentation.

Now this is almost certainly a reasonable admonition were you to be thinking about exploring an electricity substation. Especially on a rainy day, wearing an aluminium foil suit.

In general however, isn’t it more the case that staying curious is a Good Thing? I think it is.

Do all you can today to learn new things.

Go to different places. Listen to a different radio station. Pick up a magazine you’ve never read before.

Ask people ‘Why?’, and then ‘Why?’ again when they answer. Cook something you’ve never cooked. Drink something you’ve never drunk.

Read a poem. Ask a friend to tell you something they never have before. Look at the labels in your clothes to find out where they were made. Find out why the place where you live is called what it is.

Today’s a day to be as curious as you can.

Who knows what you’ll discover?

Learning to love learning

Whatever you want to learn, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone somewhere has made a video explaining it and put it on YouTube.

When I wanted to find out how difficult it might be to replace the element in a fan oven, the film with its accompanying commentary was right there on YouTube suggesting that as long as you put the power off and don’t have wet hands, it’s a piece of cake (so to speak).


Next, and demonstrating the often random nature of my quest for knowledge, I set out to get an outline idea of how you do that lettering you often see on blackboard A-boards outside bars and restaurants. Again, there was the demo – instantly available and free of charge.

The lettering artist made it look easy of course, but what particularly drew my attention was the confident way in which he worked. The trick, it seems, is to rough out the wording in ordinary graphite pencil on the backboard’s surface, then go to work very rapidly with your chalk paint pen (a kind of magic marker loaded with runny opaque liquid colour).

I’d imagined you’d probably produce the lettering gently and steadily, but the best approach apparently is to be bold and decisive, putting down the paint with fast, fluid moves of the pen. This way, your lines are smoother and less shaky, which makes sense when you think about it.

Perhaps there’s something to learn from this in parts of everyday life?

Rather than expecting to fail, rather than going about things in a piece-meal manner, rather than taking the timid approach, there’s a lot to be said for taking the positive approach (when appropriate of course).

I expect there’s even a YouTube video about that, if you care to look.

Why is it so rewarding to ask questions?

Shortly after children learn to talk, they start asking Why.

Why is the sky blue? Why does that man have funny hair? Why do I have to go to bed? Why can’t I have a kitten?


They’re certainly not rhetorical questions. When a child asks something, they expect answers with all the fervency of an determined interrogator.

Why? Well it’s what children do. It’s how they learn. It’s the way in which they make sense of the world around them (we hope).

Unfortunately like a lot of the stuff that came naturally to us as kids, we can be inclined to stop asking questions. Perhaps we feel our learning days are behind us, especially if our memories of school days are less than rosy.

But equating learning solely with school is almost certainly unhelpful. We didn’t, for instance, need the structure of teachers and classes in order to learn before we were old enough to start school, did we?

In much the same way, we have the wherewithal to keep learning long after we’ve hung up our school uniforms, and acquiring knowledge (sometimes simply for its own sake) is a fine contributor to maintaining a positive mindset.

When your mood is low it can be hard not to ruminate, turning problems over and over in your mind. But when your curiosity gets the better of you, causing you to hunt out answers to whatever’s bugging you, you’ll be inclined to forget your worries, if only for a while.

So why is the sky blue? Try Google. It has 302 million results for that particular question.

Remembering those who taught you emotional strength

In 12th century England, a young person could learn a trade from a master craftsman by becoming their apprentice.

An apprenticeship was a legal agreement between craftsman and apprentice where the latter would be paid a small wage in return for the skills that he (apprentices were almost always boys) would pick up.


These agreements were known as ‘indentures’, so-called because they’d be written in duplicate on a single sheet of paper which was then split into two pieces with an uneven jagged (indented) cut.

One piece was held by each party; their authenticity could be proved at a later stage by matching the two parts’ jagged edges – rather like a key fitting into a lock.

Although I never served a formal apprenticeship, I’ve unquestionably learnt at the elbow of people I’ve considered master craftsmen and women.

Richard taught me to turn other people’s business problems into solutions.

Alex showed me anew how impeccable organization can help you move mountains.

And my Dad? Well, among other things he was the master of creating ingenious systems based around forms, files and folders.

I’m pretty certain you’ve had similarly significant influences in your own past.

Also, like me, perhaps you’ve known others who’ve demonstrated ways of weathering the storm when times become emotionally challenging?

Now and then, when I face uncertainty and difficulty, I find it helpful to ask myself: ‘What would (insert name) do now?’

How would they tackle this situation?

And then – you know what? – that’s exactly what I do.

So who was the master craftsman to your apprentice? What did they teach you? And do you still practice what they preached?