Growing up, dinner with the family was a rule. No matter where we were or what we were doing we made sure that dinner was a family affair. Of course, I had the luxury of a stay-at-home mom who loved to cook. Bonus! And yes, of course, there were the prerequisite questions one of which included "what did you learn in school today?" It was not always posed this way, but there was some version of it. I grappled with that question because I didn't pay too much attention during the day at school. However, on my way home for dinner from the basketball court I always tried hard to think of something.
Years pass and no one asks me that question anymore. Of course I don't live with my parents, but more commonly it's not the question we tend to ask adults. Why not? There is a common perception that our brain stops developing somewhere in our youth and we get to a certain point where we are on a downward slide. Yet the new reality shown to us by neuroscience is that the brain can continue to develop long into our lives and it can be as receptive as a three year old brain.
What is even sadder is that because of this mental model many of us eschew learning as we age. We stop going to classes or lectures and tend to only read books that support what we already know. Even the news we read (because of the customization of computer generated sites) just reaffirms what we already know. We are missing the possibility of expanding our brains and broadening our experiences.
This past weekend I was honored to present at the Canadian Positive Psychology Association Conference in Toronto. It was amazing. My brain has not worked that hard in a very long time. The speakers were consistently above par and gave me a lot to think about. Yet, even as I reveled in the experience I realized that the lecture of life gives me something to learn every day, I just don't often choose to see it or dwell on it.
Whether we choose to go to a lecture series, or listen to a TED talk, or read a totally new idea in a book or magazine, we can stimulate our brain and our life. However, focusing on the nuances of every day and questioning why things happen, how they came about and what can change also allows us to expand our brain. The first step is to intentionally learn. Find new things that we'd love to know and pursue them. We will find that life takes on a totally different feeling because every day is an exploration about what life will teach us.
I believe we move in the direction of our focus, so I'm gonna start asking myself the question "what did you learn in life today?" I know that by asking myself that question I'll start looking for the answer. And I might ask those who sit down to dinner with me. It will be an interesting conversation.