Ever wondered if you benefit when you encourage others? Surprisingly, scientists say cheering others on or helping them will actually benefit you.
How Can Cheering Someone Else Count as Academic Self-Care?
“It looks like the only class available for me this summer will be one on cooperative learning,” I said to Pedro.
“Cooperative learning?” he asked. “Is that where the teacher puts you in groups and one person does all the work?”
“It’s not supposed to be,” I said with a laugh. “I’m curious about the class. I’ve read students learn more if they actively teach each other, but I have no idea how to do it right, so it doesn’t turn into what you described.”
I did worry about the class, though. After all, I fall into the category of the A-student who does all the work. What if the instructor put us in cooperative learning groups and no one else worked?
By the end of the first hour of class, my fears disappeared. Our instructor used cooperative learning groups to help us learn about cooperative learning. We each had distinct roles to play for every activity, and we had to take turns in the different roles.
Of course, I didn’t think I’d learn much from playing the cheerleader role. I don’t have a natural rah-rah kind of personality. And if a person takes time to encourage others, how can they actually learn anything?
Much to my surprise, I discovered I remembered just as much from the sessions where I cheered others on as the sessions where I lead out or acted as secretary. Thirty years later, scientists and researchers understand the phenomenon I experienced during my cooperative learning class.
What Happens to Your Brain When You Encourage Others?
In recent years, new methods of using a magnetic resonance image (MRI) allows us to see what happens to our brains when we perform acts of altruism. Using a functional MRI (fMRI) reveals metabolic (blood flow activity) to different parts of the brain during different activities. Scientists and psychologists use fMRIs to discover which part of the human brain becomes active during acts of altruism. Researchers have used this technology to discover what happens to our bodies when we help others through acts of altruism.
When we encourage others, we perform an act of altruism—no one makes us offer encouragement and we do it because we know it will help someone. If we encourage others, we release three neurochemicals known as the happiness trifecta. In a 2014 article in Psychology Today https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/vitality/201404/the-neuroscience-giving, Eva Ritvo M.D. explains to readers how giving releases the happiness trifecta. “Dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin make up the Happiness Trifecta. Any activity that increases the production of these neurochemicals will cause a boost in mood.”
While an improved mood sounds great, if we break down those three neurochemicals, we discover they enhance more than just mood. Serotonin, for example enhances memory and learning. For a complete discussion on a scientific study done on mice to determine how it all works, you can visit this site https://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273(18)30338-6. Dopamine improves our motivation, and oxytocin builds trust.
Cooperative learning has the potential to help us learn more, remember it longer, and build relationships.
Ways to Learn Cooperatively Outside the Classroom
We don’t have to sit inside a building to reap the benefits of cooperative learning and increased serotonin levels from when we encourage others. These hacks will help you discover ways to learn with and encourage others to increase your own ability to learn.
1. Online Classes
I’m taking an online class from Coursera on writing for children. Part of the coursework includes reading a commenting on the short stories written by other participants. When I make encouraging comments on their stories, I enhance my memory and understanding of the lesson.
I have a critical bent, so consciously looking for positive things to say helps me in two ways. It improves my own learning and it helps me rewrite negative habits I’ve fallen into over the years.
2. Learn a New Skill in a Group Setting
Want to learn how to knit, computer code, use WordPress, or bake bread? Find a class where you can learn with other people and make a conscious effort to encourage others in your class. Even better if you learn with a friend or two!
3. Book Clubs
4. Offer to Tutor Someone
I discovered four years ago the power of learning when I encourage others. How? I started teaching math to middle and high-school students who lagged behind their peers. Most of the kids started out doing second or third-grade math. Stuff I had forgotten decades ago (or never learned in the first place).
As I worked with the kids individually and cheered them on, I discovered I had started to retain the information, too. We discovered the answers together and the process helped me as well as them.
Offer to tutor someone in a subject you find difficult to retain. As long as you know just a little bit more than your tutee (or know where to find answers), you’ll discover that you will learn as you encourage others.
We Need to Take Care of Ourselves Academically
In order to keep our brains flexible and functioning at optimum capacity, we need to become lifelong learners. Academic self-care plays an important role in keeping us healthy and whole. Have you discovered ways to pair learning with encouraging others? I’d love to hear about your experience!Discover the connection between encouraging others and academic self-care! #selfcare #SelfCareSunday #acdemicselfcare Click To Tweet