Emotions affect how we see the world, and how we think, and behave — every decision we make is influenced by whether we are happy, sad, excited or angry.
This means that our emotional health is extremely important for helping us make good decisions. It helps us enjoy happy relationships with the people around us, and live the life we want. It’s impossible to do those things without a sense of emotional balance.
But one important way emotions help us to be successful is in the way they impact our learning. How we feel influences how we think, so it’s not hard to imagine that emotions are pretty important when it comes to our brain’s ability to learn.
How do our emotions help us learn?
Different emotions cause the brain to work in different ways.
While you might think that negative emotions would be an obstacle to learning, this isn’t always the case — they can sometimes help us focus on the task at hand. A small amount of anxiety can be motivating, such as when a deadline is drawing near. The challenge is when those negative emotions become overwhelming, causing us to feel stressed out, and unable to handle the problem we’re trying to solve.
Positive emotions can also work for, and against us when we’re learning something new. When we feel good, we’re more alert, our awareness is heightened, and we’re motivated to achieve our goals. We find it easier to see the bigger picture, and connect ideas in our mind, which makes us better at solving problems.
When we are in good emotional health, we are more open-minded, curious, and happy to be exposed to new ideas. This improves our ability to learn, and perform at whatever we’re trying to do.
Our memory is particularly affected by our emotions. Studies show that we are better at remembering things if we are experiencing a strong emotion at the time, which explains why people can always remember where they were when they heard about significant world events. We can also recall information more easily if we experience the same emotion as when the memory first occurred.
Boost your ability to learn through emotional intelligence
All of this means that if we can regulate our emotions, we can use them to our advantage, and improve our ability to learn.
This ability to understand, and manage our emotions is known as emotional intelligence. If we are more aware of our feelings, and learn how to handle them, we will become better at dealing with setbacks, and struggles.
By adopting a ‘growth mindset’ where we are not afraid of failure, and embrace a positive outlook on life, we will strengthen our emotional intelligence, and improve our capacity to learn, and achieve.
For example, if you don’t believe you will pass your driving test, you will probably feel overly anxious on the day, which might prevent you from making the right decisions in the test. But if you nurture your own self-belief, and resilience, you’ll experience positive emotions going into the test, and will be more likely to perform to the best of your ability. And even if you don’t pass, you’ll be able to manage the disappointment, and learn from the experience.
How to improve your ability to learn by caring for your emotional health
Being in emotional balance doesn’t mean that you’ll never feel anxious, or afraid, or frustrated — but it does mean that you will be able to cope when those feelings arise. It also means you’ll be more likely to experience more positive emotions, which are more conducive to learning, success, and achievement.
So what can you do to help nurture your emotional health, and improve your capacity to learn?
One useful activity to help you tune in to your emotions is to practice mindfulness each day. Even a few minutes of journaling can help clear your thoughts, and help you zone in on your priorities.
You could try setting boundaries on your time, and energy, to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Or you could make some time each day to be active. Physical health supports our emotional health, and helps us become more alert, and ready to learn. And since our sense of emotional wellness is boosted by social activities, why not get a friend to join you?
For more ideas on how to care for your emotional wellbeing, check out our top 10 ways to improve your emotional health.