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Thinking and Learning in Nursing

In adaptive terms, belief has become extraordinarily useful. It is, after all, by believing various propositions about the world that we predict events and consider the likely consequences of our actions. Beliefs are principles of action: whatever they may be at the level of the brain, they are processes by which our understanding (and misunderstanding) of the world is represented and made available to guide our behavior (Harris, 2005, p. 52).

You are What You Think

So, what is it that consumes your thoughts? What drives you? Have you considered the notion that, “You are what you think”? What an idea to consider! … How we think about ourselves and what we are capable of, or the opposite – that is, dwelling on past failures – all of this has the potential to drive us further toward fulfillment of our goals, or, keep us stuck in the mire of the status quo.

So, it is the frontal lobe that controls thought processes and how we go about solving problems and making decisions. It’s also instrumental in how each of us learns new things, very important when it comes to choosing studying techniques that work best for us given the wide variance in how we learn.

Choose the Learning Technique That Works for You

I will never forget an experience I had with my lab partners many moons ago in nursing school. There were the three of us: Mickey (gorgeous 20-something), myself, in my 30’s, and Renata, an attractive, tall, dirty-blond who was once a practicing registered nurse in her homeland of Germany, but had since emigrated to the United States, all because she fell in love with an American soldier! Theirs was one of the most interesting romances, since neither spoke the other’s language when they met and fell in love in Germany where he was stationed at the time …but that is another story!

Back to thinking and learning: I distinctly remember the three of us huddled over a series of complicated nursing concepts that we needed to make sense of and memorize for a clinical lab exam the following day. I remember being fascinated as I watched Renata, in rapid-fire fashion, pull out a notebook and proceeded to configure a complex series of boxes, brackets, and arrows to sketch whatever it was that we had to learn. This was the way her brain worked, the way she learned and memorized best…you could see it in her eyes… by drawing pictures of systems to show relationships between things. I was awestruck! It was in that moment that I realized how unique the learning process is.

Examples of How Beliefs Drive Actions

  1. Not only does the cerebrum control learning but also decision-making. The Harris quote above alludes to the notion that beliefs guide decisions for action. In a political context, that sort of reminds me of how the United States, under the leadership of President George W. Bush, decided to attack Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, given that the best intelligence the U.S. had at the time, pointed to the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that we were convinced Iraq was amassing. Our beliefs drove our actions, leading us head-on into a major war that remains controversial to this day.
  2. Another example in which our beliefs and values affect action lies in the world of sports. The “greatest Olympian of all time”, they now say, world class swimmer Michael Phelps, had this to say about the achievement of goals: “I think that everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and you put the work and time into it. I think your mind really controls everything.” ( What a reminder about the potential for superhuman achievement, all beginning with ‘gray matter’!
  3. And how do personal values affect patients in health care? Did you know that 50% are non-adherent when it comes to taking their medications? (Sabate, 2003). Why do you suppose that is? A well-known theory known as the Health Belief Model explains this phenomenon by suggesting that it all has to do with our perceptions: What adverse effects I believe could happen if I don’t take my blood pressure pills this morning or if, in fact, I believe in taking medications at all.
  4. The feeling of susceptibility to disease or adverse health outcomes, or whether we feel invincible in some cases, has a lot to do with our actions when it comes to taking care of ourselves. Do you have memories of a grandmother who ‘religiously’ took her medications every day on schedule? Your beliefs may be influenced by that. How about the recollection of a rugged uncle who lived to be 100, in spite of your memories of his smoking like a chimney all of his life?

Whether it involves how you prepare for exams, whether or not you are successful in sports or music, how you care for your body, or your daily workout plan, all hinges on how you “believe” these goals can be accomplished. So, the question is, “Do you believe that your future holds success?” Put into place the necessary “infrastructure” such as education, financial, time, and human-support resources first. Then, if your answer to the above question is “yes”, your future success is all but ensured!

About the Author

Karen Degre

Karen Degre
Adjunct Lecturer
Program: RN to BS Nursing

I actually graduated with my B.A. in communications with minors in writing, psychology, and French, and then worked in radio broadcasting/cable TV/advertising for quite a number of years before going back to school for Nursing! Read More about Karen Degre