Unleashing the Power of Practice-Based Learning for Mental Health

In a rapidly changing world, the ability to adapt and thrive in the face of challenges is crucial for maintaining good mental health. How to best build and develop our mental health is another matter. Employers have predominantly offered clinical-focused resources like teletherapy when people are struggling. Otherwise, for the masses of employees, digital learning solutions exist primarily as content engines, offering vast libraries of content such as media, articles, and videos. However, in any form of learning, it’s been shown that learning through practice is the most effective. In fact, research from National Training Laboratories says that learning by doing offers much stronger retention than learning by consuming. Practice-based learning, rooted in scientific principles, offers a powerful approach to not only acquiring new skills but also enhancing resilience. Practice-based learning has proven to be transformative for developing skills, fostering growth, and cementing habits that stand the test of time. In this post, we’ll unpack the science behind practice-based learning, its role in forming positive habits, and how it can be a game-changer in building resilience and improving mental wellbeing.

What is practice-based learning?

Practice-based learning, often referred to as experiential learning, revolves around active engagement and hands-on experience. Unlike traditional passive learning methods, where knowledge is mainly acquired through lectures, textbooks or media, practice-based learning emphasizes active participation and repeated application of skills in real-world contexts. This approach aligns closely with the principles of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize and adapt itself in response to new experiences.

The neuroscience of habit formation

Habits are the building blocks of behavior, shaping our daily routines and actions. Neuroscientific research reveals that forming habits is intricately tied to rewards or accomplishments. When we engage in a behavior that leads to a positive outcome, such as a sense of accomplishment or pleasure, the brain releases dopamine—a neurotransmitter associated with motivation and reinforcement.

Practice-based learning leverages this neurobiological process to its advantage. Through repeated practice, neural pathways associated with the desired skill are strengthened, making the behavior more automatic over time. As a result, practice-based learning not only enhances skill proficiency but also ingrains habits associated with the skill!

The role of deliberate practice

Anders Ericsson’s work on deliberate practice offers valuable insights into the mechanics of practice-based learning. Deliberate practice involves focused, structured, and purposeful efforts to improve performance. It entails pushing beyond one’s comfort zone, setting specific goals, and receiving feedback to continuously refine skills.

In a study published in the Psychological Review, Ericsson and colleagues found that individuals who engaged in deliberate practice consistently outperformed those who relied on natural ability alone. This research underscores the power of practice-based learning in the acquisition of resilience skills, giving individuals an advantage in combatting life’s adversities.

Resilience and adaptability: The connection to practice-based learning

Resilience refers to our capacity to bounce back from adversity, adapt to challenges, and maintain psychological wellbeing. At headversity, we like to say resilience is about getting ahead of adversity. Practice-based learning offers a unique avenue to upskill resilience. By repeatedly confronting challenges and pushing our boundaries, we develop a mindset that embraces growth and change. The very act of engaging in deliberate practice cultivates patience, persistence, and a willingness to face setbacks—an essential foundation for resilience and mental wellbeing.

Studies have shown that individuals who engage in deliberate practice are better equipped to handle stress and setbacks. The process of overcoming obstacles during practice strengthens the brain’s stress response mechanisms, making them more resilient over time. This adaptive resilience extends beyond the practice domain, influencing our ability to cope with life’s challenges and uncertainties.

Utilizing practice-based learning to strengthen mental health

Incorporating practice-based learning into our lives can significantly contribute to improved mental health and resilience. Here are a few strategies to consider:

  1. Set realistic goals: Break down larger goals into manageable steps that can be practiced consistently. This approach prevents overwhelm and promotes steady progress.
  2. Prioritize consistency: Regular practice is key to forming lasting habits and rewiring neural pathways. Consistency amplifies the brain’s ability to adapt and change.
  3. In the flow of work: Practice-based learning is most effective when it fits seamlessly into your day, as it requires learning to be both consistent and short form. At headversity, we’ve designed nano-practices which are sub-90 second practices rooted in psychiatry, neuroscience, and performance psychology.

The science of practice-based learning provides valuable insights into how we can harness the power of deliberate practice to enhance resilience and improve our overall mental health. By understanding the neural mechanisms behind building skills and forming good habits, we can actively cultivate practices that help us get ahead of adversity. By embracing challenges and committing to continuous growth, we pave the way to thinking, feeling and being our best.

Are you rethinking your company mental health strategy to incorporate practice-based learning? We can help! In the spirit of practice, don’t just take our word for it…try it yourself!

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