The Difference Between Learning Mode vs. Protecting Mode

Research shows that a positive outlook helps us to live longer, healthier and more successfully.  So, how can we achieve this?

According to wellness guru Bobbie Burdett, the most important wellness skill is the ability to recognize when our attitudinal focus is unhealthy and then to consciously shift it to one that is more life-enhancing.  We know from personal growth experts such as Napoleon Hill that thoughts are things and we become what we think about.  Therefore, we have the choice to bring awareness to the thoughts and beliefs that cause our reality.

Learning Mode

In learning mode, we are curious, open to what is, as it is, and we are able to relate to the person or situation at hand. We are in what is known as “beginner’s mind.” We feel spacious, expansive, interested and flexible. Positive emotions of empathy, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, joy and playfulness arise. We’re able to be in the present. We are able to think laterally (brainstorm) and creatively look at many possible solutions to problems and then make the best choice from many options. Furthermore, we are able to investigate our stressful thoughts in pursuit of peace, understanding, and being in the world more effectively.

Protecting Mode

In protecting mode, we are defensive and judgmental. We’re attached to our thoughts that only our perspective is correct. We’re invested in controlling the situation and feel a sense of contraction, which may often make things far worse and repel others. Negative emotions of fear, anger, anxiety and shame permeate our being. Our bodies feel heavy and tight and we’re limited in our thinking. Our discourse and thoughts tend to run in repetitive circles that only make us more stressed and alienate others. Our effectiveness is hampered, perhaps to the point that we are our own worst enemies.

Application of Learning and Protecting Modes in Life

Day to day, we live our lives on a learning/protecting continuum—dancing from learning to protecting, protecting to learning in myriad ways—each mode containing the seed of the other.  Like most things in wellness, it’s a process of many degrees. We can be mostly in learning mode, until we uncover that little edge of protecting that is holding us back from a greater degree of freedom, peace, and creativity. As we become more familiar with the terrain, we are aware that learning mode just feels better. In time we become motivated to spend more time there.

Practice and Tweak

With practice and clear intention, we become aware of it just as we start to slide into protecting mode and are able to shift to learning mode. Over and over, practicing with small steps, insight by insight, throughout our daily lives, we learn and form the learning habit.  Recently, exciting studies in neuroscience prove we literally create new neural maps in our brains that, with practice, become well-traveled “information superhighways” when we need them most. It is then that we are able to surprise ourselves by staying in learning mode in a situation where before we surely would have slid into protecting mode and made everything much worse. Awareness is key!

How does learning and protecting mode affect you in your life?

Source and Citation: Bobbie Burdett, Director of Training for Health World Online.


The Wellness Inventory, a holistic assessment and life-balance program designed to help you gain personal insight into your state of physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness.

The Sedona Method, an elegant system that teaches simple yet powerful methods for releasing negative thoughts and feelings.

The Institute of HearthMath teaches you how to use your heart energy, your breath and the power of gratitude and appreciation to bring your mind and body into a peaceful coherence.

Byron Katie teaches you to ask four simple questions about thoughts and beliefs that cause you stress, which, when explored, bring about profound changes in your life.


With this short, simple (and free!) guided meditation.