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The Cognitive AESTHETIC


I’ve tried for weeks now to come up with a way to share this model and it’s just not coming out the way I planned/expected. That said, I’m going to share this strategy in as straight forward a manner as possible so I stop delaying the process. My images are not beautiful yet but the information is exactly what you need if you want to ramp up your (or your child’s) ability to think in a way that yields results. If you have ANY questions or want additional insight about anything I’m sharing here, please don’t hesitate to post your question here or contact me directly.

The Cognitive AESTHETIC

The Cognitive AESTHETIC is the name of the strategy. Each of the letters in AESTHETIC stands for an important activity we (as thinkers) need to engage in if we want to effectively and efficiently process information. I developed this strategy to help people understand exactly what type of thinking is required to get where we want to be professionally and personally. NOTE: I will explain where the name of the strategy came from and how it came to exist later. For now, let’s focus on achieving an understanding of each step in the strategy.

A – ATTEND (Tune In)

Very few people, no matter what their current situation in life, understand power. In fact, some of you may feel more comfortable exchanging the term power with influence because talking about power feels odd. Either way, the secret to achieving power/influence is recognition, or consciousness, of power/influence. And you can only achieve this type of recognition if you are tuned in and paying attention to what is going on around you.

Being fully tuned in and attending to what is actually going on around us is tough duty though. For many, our primary obstacle is our schedules, activities, and commitments. For others it’s technology that has dulled our ability to pay attention. We are simply spending too much of our free time doing the many types of nothing that are so readily available via smart phones, iPads, televisions, and video gaming systems. Apparently, since you’re here, you are in search of something more.

When was the last time you spent some designated time thinking about your life and the things going on around you…not worrying about things—but simply thinking? If you’re not sure how to go about developing your ability to sit and think, here are some tips for getting started.

Interesting Fact: Albert Einstein (one of the greatest minds known) was skilled at sitting and thinking. In fact, it was while simply sitting and thinking (what many would call day dreaming) that he came up with the questions upon which his most famous works were based.

Step 1 – Find Your Silent Place

For me it all started in my car. I turned off the radio and iTunes and started using driving time to think. It was amazing how quickly I reaped the benefits of this simple change.

I’d drop my son off at school and use my fifteen-minute commute to think through my projects. I can’t explain why the quality of my thoughts in the car was better than that of my standard everyday thoughts. But, very quickly I was coming up with better options and solutions that yielded better outcomes. I so value the benefits of finding my silent place that I have never gone back to listening to the radio in my car during my daily commute.

Your silent place may be found in your favorite chair, in front of your fireplace, or sitting on a bench in a park. It doesn’t matter where it is. Just put in the required effort to find it.

Step 2 – Choose A Focal Point

Once you have found your best silent place, don’t just let your mind wander. Focus on something specific. For me it was my current projects. I’d think through each one and what I thought should happen next, what might happen next, and what would happen if things got wonky. When working with team members, subject matter experts, technology, budgets, etc. things often went differently than what was planned. However, because of my thinking time I was rarely caught off guard when things didn’t happen as planned. In my world, this was life changing and had a huge impact on my stress level, my ability to make good decisions, and my ability to roll with whatever unfolded. The next step is the key to making great decisions.

Step 3 – Build Your Endurance & Intensity

As soon as you get to the point that you are regularly investing in your thinking sessions, begin to build your endurance and intensity. That’s right, work to think for longer periods of time and achieve deeper thoughts.

If you’re not sure how to go about this, use a concept map to guide your thoughts. Here’s an example of one I developed a while back. I removed that actual content and replaced it with the levels so it’s easier to see how the thoughts are related. I started with the topic in the largest circle there at the bottom and kept exploring each subtopic until the full view of my thought process looks something like this.


This is how we as professionals and students should be thinking about the projects we’re working on and the material we’re studying. It’s this type of thorough thinking that yields results that get us promoted or as learners allows us to build a strong knowledge base.

Step 4…and beyond – Repeat

Once you get to the point that your thoughts begin to map out like this example simply repeat this approach every chance you get. After a while you will be able to tune in to situations, projects, and information in an entirely new way.

Invest the time required to successfully ATTEND (tune in) and you will not regret it. -cd

When was the last time you spent some designated time thinking about your life and the things going on around you…not worrying about things—but simply thinking? If you’re not sure how to go about developing your ability to sit and think, here are some tips for getting started.

A Strategy For Professionals & Parents

Welcome to Learn317. I don’t know how you came to visit this site. but something about the site must have struck a chord because here you are reading these first few lines. I’m guessing that somewhere beneath your basic curiosity there’s a question (or series of questions) that drives your search for answers. Maybe you can easily list these questions—maybe not. But you know that if you could fine-tune the questions you’d be more successful in finding the answers you need to move forward. Let’s not waste any more of your time, here’s some of the questions answered here at Learn317.


  • How do you deliver results that make you invaluable to your employer or clients?
  • Is there a way of doing things in the workplace that allows you to more easily navigate your career and reach your goals?
  • Why do some people seem to succeed no matter what’s going on in the workplace or world at large?


  • What can I do to give my child the foundation they need to succeed at school and in life?
  • Are there things I can do with my child to ensure he/she becomes a strong student?
  • Is there a way I can train my child to learn MORE? BETTER? FASTER?

If any of these questions are driving your search for answers, Learn317 is a great place to find what you need. I’ve been providing answers for parents for a while now. But, I’m expanding these services to professionals. The information provided here focuses on showing you step-by-step how you will need to think in order to improve classroom performance and/or increase your value in the workplace. 

At the core of my message is a cognitive strategy designed specifically to help people build a certain type of thinking skills. It’s a simple model that delivers powerful results no matter your age. If you think this way you will find that learning and the solutions needed to address complex situations and solve problems will come more easily—no joke.

I know that’s a major claim. But, I also know that if you learn this model and apply it you will see a change in how you approach classroom learning and life. This is why I use the image of the woman with the world in the palm of her hand in the header of this site. What’s being shared here is the key to empowering yourself and/or your child to achieve success (however you define success). This simple model is so powerful that it can literally change your life. Just like it changed my life and the lives of my loved ones as well as other people I’ve shared it with over the years.

My Story

I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I think people should have experienced what they write about. I don’t want to read books written by people who simply know a topic theoretically. I want hardcore examples that motivate me and allow me to make progress quickly. I want to hear the details of their personal stories because if they can make it happen, then maybe I can do the same once they share their insight. So embedded in my posts I will practice what I preach and share my story as it relates to thinking and learning. Here’s some backstory on how this strategy came to exist.

Over a decade ago, I was working on my doctorate while working full-time at a university. Many would consider this an ideal situation. But, when the New Year rolled around and I had finished my Ph.D. I was still in the same job and there was nowhere for me to go if I wanted to achieve more. It was a very comfortable situation and many people would have been content. But, I really wanted more. This realization was all I needed to begin looking for better options. I didn’t know exactly what better would look like, but I wanted better.

Within a year I had accepted a position with a privately owned company. I didn’t just change jobs. I accepted a completely new path and achieved a 70% increase in pay in the process…doing the exact same work I had been doing already. The only difference, I was now doing that work in an environment in which the stakes were higher and I would be paid based on my performance and the value of my contribution—not just my title/position.

Over three years, while in this position, I achieved a series of increases that raised my salary by another 60% allowing me to enter the realm of six-figure earnings. Of course, I thought this was a wonderful accomplishment but more important than the salary was what I was learning by engaging in this process.

Being an educational researcher at heart, one of my first thoughts after achieving this for myself was to consider whether, or not, I could teach it to others and help them achieve the same results. I’m tickled to report that others were indeed able to replicate my results when they applied this very same approach. Over the years I have applied, tweaked, and perfected this model and can say without a doubt that it is truly a life changing approach to thinking and learning. I will also share that ANYONE who can read these posts and watch videos can apply this to his or her situation and see results; no matter what level of education you have or have not achieved, and whatever your background. The only thing required to make this work is an open mind; an open heart; and a commitment to put the strategy into practice in your daily life.


  1. This strategy will work for anyone independent of personal beliefs. While I will try with all of my might to write in a neutral manner, I can’t completely strip my beliefs out of my story as they play a significant role in my story. If you don’t share my beliefs, please don’t miss the entire message presented here. Simply replace any passages, teachings, and sayings shared from my perspective with those that align from your personal perspective.
  1. You will see the terms strategy and model used interchangeably. Don’t be put off or confused by this as you read/watch.
  1. Not only does this strategy have the potential to change your life; it has the potential to change your life time and time again. That’s the joy and value of this approach to thinking—it can be applied to any setting and any situation. So, as you evolve the model evolves along with you—as long as you keep applying it.
  1. I welcome your questions and comments. You can post them here or message me directly if you prefer to interact one-on-one.
  1. If you want to be notified when new information is posted on Learn317.com be sure to subscribe/follow this blog.
  1. There is a series of videos on the Downing Interactive YouTube Channel titled 10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Thinking & Learning. Whether you are a parent or an adult who wants to improve your thinking/learning performance, these videos contain great information. The introduction and first lesson are in the previous post here on this site, but you can access all of the videos using the link embedded here. Downing Interactive YouTube Channel

Stay tuned for an overview of the strategy discussed here and subsequent posts that provide the details of the model and stories regarding how it plays out professionally and personally. -cd

A New Approach

I haven’t been posting lately. I apologize for that. But, several weeks ago, I decided to change things up a bit. I badly needed a break and I wanted to head in a different direction. I took the much needed break and returned with laser focus and a plan for that new direction.

Here’s the plan.

  1. Make course for parents freely available to everyone using videos. I will be posting them here in the new few days. Over 700 parents have taken this course, but I’d like to open it up to anyone who wants it.
  2. Begin sharing information that serves both parents and professionals. After all, many parents are themselves professionals. So why not share information that helps them at work as well as their child at school.
  3. Do all of this using more video than text so that people can listen and watch rather than read.

Here’s the first video from the course as well as the first lesson. Let me know what you think. -cd

How Will The New School Year Be Any Different?

We’re busy. We’re actually more than busy. It’s now hard work NOT to be overwhelmed with our personal schedules, information, and meeting the needs of our loved ones. But, this isn’t about us. In a world where adults are juggling more than ever, our kids are also facing their own set of concerns; concerns they aren’t necessarily aware of yet. Consider the following:

  1. The flow of information has changed drastically in recent decades. However, public education hasn’t changed significantly since the early 1900s. I mean they talk about the need for change and every decade or so they come up with something that promises change (No Child Left Behind, Common Core, etc.). But not much has truly changed in public education.
  1. Most K-12 education is focused on teaching kids specific content rather than teaching them to think in the manner that serves them well long term (you know, the type of thinking required to navigate life successfully; the kind required by future employers). It’s true that our kids need to know certain things. However, as important as what they know is; how they came to know it, how they approach learning new material, and how they approach situations that challenge what they know and how they think, is even more important.
  1. Our confidence is very closely tied to how we think. The more you invest in your child’s thinking skills the more options they’ll have available to them as they grow into adulthood. People who can see and solve problems faster than others are extremely valuable and have more options than those who don’t have these skills.
  1. In order to bridge the gap between what schools teach and what’s required for success you’re going to have to think outside the box (or outside the system). This is where options like Sylvan, Huntington, and Kumon come into play. But those options can be really pricey and add new commitments to an already busy schedule.
  1. Summer is a great time to get ahead of the game for next year. The days are a little longer and our moods and energy tend to respond positively to the sunshine.

Next year can be different if you’re willing to invest just a few minutes a day. The information you need to bypass the system, build your child’s confidence, and bridge this gap is as close as your smart phone, tablet, or laptop and only requires a few minutes a day to get started. Not sure I’m shooting straight with you? Check out these comments from teachers and parents.

The information Dr. Downing shares plus the insights she offers for how to help children think and learn can significantly impact a child’s interest and success in school. -D. Harrison

Your understanding and application of the basic principles she presents will allow you to gain a better perspective regarding your child’s educational experiences and equip you to be more helpful in advising them and increasing their growth toward becoming independent, capable learners. -R. Kirby

I recommend this to all who want to help support their child’s learning & development. This course is worth your time! -J. Lumsden

Can we make this course available to my PTO members? -Principal (K-12 Elementary)

Carla’s simplified a huge topic into a succinct and actionable course! (even for the most hectic lifestyles)… Her delivery is SO eloquent, engaging & encouraging. The follow up discussions are just as short, fun & exciting too! I will share this with every parent I know!!! -R.H. (daddy of 2)

Follow my blog and you’ll get free access to 10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Thinking & Learning. If you’re already following, send me a message and I’ll send you a code for free access too. Next year can be very different. Check out this free course and find out how you can change things for your child -cd

A Great Info Graphic With Interesting Facts About Reading

Do you regularly read to your child or for your own professional development? It’s something to think about for sure. -cd


A Great First Step

No matter our age, learning can be an overwhelming experience. The more important the information the more overwhelming or intimidating the experience can be. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. We as parents have the opportunity to help our kids become confident thinkers and learners who can succeed in any learning experience. The model presented in this video is a great first step.

NOTE: This video is taken from a course for parents titled 10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Thinking & Learning. Visit the course to see what parents are saying about the experience and access more sample videos. -cd

Learning, Understanding, & Relearning

This video from Smarter Every Day provides a fun overview of how our brains work when it comes to learning and relearning even the simplest thing. Enjoy! -cd

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