When I think about how I think, feel and operate today, I find it hard to imagine how I was ever any different. Memories are selective and short.
I have always felt the need to learn new things. I enjoy going to a library and soaking up the variety of books around me, discovering things I had not known before. But learning can be at different levels. The basic foundation of learning is knowing facts, but a deeper level is to understand them. To ‘understand’ means to take a fact, view it in some larger context, and extract a pattern of truth from it. In this sense, to understand is to bring context to bear upon facts. This process is essentially non-linear, and now you know why it is so hard to read a text book from start to finish.
But not only does learning have levels, it can also be intentional. The intentionality of learning is a subjective endeavor. A person may choose to learn for the sake of learning alone, or alternately learn in order to apply the learning towards a goal or objective. The latter has its merits and demerits. Its merits are the focus it offers to the learner by creating a feedback loop from facts to context, and the filtering of gratuitous learning in the process. Its demerit is that it stunts discovery of new patterns that were not deemed crucial to the objective.
In this model, the subject sets his or her own objectives, deriving them from higher level objectives. At the top of this pyramid, the subject may have to a priori define some overarching goals.
The danger of such meta processes is that once internalized, they are rather difficult to set aside. You may be on a vacation and enjoying the beautiful countryside, but your mind is that of a person who has been comfortably running on a treadmill for miles and miles, now forced to take an unstructured break. What now, and why is it so hot in here?