The Big Learn: Smart Ways to Use Your Brain
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Well-controlled experiments in children , adults and the elderly show that this brain structure grows as people get fitter. As well as slowly improving your memory hardware, exercise can have a more immediate impact on memory formation. German researchers showed that walking or cycling during, but not before, learning helped new foreign language vocabulary to stick.
So exercise while you revise. Besides making memories stickier, exercise can help you focus and stay on task. The best scientific evidence comes from testing school children, but the same most likely applies to us all. Interspersing lessons with minute bouts of aerobics-style exercise improved the attention spans of Dutch school pupils. Meanwhile, a large randomised controlled trial in the US looked at the effects of daily after-school sports classes over a school year.
The children, of course, got fitter. Less predictably, their executive control improved. They became more adept at ignoring distractions, multitasking, and holding and manipulating information in their minds. And if that all sounds like hard work, you may not have to get out of breath to reap the attention-honing effects of exercise.
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Just 10 minutes of playful coordination skills, like bouncing two balls at the same time, improved the attention of a large group of German teenagers. Love it or hate it, bouts of physical activity can have potent effects on your mood. Even mice get it. Instead, recent evidence points to a pleasurable and pain-killing firing of the endocannabinoid system : the psychoactive receptor of cannabis.
What about yoga? Does it really help with stress? When anxiety levels rise, you tense up, your heart races and your attention narrows to a slit. Science increasingly backs this claim.
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Science proves there are six ways you can learn and retain something faster. The expectation changes your mind-set so that you engage in more effective approaches to learning than those who simply learn to pass a test, according to John Nestojko, a postdoctoral researcher in psychology and coauthor of the study. He recommends preparing for micro learning sessions. Researchers at Princeton University and UCLA found that when students took notes by hand, they listened more actively and were able to identify important concepts.
Taking notes on a laptop, however, leads to mindless transcription, as well as an opportunity for distraction, such as email. Downtime is important when it comes to retaining what you learn, and getting sleep in between study sessions can boost your recall up to six months later, according to new research published in Psychological Science. A learning mind is about embracing the joy and pain of the process, not just the outcome. For experts, nothing is difficult. Everything else is just information.
The brain is a machine; your mind is not. Think of the brain as the hardware and the mind as the software. You can program the latter thus affecting the performance of the first. Both are interconnected as one team feeding off each other. Because we have not learned how to more carefully manage what goes on inside our brains, we remain vulnerable to what other people think about us.
Your mind is full of thoughts and beliefs. The pain associated with learning is part of a self-defense mechanism. Your brain is lazy and chooses the most straightforward path; your mind worries and can be deceiving. You must tame your mind to stop thoughts from eating you alive, as I wrote here. Pain is an indicator of learning.
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Also, it helps you identify the areas that you need to strengthen. Pain is a clear signal that you are actually doing something new. Neurons that are exercised get stronger and develop more connections. Focus on long-term goals. You are not competing against anyone except yourself. Are you aiming to break a record or to discover new thoughts? Spreading out learning allows links between neurons to strengthen. Embrace the bumpy road. The learning curve is anything but predictable.
The initial passion quickly turns into a honeymoon until suddenly you hit the wall and get stuck. Or, even worse, one day you feel you made progress and, the next one, you believe you know less than when you started the journey. Learn to enjoy the ride. When you hit a wall or feel stuck, take a break. A pause is very productive for reflection and to create more connections.
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Even when you are sleeping, your brain continues to process the most recent experiences. Google more than once. Literally and metaphorically. Listen to different arguments.
Read more than one article or book on the same topic. Train your brain to learn, not to stick to the effortless answer. Unfold your own myth. Practice makes perfect. There are no shortcuts to real learning.
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Some tricks might help you accelerate your curve, but you cannot skip the journey. When you begin a new task, the areas that allow you to pay attention become most active. Blue or red pill?