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If You Want To Learn Everything 100% Faster, Try This Science-Backed Approach

If You Want To Learn Everything 100% Faster, Try This Science-Backed Approach

For most people, no matter what new skill they want to acquire, learning consists of hard work that is repeated daily for many hours until the skill is mastered. The same principle is applied to learning to play the piano, for example, or learning a new language. Hard and constant work plays an important part in mastering any skill, yet, as one study finds, our success in learning can be much faster if we vary our practice slightly.[1]

The varying practice approach

Together with his fellow researchers, Pablo A. Celnik, M.D., professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, conducted research among 68 people on the effects of modified practice when learning computer-based motor skills. The conclusions they came to speak in favor of the varying practice approach, since the performance level of the group using this approach almost doubled the performance level of the group that used the regular learning approach. Celnik explains how a process called reconsolidation, in which new information and knowledge help recall existing memories, can now help motor skill development. He emphasizes the importance of the findings for helping patients with neurological conditions to recover lost motor function. “The goal is to develop novel behavioral interventions and training schedules that give people more improvement for the same amount of practice time.”

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How it works

In the fast paced modern world we live in, it seems like time is our most valuable resource, and most of us seem to lack it. With the developments in technology happening rapidly, most of us are forced into learning new skills constantly and quickly. The varying practice approach is so effective, simply because it actually saves our precious time and helps us cope with demanding tasks in a more productive way. Based on the reconsolidation process, the approach provides faster learning that requires:

  1. Practicing the activity
  2. Taking a 6 hour break (which is the time needed for the reconsolidation of memories)
  3. Repeating the activity with minor modifications

It is very important not to alter the practice entirely, as it won’t have any effect on the performance. As Celnik suggests: “If you make the altered task too different, people do not get the gain we observed during reconsolidation. The modification between sessions needs to be subtle.” Based on our ability to reconsolidate memories, the approach works in a way that helps our learned skills be remembered much quicker, and upgraded. When we slightly alter the practicing activity, it triggers our existing memories and helps imprint the new ones faster than during a regular approach consisting of repetition of the same activity.

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Additionally, changing things up as we learn a new skill can enhance our creativity. As earlier studies have shown, our creativity levels become stale if we keep repeating the same process over and over. Instead, we can see the benefits to our creativity, even from making the slightest alteration, such as changing our every day route to work.

How to implement the varying practice approach

As most of us struggle with time management when it comes to learning new skills, applying the varying practice approach will most certainly prove beneficial to many people. The implementation principle is quite simple, actually. Similar to the regular practice approach, it requires hard work and dedication, yet the rewards of the learned skill won’t take that long to be achieved.

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If we take learning how to play tennis as an example, our practice should follow the mentioned pattern with two practicing sessions, with a 6-hour break in between. Minor alteration in this case would be, as Celnik suggests, changing the size or weight of a tennis racket in between practice sessions. With subtle variations, our practicing sessions become twice as effective.

Featured photo credit: Eric Bailey via pexels.com

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Reference

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Ana Erkic

Social Media Consultant, Online Marketing Strategist, Copywriter, CEO and Co-Founder of Growato

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

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