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How to Have Einstein’s Brain Even If You’re Not a Natural Born Genius

How to Have Einstein’s Brain Even If You’re Not a Natural Born Genius

Do you ever find yourself having to read an article several times before it makes sense? How about having to revisit online tutorials again and again because they just won’t stick?

Don’t worry… you’re not alone and you’re in the right place.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at Cognitive Load Theory and discover how we can use it to make learning easier and start retaining everything in a single sitting.

Similar to the way athletes leverage the body’s processes to improve sports performance, we can leverage the way the brain processes information to make complex concepts easier to grasp. With that said… let’s get into a complex concept.

The 3 Essential Stages for Our Memory to Stick

There are several theoretic models that attempt to explain how the mind processes information. One of the most prominent is the Atkinson–Shiffrin model[1], published in 1968. According to this model, external information has to journey through three stages of our memory in order to stick.

These three stages are:

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  1. Sensory memory – a filter which discards unnecessary information
  2. Working memory – a gateway to the long-term memory, passing on information via repetition and schemas (explained below)
  3. Long-term memory – where information sticks

To complete the explanation above, a schema is simply a way to organise multiple memories into a single entity through classification and association. Once information is sorted into schemas it’s changed from something abstract to something familiar, connected and easy to recall.

Just Imagine You’re in a Cafe, and Here’s How the 3 Stages Work in Your Brain

You’re in a café, sipping on a cappuccino whilst reading an article about the discovery of a new, strange animal.

Your sensory memory filters out the background noise of the café, the taste of the coffee and the smell of the food, and allows you to retain the information about this new animal.

Next, your working memory searches existing schemas in your long-term memory for anything resembling the animal… and it finds a close match.

The animal is similar to a cat, so it’s added to your cat schema and enters into your long-term memory.

So What Exactly Is the Cognitive Load Theory?

First published by John Sweller in the Journal of Cognitive Science[2], Cognitive Load Theory builds upon the foundation outlined above by focusing on the capacity of the working memory.

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According to Cognitive Load Theory, our working memory only has a capacity of five to nine items [3]. Therefore, for us to learn, we have to avoid memory overload.

Fortunately, this theory also identifies two handy ways to extend the working memory and maximise learning.

The Modality Effect

Auditory and visual information are processed separately in the mind and are able to exist side by side in the working memory without claiming double the space. This is called The Modality Effect.

The Modality Effect explains why slideshows accompanied by narration have become the staple of lectures and presentations worldwide. What would happen if the narration was written onto the slides instead of being spoken? Yes, information overload.

Leverage Existing Knowledge

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New information delivered in a way that builds upon existing ideas and concepts (schemas) is easier to make sense of and retain. This means that the sequence of information is important. Simple, familiar topics should come before more complex, new ones.

5 Strategies to Make the Most out of The Cognitive Load Theory

By applying Cognitive Load Theory to our learning we can avoid information overload and absorb new information more quickly, with less stress.

Identify your existing knowledge

Before you start studying a new topic take a few minutes to run over what you already know. Make connections between your existing knowledge and the new topic. This will maximise the chance that you’ll leverage existing knowledge on the subject and also make building on existing schemas easier.

Avoid obsessing about goals

Goals are important, but sometimes focusing on them too much ruins the learning process. When our mind thinks too far ahead, it loads our working memory and makes us less able to process new information. By focusing on learning and letting go of goals, at least temporarily, we allow ourselves to learn at our optimum rate.

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Focus on one thing at a time

The saying “you can’t serve two masters at the same time” holds true when it comes to learning. Switching between multiple sources of similar information, such as two visual items, uses a lot of cognitive load. To avoid this, focus on one source at a time or find a way to combine them together.

Use audiovisual media

By incorporating both streams of information, audio and visual, we harness The Modality Effect and are able to benefit from peak cognitive load without tipping into information overload.

Reduce unnecessary information

Make the sensory memory’s job easier by removing distractions in the environment. For example, if you’re listening to a podcast on your train ride to work then try closing your eyes or, better still, making notes to bring in a visual element and take advantage of The Modality Effect.

No longer do we need to experience the frustration that comes with information overload. Armed with Cognitive Load Theory and the strategies in this article, we’re able to become better learners and more effective teachers.

Reference

More by this author

Oliver Braithwaite

Founder/CEO of Stars & Catz

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Last Updated on October 17, 2018

7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways to Improve Memory

7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways to Improve Memory

How is your memory? Is your cognitive function as strong as you’d like it to be?

If not, then you’re definitely going to be interested in the memory improvement tips I’ll be sharing with you in this article.

Despite what you might think – or have been told – improving your ability to recall information is certainly possible. You just need to know the right ways to do it. (Don’t worry, as you won’t need to make any significant lifestyle changes.)

So how to improve memory? Let’s dive straight into the first of seven easy ways to improve your memory significantly.

1. Meditate

We live in a world of non-stop, 24/7 information. It’s like a waterfall that’s endlessly pouring news, data, facts and figures into our conscious minds.

Unfortunately, our brains are not designed to absorb this tremendous amount of information. It’s no wonder then, that most people struggle to remember information and recall things.

Even if you believe you have a good memory and are comfortable with multi-tasking, you’ll also be aware that there’s only so much information your brain can process at one time. And research suggests that the more information and distractions, the harder it is for you to transfer information to your long-term memory.[1]

Fortunately, meditation can help you out.

Even if you just meditate for 10 minutes per day, you’ll boost your ability to focus, which in turn, will make it easier for you to remember important facts.

If you need help in shifting into a meditative state, I recommend trying an app like Headspace – which can assist you to achieve this in a convenient and structured way.

And don’t forget, meditation doesn’t just have to be closing your eyes and sitting in a lotus position. Some people prefer to simply take a short walk in nature. This clears and calms their mind, and still provides the all-important boost to their focus.

2. Get plenty of sleep

If you’re sleep deprived or have not been sleeping well, then I’m guessing you’re not remembering well either. This is because sleep and memory are intimately connected.

If you have a busy life and regularly find yourself not getting enough sleep, then this will negatively impact your cognitive abilities – including your memory.

How much sleep should you be getting?

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Well, according to the National Sleep Foundation, you need a minimum of seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you get this amount of sleep regularly, then within just a few days, you’ll see a tangible improvement to your ability to remember and recall things.

Now, I’ll be honest with you, maintaining a proper sleep cycle is not always easy (especially when the latest Netflix series has just been released!). But if you care about improving your short-term and long-term ability to remember things, then it’s critical that you try to get at least the recommended amount of sleep every night.

Are there ways to hack the sleep cycle?

Yes, there are.

Try these three things:

  • Have a fixed bedtime (preferably before 10pm)
  • Don’t eat too late
  • Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible

Sleeping is a precious activity. It regenerates your body, clears your mind, and helps with the storing and retrieval of information.

However, don’t sleep just yet, as I want to tell you about another great way to increase memory…

3. Challenge your brain

When was the last time you challenged your brain?

I don’t mean challenged in the sense of overeating or undersleeping. I’m referring to stretching your mental capabilities through things like crossword puzzles, Sudoku and memory games.

To expand your memory bank, and to make your recall razor-sharp, you need to continually challenge your brain.

Feedback from Lifehack readers such as yourself, has suggested that brain training apps are a super-effective way of doing this. Used regularly, these apps can enhance your focus, attention span, problem-thinking ability and memory.

There are hundreds of these apps available (most of them for free), but I recommend starting out with one of the big three:

  • Peak (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
  • Lumosity (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
  • Elevate (Android/iOS, free, 5 million+ downloads)

If you normally spend a chunk of your week playing computer games, then instead of shooting and killing your enemies, why not let some of them live – while you put your attention into boosting your brain power!

Challenging your brain will strengthen your neural pathways and enhance your mental abilities. But don’t just take my word for it, try one of the apps above and see the positive benefits for yourself.

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4. Take more breaks

When I think back to my days as a budding entrepreneur, I distinctively remember working all the hours under the sun – and many under the moon too!

At that time, I believed that breaks were for the weak, and to become wealthy and successful, I needed to shed blood, sweat and tears.

However, I was wrong.

Taking regular breaks is the best way to keep yourself productive, creative and alive to opportunities. It’s also the best way to learn new information.

Let me explain.

Typically, when studying lots of new information, most people will spend hours reading it – in an attempt to learn and remember the content as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, they’ve overlooked something.

Namely, extended study sessions are rarely a good thing, as your ability to retain information naturally declines after a certain period of time.

It’s similar to physical exercise. You wouldn’t attempt to train vigorously for four hours in a row. Instead, you’d take regular breaks to give your lungs, heart and muscles adequate time to recover. Failing to do this will result in muscle cramps and overexertion.

It’s the same with your brain. If you overload it with information, you’ll suffer from mental fatigue.

What’s the answer?

Make sure you take regular breaks when learning new information. I recommend at least a 10-minute break every hour. (You may also want to take a look at the Pomodoro Method.)

If you don’t want to be as regimented as that, then take breaks as soon as you find yourself losing the ability to focus on the new material. Your brain will thank you – and your learning aptitude will move up a level.

5. Learn a new skill

I love this quote, as it’s 100% true – but frequently overlooked:

“Learning never exhausts the mind.” – Leonardo da Vinci

From my experience of helping to develop the careers of dozens of Lifehack employees, I can definitively say that participating in meaningful and purposeful activities stimulates the mind. It also reduces stress and enhances health and well-being.

Let me give you an example of this:

Imagine you work for a global financial institution in one of their call centers. You take over 100 calls a day – many of them complaints. When you started the job a few months back, you were excited to be in full-time employment and working for a household name.

Unfortunately, your initial enthusiasm quickly turned into frustration.

The endless complaint calls began to take their toll on you. And the supervisors irritated you too, as they were far too interested in micro-managing you – rather than letting you work in your own way.

Now, in the story above, the ending could be that you put up with a job you didn’t like, and led a dull and frustrated working life for years and years. However, an alternative ending is this: you channeled your dissatisfaction in to learning a new skill (computer coding). It took you a year or two to get up to speed, but it allowed you to successfully upgrade your career – and the ongoing learning made the call centre job much more bearable.

Clearly, learning new skills gives you impetus, focus and something to aim for. Your brain loves to learn, and you should tap into this by always seeking our new information. And when learning becomes a habit, you’ll find your ability to remember and recall things effortlessly, becomes a habit too.

6. Start working out

If you’re not already working out regularly, then here’s another reason to do so:

Exercising for 20-30 minutes three times a week will improve your long-term memory.

Regular exercise increases blood flow in your body and supplies the brain with extra oxygen and nutrients. And a well-nourished brain is a well-functioning brain!

“But I just don’t have the time?,” I hear you say.

Not a problem.

A research has shown that a daily burst of 60 seconds of high-intensity exercise, offered many of the benefits of the longer exercise routines.[2] So, if you’re short on time – now you know what to do.

Interested in getting started?

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Here are five different ways that will help you work out:

  • Join a gym
  • Join a sports team
  • Buy a bike
  • Take up hiking
  • Dance to your favorite music

7. Eat healthier foods

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “You are what you eat.”

This applies to your brain too.

The food that you eat helps determine your brain’s capacity to store and recall information. A poor diet (think junk food + soda!) harms not just your physical health, but your mental health too.

Fortunately, there are several foods that are especially good for your brain and your memory. These include: blueberries, celery and dark chocolate. But anything high in antioxidants will have a positive effect on your brain and memory.

Conversely, highly-processed foods and those loaded with sugar will have a negative impact on your memory. This is due to them providing insufficient nutrients for your brain – leading you to easily suffer from mental fatigue.

Want to be mentally healthy? Then eat and drink an abundance of these for brain health:

  • Turmeric – helps new brain cells grown
  • Broccoli – protects the brain against damage
  • Nuts – improves memory
  • Green tea – enhances brain performance, memory and focus[3]
  • Fish oilfish oil supplements can increase your brain power

Here’re more brain food options that improve memory!

Final thoughts

I sincerely hope these seven memory boosting ways that I’ve covered in this article will be of help to you.

You don’t need to implement them all. I suggest just trying the ones that appeal to you.

But, if you’re serious about dramatically improving your memory, then make a start right now on adopting one or more of the ways I’ve suggested. I’m confident you won’t regret it.

Featured photo credit: Eric Ward via unsplash.com

Reference

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