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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
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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.

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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

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Oliver Braithwaite

Founder/CEO of Stars & Catz

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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