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Does Learning Everything Make You Good at Nothing?

Does Learning Everything Make You Good at Nothing?

How would you define an expert? Experts tend to be seen as people who are extremely focused in one area and devote much of their time towards gaining and expanding knowledge in their particular subject. Repetitive practice, time and effort is usually thought of as the way to become truly talented and knowledgable in your one field. But is this really the case?

Why Being Too Focused Slows Us Down

While being solely focused on one thing can seem like the logical way to become an expert, it can actually have a detrimental effect on how we gain knowledge efficiently.

By focusing for too long and too much in one area, we are actually stopping ourselves from opening up to different thoughts, perspectives and connected subjects. When our brain enters focused learning mode, it puts all its energy and concentration on the one subject.

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This causes us to develop a set framework and mindset to approach a problem and limits our thinking and perspectives. The necessary stimulation that could help you think in new and different ways is hindered therefore, while practice does seem to make perfect, how you approach your practice is key to becoming a true expert.

The Key Learning Mode to Becoming an Expert

There are two major learning modes when it comes to our brain. One is focused learning mode which is when our mind is very concentrated and occupied entirely by the task or subject. The other learning mode is diffused thinking which is when our brain is in a more relaxed, free-flowing state and it’s in this mode that we can get inspiration and creative ideas on a subject we didn’t really spend time focusing on.

Diffuse mode takes your attention or pressure off a subject and allows your conscious mind to feel almost mindless. This allows ideas and framework-free, flowing connection within the brain. Focused mode could be doing a marathon study session with no distractions but diffused mode would be implemented through breaks, going for a walk, listening to music or exercising. In other words, taking part in an activity where your mind is seemingly free from focused thought.

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How Does This Fit in With Learning Effectively?

Effective learning and becoming an expert isn’t all about focusing on one skill. Real experts take a skill they’re good at and use it in different areas.

Paul Graham is a British computer scientist with engineering as his primary skill. However, he’s also managed to become an expert entrepreneur, venture capitalist, author and blogger. He has helped dozens of well-known companies such as Dropbox and Airbnb alongside publishing books and writing dozens of articles on various subjects.

What’s the secret to Paul’s success? He takes his engineering expertise but instead of solely focusing on this one skill, he uses the knowledge of engineering concepts to break down problems and suggest solutions for businesses.

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The key to becoming an expert is to find connections between the framework of your expertise and other areas, applying the concepts to new things. By doing this, you can create new solutions and help yourself to practice your expertise at the same time.

The ability to utilise fundamental skills makes you the true expert

Steve Jobs didn’t just limit himself to computer science, he constantly reached to outgrow himself by thinking of unique and original elements that added value to his expertise. He made the realisation that computers shouldn’t just be a tool but could have the potential to be stylish and beautifully designed making them fashionable, everyday items. Combining these two concepts of design and engineering is how the MacBook was created and this thinking is exactly how Apple manage to outgrow their competitors every time.

Becoming an expert and focusing on those sets of skills is crucial for basic success. But what will make you grow and become even more successful is allowing yourself to learn new things that stimulate your thinking. This constant evolving new ideas is how you progress your learning in your expertise.

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Becoming an expert is about combining ideas that help create innovative out-of-the-box solutions. The key is, when learning something new, ask yourself how can I apply this to what I already know? By doing this you stop being stagnant and you create new pathways that can take you to new heights and successes.

Featured photo credit: Startup Stock Photos via pexels.com

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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