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23 Tricks To Learn Anything Better

23 Tricks To Learn Anything Better

For the original unedited article, visit Greatist.

Learning hacks — they’re a thing, and while the college kids are heading back to school, it’s a good time for all of us to rethink the ways we learn. Student, professional, or parent, we’re all learning every day — whether it’s how to play guitar, use new software, raise a child, or poach an egg, the mind is always soaking up new information. Make it easier with the following tips.

PRIME YOUR MIND — CREATING HABITS THAT OPTIMIZE LEARNING

With a little regular maintenance, the mind can become razor-sharp and ready to tackle any challenge and absorb new information. Keep the brain in tip-top shape by making regular habits out of the following activities.

1. Work Out

Lifting weights and doing cardio carry a host of physical benefits (see: almost everything on this site), but turns out exercise can also improve learning and memory. If your thoughts are muddled, try taking a brisk walk or heading to the gym. One study found that memory and cognitive processing (the ability to think clearly) improved after a single 15-minute exercise session.

2. Meditate

Regularly getting your om on isn’t just great for managing stress, it also improves memory, impulse control, and attention span.

3. Eat Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

PUFAs (particularly omega-3 fatty acids) are crucial for brain function and help control the brain’s learning and memory centers. Salmon is a famously terrific source of omega-3s, but other fish, such as herring and mackerel, contain a similar amount. Meat-free sources of PUFAs include walnuts, peanuts, and chia and pumpkin seeds.

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4. Sleep

When the crunch is on, people often sacrifice their Zzs in favor of more time to work or study. But the extra smidge of work that gets done isn’t worth the morning zombie eyes: Getting adequate sleep every night is absolutely crucial for brain function, good judgment, reaction time, and even using consistent grammarThe mind of a sensible sleeper will learn much faster, justifying the hours “lost” by getting an early night.

5. Drink Water

This tip might be a no brainer (pun intended), but dehydration is more widespread than you might think — if you’re thirsty, it’s already too late. Reaction times, responsiveness, and overall mental processing improve with hydration, so invest in a BPA-free water bottle and take it absolutely everywhere. Also remember that a lot of common foods, particularly fruits, are surprisingly good sources of water.

 

    6. Practice Yoga

    There’s an easy way to increase your brain’s grey matter: Do yoga. Yogis also report fewer cognitive failures, i.e., errors in perception, memory, and motor function.

    7. Take Up a Hobby

    It’s important to spend some time each day on activities other than work or studying. Not only does the brain need time to take stock of all the learning it’s done, but picking up unrelated hobbies can make you smarter . Try something that requires a lot of concentration and hand-eye coordination: One study found people who took up juggling classes demonstrated an increase in their grey matter (though it disappeared once they quit). That’s one more reason to never stop learning new things.

    8. Set an Agenda

    Success is often tied to the ability to implement structure in one’s life, so it’s a good idea to set goals and create realistic study schedules. By “realistic,” we don’t just mean allocating more than an hour for that 5,000 word report — it’s also important to schedule time to recover between bouts of intense work, whether it’s learning new software or how to drive stick. Scheduling in relaxation time for the brain is called “the spacing effect,” and it’s known to improve long-term recall.

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    9. Laugh

    Allocating time to relax is important to avoid burnout, but it’s even better to do so with people who make you giggle. The simple act of laughter has been shown to help with problem solving and creativity. Funny, right?

    10. Check Your Motivation

    Ask, the question, “Why am I learning this?” People learn better if information seems useful to them, and particularly if they believe it can have an impact on their community. Choose a course, hobby, or career (gulp) that’s important to you and gets you excited.

    LEARNING TO LEARN — HOW TO PRACTICE AND STUDY RIGHT

    Now that you’re ready to focus on learning new skills or information, try to be mindful of the following tips.

      11. Warm Up Your Brain

      Have a little fun before you begin work: Try mentally “warming up” for your brain workout with rhyming games or by uttering nonsense words. It’ll help you loosen up and become more receptive to learning. Sounds like a great excuse to finally take those scat lessons.

      12. Find a Friend

      If keeping yourself on task is an uphill battle, trying asking someone to join you. Learning in groups (be it a class, book club, or with a buddy) could be a good idea to help maintain focus and add some accountability to the process.

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      13. Check Your Surroundings

      The right learning environment is paramount. In general, it should be clean and quiet, but it’s also a great idea to add some novelty: Try working in a park, a café, or even just a different room in your home. Avoid lying in bed, though — while a study area should be comfortable, the bed is psychologically associated with sleep and relaxation. You’ll concentrate better elsewhere.

      14. Develop Metacognition

      This is the overarching theme in most literature about improving the learning process, and has been studied by teachers since Aristotle was lecturing in the 4th century, BC. The concept of metacognition emphasizes not just understanding material, but understanding how you understand it. Learn to step back from your first impression, question your own knowledge, and evaluate whether and how you’re digesting new material. Sometimes this is as simple as not reading so fast when the language is difficult, or developing a new system for taking notes. Most simply, metacognition is about being reflective about the learning process and making adjustments as needed.

      15. Do One Thing At a Time

      The ability to multitask might be lauded as an invaluable trait, but switching back and forth between tasks has been shown to increase the time it takes to complete them. Try to embody a different strength: single-mindedness.

      16. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

      A group study in Singapore found that people who tried to solve difficult math problems without any instruction or help were more likely to fail — but in the process, they came up with a lot of ideas about the nature of the problems and what solutions might look like, which helped them perform better with similar problems later on. This phenomenon is called “productive failure.” While it’s akin to the frustrating process of trial and error, it keeps the mind creative and flexible.

        17. Test Yourself

        Don’t wait until the week of the exam or the big piano recital — self-test regularly, or (even better) have a classmate or friend ask the questions. If it’s difficult to remember the answer fairly quickly, it’s best to look it up. Otherwise, you’re really learning the “error state” of drawing a blank when asked the question. While “productive failure” (see: #16) is useful for problem solving, repeatedly failing to recall something that requires rote memorization (e.g. History or Law) won’t improve your learning abilities.

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        18. Always Be Compressing (ABC)

        This was a cornerstone of Tim Ferriss’ bestselling guide to learning quickly, The 4 Hour Chef. Try as hard as possible to fit all of the necessary information into an easy one- or two- pager by using mnemonic devices like acronyms or rhymes. Better yet, try turning information into an image, such as a graphic, chart, or mind map.Visualizing knowledge in different ways helps to give it a stronger representation in your mind.

        19. Conditionalize the Information

        In other words, study up on the broader applications of whatever you’re learning (i.e., figure out why it matters). Textbooks (and bad teachers) often present facts and formulae without giving any attention to helping students learn the conditions under which they’re most useful. Working to understand when, where, and why the knowledge is important will help to solidify it in your mind.

        20. Use Multiple Media

        The more ways you experience information, the more likely you are to retain it. Different media activate different areas of the mind, and we recall things more quickly and retain knowledge better when multiple parts of the brain are working in concert. Try reading, listening to a podcast, watching YouTube videos, saying material out loud, and writing about it by hand (just not all at the same time)

        21. Connect With Existing Knowledge

        If you can tie what you’re learning to something you’ve learned before, it helps toimprove recall speed and promote new learning. For instance, if you’re learning about Macbeth, it might help to link the play with your knowledge of Shakespeare, Scotland, the Middle Ages, or your favorite Olsen twins movie, Double, Double, Toil and Trouble. Embed your studies within as much of your brain’s existing framework as possible.

        22. Establish Consequences

        A lot of people fall short of their goals because there are no ramifications if they quit.Remedy the issue by committing to negative incentives (such as doing your roommate’s laundry for a month) should you fail to stick with your goals. Or, sign up for StickK, an online service that holds money in escrow and donates it to an “anti-charity” of your choice if your goal isn’t met (think donating to the Democratic Party if you’re a Republican, the NRA if you’re anti-gun, etc.)

        23. Be Confident

        Lastly, be confident and know that you’ll do great. Not just because it’s the truth, but because simply believing in one’s intelligence has been shown to improve it. Don’t worry about a thing, friend. You’ve got this.

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        Last Updated on March 21, 2019

        11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

        11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

        Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

        You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

        But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

        To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

        It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

        “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

        The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

        In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

        Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

        1. Start Small

        The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

        Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

        Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

        Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

        Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

        Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

        It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

        Do less today to do more in a year.

        2. Stay Small

        There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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        But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

        If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

        When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

        I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

        Why?

        Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

        The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

        Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

        3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

        No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

        There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

        What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

        Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

        This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

        This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

        4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

        When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

        There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

        Peter Drucker said,

        “What you track is what you do.”

        So track it to do it — it really helps.

        But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

        5. Measure Once, Do Twice

        Peter Drucker also said,

        “What you measure is what you improve.”

        So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

        For reading, it’s 20 pages.
        For writing, it’s 500 words.
        For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
        For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

        Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

        6. All Days Make a Difference

        Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

        Will two? They won’t.

        Will three? They won’t.

        Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

        What happened? Which one made you fit?

        The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

        No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

        7. They Are Never Fully Automated

        Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

        But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

        What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

        It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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        The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

        It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

        It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

        8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

        Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

        Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

        When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

        The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

        Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

        9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

        The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

        Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

        You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

        But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

        So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

        If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

        This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

        The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

        Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

        10. Punish Yourself

        Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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        I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

        It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

        You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

        No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

        The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

        But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

        11. Reward Yourself

        When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

        Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

        The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

        After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

        If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

        Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

        If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

        In the End, It Matters

        What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

        When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

        And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

        “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

        Keep going.

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        More Resources to Help You Build Habits

        Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
        [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
        [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
        [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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