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23 Tricks To Learn Anything Better

23 Tricks To Learn Anything Better
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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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        1 7 Effective Ways To Motivate Employees in 2021 2 How a Project Management Mindset Boosts Your Productivity 3 5 Values of an Effective Leader 4 How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them 5 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

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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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