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5 Hacks To Speed Up The Learning Process

5 Hacks To Speed Up The Learning Process

The ability to learn things quickly is a tremendous asset. People who can rapidly grasp new concepts, learn and apply new and effective skills, and process new information in a short amount of time have a distinct advantage over those who struggle to learn.

Is speed learning reserved for a select minority, endowed with the gift of intellect that few possess? Is it only available to the “geniuses” among us? The answer is, “No.” Every one of us can learn to learn faster, and there are a few simple tools that can help us. If these tools are committed to mastery through habit they will produce massive results in our ability to learn concepts faster, process new information in a shorter amount of time, and rapidly expand our abilities and knowledge.

So, without delay, here are 5 hacks to speed up the learning process:

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1. Focus on number of repetitions, not on the amount of time we practice.

When we say that we “studied for five hours straight,” we are often deceiving ourselves. How much of that five hours was spent in focused attention? How much time did we spend on distractions, like checking our email, or Facebook or Twitter? The key is not the length of time we spend when learning something. The key is the amount of learning repetitions that we engage in. Repetition is one of the most powerful levers we have because it wires our brain. The power of repetition is well known by top performers, athletes, musicians, and the military. Time spent is not nearly as important as the number of reps.

So here is the first step: get rid of the watch. Instead, focus your attention on completing repetitions. Instead of saying, “I’ll study my notes for two hours,” say, “I’ll read my notes through, line by line, three times from start to finish.” This causes you to focus your attention on results. It also eliminates the “illusion of effectiveness” because you can’t fool yourself. Either you completed the task, or you didn’t.

2. Break everything down into small chunks.

Author and talent expert Daniel Coyle, in his best-selling book, The Talent Code, says that “chunks are to skill what the letters of the alphabet are to language. Alone, each is nearly useless, but when combined into bigger chunks (words), and when those chunks are combined into still bigger things (sentences, paragraphs), they can build something complex and beautiful.” Chunking is important because it is the way that our brain learns. Every skill or piece of knowledge that we attain is comprised of many smaller pieces, or chunks, of information.

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One of the first things that we should do when attempting to learn something new is to break the material or task down into many small chunks. Do it for the entire task or material. What we are left with then is a whole bunch of small chunks. Once this is done we proceed to step three.

3. Perfect each chunk and then create a “chunk chain.”

Now that we have a whole bunch of chunks we can then proceed to master each individual chunk on its own. This is what we focus our repetitions on (see step 1). The task or skill that we are trying to learn is comprised of a whole bunch of smaller parts. We have determined what those smaller parts consist of, now we just perfect each part on its own, and as we perfect the parts we form a chunk chain. This is where we start to build on each chunk with another chunk, and over time we will completely master the entire process.

Most importantly, by doing it this way, we will find that we master the process much quicker than if we tried to memorize the entire task on its own. Thus, since we have built a chunk chain, we can see how each individual piece is related to the other pieces. This gives us a complex understanding of the task or material and allows us quick recall ability in the future.

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4. Turn the learning process into a game, with rules and rewards.

We like games and our brain likes games. When learning becomes an enjoyable game, time stands still, and we immerse ourselves in repetitions of the material. So if we are trying to learn something new, an effective strategy is to “game it.” Create a game that we can play. Set the rules to the game, and create a rewards systems (this is another very important thing as the brain loves rewards).

Rewards are at the foundation of habit formation, as noted by Charles Duhigg in his best-selling book, The Power of Habit. Once a behavior becomes a habit we perform it much easier and faster. If we can create a reward system based on a game from the learning process, then we can crystallize learning as a habit and we will learn faster. Daniel Coyle, concerning the importance of games in learning also notes:

The term “drill” evokes a sense of drudgery and meaninglessness. It’s mechanical, repetitive, and boring—as the saying goes, drill and kill. Games, on the other hand, are precisely the opposite. They mean fun, connectedness, and passion. And because of that, skills improve faster when they’re looked at this way.

5. Repeat “focus bursts,” where we give our very best effort for a short period of time, then take fulfilling and refreshing breaks.

There are multiple studies that confirm that proper rest increases brain functioning. The typical, caffeine-induced, late night cramming session that most students engage in at least once in their life is not the most effective way to learn. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that it is the least effective way. If we want to learn something quickly, we need to do it when our minds are fresh. We need to engage in “focus bursts” where, with fresh energy and a well-rested mind, we focus all our attention on learning, perfecting, and linking the chunks (see step 3). Then, when we start to feel our effectiveness dissipate, we take breaks to recharge.

Focus burst, recharge, focus burst, recharge. Over and over again. This is the way to speed up the learning process. Long study sessions are not as effective as short bursts. In long sessions we are prone to distraction, and we are also prone to focusing on time rather than repetitions. However, if we will train ourselves to learn like a top athlete trains (in smaller, high intensity chunks) we will be very happy with the results that we get.

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Ryan Clements

A lawyer turned marketing professional, entrepreneur and writer who writes about entrepreneurship, career and personal development.

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Last Updated on February 21, 2019

7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

Forgot a name? Misplaced your keys? Taking longer to find the right words? Don’t panic. There’s plenty you can do to improve your memory.

You’re probably expecting us to reveal 7 little known and newly discovered herbs from the forests of the Amazon, the peaks of the Himalayas and the Arctic tundra. No such luck.

Despite Americans spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on Ginkgo Biloba, Ashwagandha, Periwinkle, Bacopa, Vitamin B’s, Omega 3’s and memory boosting supplement cocktails, there is very little scientific evidence they actually work. [1]

Instead, we’re going to offer you 7 completely natural memory boosters, backed up by scientific research. It may take a little more effort than a magic memory pill, but the benefits will transcend your memory and improve your overall quality of life as well, making you more fit, energetic, happy and sharp.

How Do We Remember?

The first process in remembering is creating a memory.

This is where our brain sends a signal, associated with a thought, event or piece of information our mind is processing, over our brains neural pathways, called synapses.

Think of our neural pathways like roads and information like trucks. The better the roads, the more trucks can be driven.

The second step in remembering is memory consolidation.

Consolidation is when the brain takes that thought, event or piece of information and actually stores it in the brain. So now we’re talking about taking delivery of the trucks and storing its contents in the warehouse.

Consolidation helps us store information and label it properly, so its organized and easy to retrieve when needed.

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The last step is memory retrieval.

That’s the step whereby we try to retrieve the information stored in our brains. You know when you have the name of someone on the tip of your tongue.

You have the information; it’s been stored, but you just can’t find it. Our memory recall is typically better the stronger the memory is and the more often we’ve used it.

Memory decline is a normal part of aging. However, new scientific research is discovering many new ways for us to improve memory creation, consolidation and retrieval–no matter our age.

7 Natural Memory Boosters

So how to work on memory and boost your brain power? Here’re 7 brain boosters backed by science that you should try:

1. Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic activity is about as close as we get to a magic pill for our memories. Exercise helps your brain create new capillaries and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which creates new brain cells and connections. To put it in plain english, aerobic activity changes our brains and helps it grow.

Studies have shown that exercising increases the size of the hippocampus and improves memory. In fact, even if you start exercising as an older adult, you can reverse cognitive decline by 1 to 2 years and protects against further decreases in the size of the hippocampus, which is essential for memory. [2]

In another study, reviewed by Dr. Ian Robertson of the University of Dublin, they looked at a group of people of 60 years and older, who engaged in “active walking” for four months.

They compared them with another group of people who only stretched over the same period of time. After testing both groups before and after the 4 month period, the walkers improved their memory and attention considerably more than the stretching group.

So which exercises are best and how much do we have to exercise?

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Turns out, it doesn’t really matter whether you run, swim, row or bike. What does matter is that you push yourself beyond your current abilities, keep doing more, keep getting better. Set yourself short term goals and keep pushing the goal posts.

2. Sleep

You need your sleep. The deeper the better. Sleep helps improve your procedural memory (how to do things, like how do I navigate my iPhone) and declarative memory (facts, like what’s my password). [3]

Even short naps from 6 to 45 minutes have been shown to improve your memory. In one Harvard study, college students memorized pairs of unrelated words, memorized a maze and copied a complex form. All were tested on their work. Half were then allowed to take a 45 minute nap. They were then retested. Those who took a nap, got a boost in their performance. [4]

Another study showed that getting REM (deep) sleep can increase your memory and mental performance by 33% to 73%. Getting a deep sleep helps the brain consolidate memories through dreams and “associative processing”. However, the study also revealed that heart rate variability in deep sleep also contributed significantly to increased memory performance. [5]

3. MIND Diet

Healthy eating, particularly more dark colored fruit, vegetables and oily fish has been shown to improve memory and stave off cognitive decline.

The MIND diet is proven to reduce the risk of dementia. It’s a mix of the popular Mediterranean diet and the low blood pressure DASH diet. [6]

The study kept track of the diets of almost 1,000 older adults. They were followed for an average of 4½ years.

The study concluded that “people whose diets were most strongly in line with the MIND diet had brains that functioned as if they were 7½ years younger than those whose diets least resembled this eating style.”

The study also showed that people who followed the MIND diet in the study reduced their chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease in half.

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So what does the MIND diet consist of? Lots of vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, berries, beans, fish, poultry, olive oil, whole grains and wine.

4. Relax

We all know that stress is bad for our health. It can raise our blood pressure, impact our immune system and interrupt our sleep. Stress also impairs our memory.

When our body gets stressed, it releases cortisol into our blood stream, which can cause short and long term physical changes to the brain. While cortisol has sometimes been shown to cause increases in short term memory, it can actually decrease our long term recall memory.

To help reduce the stress in your life, try relaxing with meditation, yoga or breathing exercises. Unplug–even for just a few hours. Stop checking your emails, social accounts and news. Release some endorphins with some exercise.

Bottom line, the more anxious and stressed we are, the less clearly we think, the poorer our memory works.

5. Continuous Learning

The mind is like a muscle. The more you challenge it, the stronger it gets. The more you learn, the more you can learn.

Research shows that learning can actually change the physical makeup of your brain. Not too long ago, we used to think that you were born with a fixed amount of brain cells, which declined with age. New research now shows that we can actually increase the number of brain cells we have throughout our life.

Aside from staying physically active, learning new skills and studying can actually keep our brains healthier. Consider taking a continuing education class, studying a new language, learning a new instrument, playing new card games. [7]

Studies show that the more complex the task, the more benefits for your mind. Simply showing up to class is not enough. You need to be actively engaged. Anything that forces you to focus and learn something new and get out of a rote routine will help you sharpen your mind and boost your memory.

6. Stay Social

The more deep and meaningful social connections you maintain, the more you protect your brain. Bottom line, the more friends you have, the more people you work with, the more you’re forced to use your brain.

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Social isolation and loneliness are significant risks of dementia. Without interacting with others, our brains wilt. Isolation and loneliness lead to depression, physical and mental decline. [8]

In a 2016 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, seniors with a full social calendar did better on memory, reasoning, and processing speed tests. [9]

What to do?

Party! Seriously, get together with friends as often as possible. Have family dinners. Choose social activities or sports like tennis, golf, cards or go for walks with a friend. Bottom line have fun, build meaningful social relationships and stay connected. Not only will it make your mind sharper and your memory better, you’ll be happier, too!

7. Wakeful Rest

This one is getting harder and harder to do. In a world where we can’t sit on a bus, go up an elevator or go to the bathroom without our phones, doing absolutely nothing to distract our minds is becoming increasingly difficult.

But, the results are in. Doing nothing is great for your memory. Quietly resting for 10 minutes, after you learn something will help you remember and help you create more detailed memories. [10]

What we do minutes after we learn something new has a significant impact on how well we retain the new information. In another study, it didn’t matter what you did after you learned something new, as long as you weren’t distracted by outside factors. In other words, you could be thinking of your day, making a grocery list, or thinking of a story. In either case, wakeful rest for a period of 10 minutes helped the brain process and consolidate your memories so that you were better able to recall the information at a later date. [11]

Conclusion

You don’t have to spend a dime on cocktails and supplements promising a quick boost to your memory power. There is very little conclusive scientific evidence suggesting supplements will help improve the memories of healthy individuals–not for Ginkgo Biloba, Vitamin B, fish oils, Vitamin D, Folate or other supplements claiming they a secret formula.

There are far cheaper and more effective ways to boost your memory: exercise, rest, eat well, learn, love, laugh and relax. Who wouldn’t want that prescription?

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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