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8 Ways To Help You Learn Everything Faster

8 Ways To Help You Learn Everything Faster

Here are 8 ways to boost your learning speed and help you process new information and skills.

1. Play Video Games!

Yes, you read right. Video games have long been the go-to culprit of poor teenage academic performance for parents and teachers alike.

But as a recent study out of the University of Rochester demonstrates, learners proficient in action-packed games like Call of Duty are significantly faster at performing new cognitive tasks than their non-trained counterparts.

More generally, the study suggests that they learn new things faster.

So go ahead, boot up your Xbox, and tell your parents you’re actually working on getting into Harvard.

2. Explain it to your grandma.

A quote often attributed to Einstein is: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

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A corollary to this, is that by teaching something to someone, you actually end up understanding it better, because it forces you to refine your thinking.

One way of doing this without annoying your roommate any more than you already do, is to use a technique from accelerated learning aficionado Scott Young, dubbed the Feynman Technique (after famed theoretical physicist and bongo enthusiast Richard Feynman).

Go through tough concepts you’d like to understand better, and pretend you’re explaining them to someone else. Repeat this process by making your explanations more refined and simplify your language. Doing this will significantly improve your ability to apply that concept on a test or when solving problems.

3. Get your bi-lingual on.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore’s Psychology Department have recently conducted studies that indicate that bilingual children may have a leg up when it comes to understanding new things and processing information. The good news is, no specific languages result in the smartest children. What really counts, the researchers concluded, is probably the process of understanding and distinguishing between two different sets of vocabulary.

So if you don’t yet know a different language, now is the time to start, because you’re essentially training yourself to process more information for different angles – a key aspect of learning new information more quickly.

4. Study before bed.

As this 2012 study out of Notre Dame demonstrates, learning new material, and making new neural connections right before sleeping provides a significant retention advantage over learning during the day.As to why this works, there’s some evidence that numerous brain repair and consolidation functions are performed during deep sleep and REM sleep.

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Regardless, learning something new and immediately following it with sleep, is a definitive way to get more bang for your buck out of study time.

5. Prime your brain beforehand.

“Thinking means connecting things, and stops if they cannot be connected.” ~Gilbert Keith Chesterton

When you’re learning something new, you want to make as many connections as possible, and according to Princeton Review co-founder, and author of What Smart Students Know, Adam Robinson, the best way to do that is to make relate new information to what you already know. This turns out to be the most effective way to create genuine understanding.

One of the best ways to do this is to prime your brain beforehand by doing a brain dump. Take five minutes before learning something new, and write down everything that comes to mind related to that subject. This will draw out anything you already know, and pull potential relationships to the front of your mind before embarking on a new set of concepts.

6. Make it visual.

The brain processes visual information orders of magnitude faster than text. And including relevant visuals with learning materials significantly improves retention during testing.

So whenever you can create symbols, charts, and diagrams to go along with text notes, you’ll enhance your ability to learn new information more quickly.

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7. Learn without thinking.

One way to quickly learn a new set of information (especially new motor skills or visual associations), is to actually not focus your attention on learning at all.

Perceptual learning, a concept established by psychology researcher Eleanor Gibson, involves the idea that we learn unconsciously through our perceptions (sight, hearing, touch, etc.) in a self-regulated way, without requiring external reinforcement.

More simply, you can learn to intuitively identify different situations or images through directly experiencing them in a fast-paced manner.

For example, for aspiring pilots, following a perceptual learning training protocol through a computer program that allows you to associate different dial readouts with different situations gave them, in 1 hour, the same level of reading skill as expert pilots with an average of 1,000 flying hours.

8. Switch between focused and diffuse modes.

According to Professor Barbara Oakley in her latest bestselling book, A Mind for Numbers, we have two modes of thinking: focused (highly intensive mental processes when you are acutely aware of what you are thinking), and diffuse (a more relaxed mental process associated with sub-conscious thinking). Understanding how to use and switch between these two modes is essential to learning more effectively.

How many times have you struggled with a tough problem, only to give up, go for a walk or take a shower, and suddenly have the solution pop into your head?

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This is because we often get trapped by a phenomenon known as the Einstellung effect: when the first idea that pops into your head prevents you from seeing a wider range of possible solutions.

If you’re overly focused on a new type of math problem, you may never be able to figure it out during that single session because you can’t see the forest for the trees.

The best approach is to instead intersperse short periods of intense focus on new information with periods of relaxed diffuse thinking, and to repeat that cycle over and over.

Featured photo credit: woodleywonderworks via flickr.com

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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)

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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