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How to Decrease Time Spent Studying and Remember More

How to Decrease Time Spent Studying and Remember More

My resolutions this year included learning something new. So I decided to learn a new language (French, if you are wondering), and also how to code. I know, easier said than done. Sounds just like any one of those hundreds of New Year’s resolutions that are bound to fail, right? They’re the resolutions that you regret as soon as you wake up tired from the New Year’s party you attended.

I must admit, my last year’s resolutions met an abrupt end due to constraints forced on me by the realities of my life (excuses, right?). This year, however, I decided that I’m not taking any chances. I’m going to make it. (It’s July and I am making great progress on both). In the Japanese culture, there’s a concept called Hansei. It’s a process of self-reflection in which you acknowledge your own mistakes and pledge to improve. As they say, self-awareness is the first step to improvement.

Remembering my mistakes from years past, I knew that I needed to plan exactly how I’m going to achieve this year’s target, so I set down and conducted a thorough Hansei. What I found out was truly extraordinary. Not! I simply didn’t have enough time. I didn’t want to disrupt other habits in my life by introducing a new time consuming daily practice. It’s a common problem, right?

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I set out to look for ways to maximize the time that I was wasting. Here are some examples I’m sure we can all relate to. I listened to recorded lessons in my car, read simple texts while waiting in line and tried to optimize my time so that every minute of my day was accounted for. This was definitely a good start, but not the magic bullet I was seeking. I was looking for a way to learn new things as efficiently as possible.

I dove even deeper, I looked for method that will help me decrease the amount of time spent studying significantly and increase the amount of information I’m able to retain. To my surprise, I found two…

1. Spaced Repetition

The spaced repetition technique spreads information in specific time intervals and repeats that information in specific points in time so you’ll remember more indefinitely. How can that possibly work?

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When our brain is exposed to information over a long period of time, it tends to remember that information due to the Spacing Effect. It is a psychological phenomenon that ensures we remember information which is presented to us through repeated long termed spaced studying.

How the method works:

  • You memorize a piece of information (be it a word in a foreign language or code syntax) and then after a few minutes you repeat; exposing yourself again to the same information in increased intervals.
  • The intervals begin with few minutes, than increase to hours, days, weeks, and eventually months.
  • An example to such an interval can be seen in Pimsleur’s graduated-interval recall – 5 seconds, 25 seconds, 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 5 hours, 1 day, 5 days, 25 days, 4 months, and 2 years.

Spaced repetition works so well because it uses your long-term memory instead of your short-term memory to process information.

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Tip – I use an app called Anki to help me with learning code and foreign grammar; it’s effective and fun using spaced repetition principals with flesh cards.

2. Mnemonic Techniques

The mnemonic technique translates information you’re trying to memorize into a pattern your brain remembers better than the original form. There are many types of mnemonic applications including remembering sets of numbers (numeric), remembering lists and I also found it’s extremely effective when trying to remember new words in a foreign language. An example of mnemonic application can be learning the names of the stars in our solar system:

  • My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos
  • Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune (source).

A foreign language mnemonic I use is associating words I find hard to remember to “link words” in my mother tongue, for instance:

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  • In Russian, the word cow (pronounced roughly “karova”) can be associated to “I ran my car over a cow.”

Linkwords work in the following way:

First, you create the linkword > then you associate it with a story> the story leads to the meaning and there you have it.

Linkword > Story > Meaning

After a while you’re able to remember the link word and meaning without the story, and eventually you remember the meaning, without the help of the link word or the story.

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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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