Article: 25 Ways to Trick Your Brain Into Learning: HowStuffWorks
25 Ways to Trick Your Brain Into Learning
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About This Article
From the moment you're born, your brain is hard at work processing information. From learning to seek nourishment and comfort to crawling and walking, the mind then moves onto more complex and active learning, which could include going to school, brushing up on skills needed to boost your career or simply mastering new skills and hobbies. And sure, if you had endless hours of leisure time, you could devote all your time to learning the subject at hand — except who has time for that? Devoting endless hours of studying might hamper learning more than it helps. It turns out, your brain can only process so much information before it becomes overloaded, so you'd actually be better off spending the final hours of a marathon study session indulging in some Netflix or a good piece of fiction instead of those lecture notes.
Instead of sticking to the same old habits, take advantage of decades of research into psychology and neuroscience to hack the process and learn faster and more effectively than you ever thought possible. Not only will you free up your schedule and reclaim hours for other activities, but you'll also be better equipped to keep up with the pace of technology and the modern world ... and your competitors or classmates.
Ready to find out how to trick your brain into storing, retaining and recalling information or skills? Check out this gallery for the latest learning hacks!
Take a Hint From Ancient Rome
Developed by ancient Roman and Greek thinkers, the method of loci is all about creating a mental map to boost memory and learning. To give this technique a try, picture a place you know well, then mentally assign the info you're trying to learn to various spots along the way. For instance, if you're trying to memorize a list of U.S. presidents, picture George Washington at the front door of your home, with John Adams welcoming you in, Thomas Jefferson at the coat closet ...
Just Chunk It!
If we asked you to remember a nine- or ten-digit number, it would probably take you a while to memorize it, yet most people can rattle off their Social Security number or various phone numbers with ease. That's because of the chunking effect, whereby information that's been arranged into groups is easier to learn and commit to memory than a bunch of random bits of data. And yes, this learning hacks works with words too, not just with numbers.
Ask Roy G. Biv for a Hand
Mnemonic devices make it easier to remember a series of words or data points. One familiar example is Roy G. Biv, an imaginary man whose name helps us remember the colors of the rainbow in order. You may have also used this with planets — My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies — or music, where Every Good Boy Does Fine represents the notes on the scale. Try applying this to the subject you're trying to learn, making up your own words to capture the information you're working with.
Newer Isn't Always Better ...
Check out any college classroom, and you'll notice a considerable number of students taking notes on a laptop. To increase learning speed and retention, put away the tech and take notes the old-fashioned way by writing them on paper. A 2014 study published in "Psychology of Science" revealed that students who take notes via hand not only have a better grasp of the material but also are better able to apply the information they are learning than those typing away on a laptop.
Swap Marathons for Sprints
Studying for hours on end is way less conducive to learning than you might think. Instead of gritting your teeth through a marathon study session, try several shorter sprints with rest periods in between. A 2014 review published in "The Atlantic" suggests that 52 minutes of learning followed by a 17-minute break will make you much more productive than studying straight through for the same period.
You've probably heard that positive thinking boosts health and help you reach your goals, but did you know it can also aid in learning? A 2018 study conducted by the Stanford School of Medicine and published in the "Journal of Psychological Science" found that students performed better on math tests when they had a positive attitude toward the subject, even after things like IQ were accounted for. That means a positive attitude toward the subject you are trying to learn or memorize could increase your odds of success — hey, it can't hurt!
A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words ...
Viewing images related to the subject you are studying increases brain power through a process called dual encoding. Essentially, images fire up the synapses in a different part of your brain that words do, so you're not only activating extra brain cells by adding images to your studies but also adding extra reinforcement and memory recall of the material.
Hack Your Own Brain by Teaching
Teaching or explaining a subject to someone else is a great way to boost learning. Not only will teaching help you spot any gaps in your understanding, but you are likely to organize the information differently in your own brain, making it easier to recall and apply. A 2014 study published in the "Journal of Memory and Cognition" found that those who were prepared to teach others the material they studied performed much better on tests than those who did not plan to teach. That means that even if you can't find someone to listen to your lecture, just being prepared to give one will boost your learning.
Take the Stairs
The connection between learning and physical activity is well-established. Harvard Medical School reports that aerobic exercise actually increases the size of the hippocampus in your brain, resulting in better thinking skills, improved memory and stronger brain cells overall. Fit in trips to the gym when you can, or simply take the stairs or go for a brisk walk to enjoy this effect.
You're Terrible at Multi-Tasking
Study after study shows humans are just plain awful at multi-tasking. Trying to do more than one thing at once is just an exercise in futility and frustration and cuts productivity by as much as 40 percent, according to "Psychology Today." Nearly all the mainstream research shows that the brain can only effectively focus on one thing at a time, so to maximize learning, eliminate distractions and focus only on the task at hand.
Step Into the Light ...
The sun is not only the source of all life in the universe but is also an excellent tool for tricking your brain into learning, and all you have to do is raise the blinds! A 2016 study published in "International Journal of Advances in Chemical Engineering and Biological Sciences" found that students exposed to natural light performed 20 to 26 percent better on reading and math tests than those with no natural light exposure in the classroom. Maybe it's time to take those textbooks outside to study ...
Check the Thermostat
Believe it or not, the temperature of a classroom or work area can dramatically impact learning and performance. Studies reported by the Department of Energy's Berkeley Lab demonstrate that reading speed, reading comprehension and math skills decline by as much as 30 percent as the temperature in a room increases from 68 degrees F to 81 degrees F. The takeaway for those looking to learn? Keep it cool and invest in a fan for the office or your study space.
Stop Wasting Time Cramming
All-nighters and cramming sessions are the perfect tools for those who want to learn as inefficiently as possible. Instead, use science to trick your brain into mastering information or skills in a fraction of the time using a practice known as spaced repetition. This means that if you have 15 hours to study, you'll learn a lot more studying for 3 hours a day from Monday through Friday than you would studying for 15 hours straight on the weekend. You can strengthen this effect by increasing intervals between study sessions, which will boost overall retention and recall even more.
Stop Hiding in the Back Row!
Whether at a college lecture or work training session, you'll pick up and retain more information the closer you sit to the front of the room. A 1988 study published in the journal "Perceptual and Motor Skills" found that students in the front row score an average of a full letter grade higher on tests than those near the back. Ah ... you say; that's because the smart students naturally try to sit up front. Not in this case, because the students in the study were assigned their seats based solely on their Social Security numbers!
Break Out Those Flash Cards ...
A 2013 study published in "Psychological Science in the Public Interest" found that self-testing is a more effective learning tool than re-reading the material or underlining/highlighting important concepts. That means it pays to devote some learning time to taking practice tests or using flashcards to test your brain and see how much you've learned. For the best results, focus on short answer style questions rather than multiple choice of fill in the blank techniques.
Put Yourself in the Picture
It's easy for your brain to categorize meaningless facts and events from long ago as useless information, which means you won't remember them at test time. To increase memory, retention and learning, connect what you are studying to what you already know. This might mean comparing events in the past to events happening today or using your current understanding of the veins in a leaf to better comprehend how the human body distributes blood.
Put Self-Consciousness Aside ...
It might come off kind of weird if people seeing you reading aloud to yourself, but this technique is a great way to trick your brain into learning. A 2017 study conducted by the University of Waterloo found that participants who read aloud to themselves retained more of what they read than those who listened to others read, listened to a recording or sat and silently read the material. The act of reading aloud gets new synapses firing, which means your brain is working more effectively at learning.
Enjoy the Process
It's hard to do when you have a huge exam or major work certification coming up, but focusing on the process of learning tends to give you better comprehension and retention than obsessing over the results. If your brain keeps wandering ahead to the outcome of your studies, how can you focus on the material at hand? Even worse, all that stress impedes learning and can negatively effect both your health and your brain. It's the same old "live in the moment" advice and applies as much to learning as to every other aspect of life.
Treat Yo Self!
Humans respond extremely well to positive reinforcement and rewards. Make this natural instinct work for you by rewarding yourself after each study session. Not only will your brain begin linking learning with rewards, but it will actually be working while you're enjoying an ice cream or some window shopping. According to MIT, a break after studying gives your brain some time to consolidate information so you're better equipped to retain it — and recall it when you need it.
Switch Things Up
If you're trying to learn about more than one subject, the best way to maximize learning is to switch back and forth between them, dedicating one session to one topic, then the next session to another subject. A 2016 study conducted by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that people who used this technique learned and remembered more than those who simply powered straight through on a single topic.
Fire Up Those Brain Cells!
When you listen to a teacher or trainer give a lecture, you're activating cells in one area of your brain. Reading a textbook works a different area, as does doing practice tests, completing homework, studying in a group, watching videos or following along with online or video training. Turns out, the more sources you incorporate into your learning plans, the more areas of your brain get a workout, which means more effective learning.
Find Your Why
It's hard to put a whole lot of effort into anything if you don't even know why you're doing it. Understanding why you are working hard to learn something can make your brain more agreeable to the process. If you're studying for a professional exam, picture the new role you're working toward and the salary or benefits that may come with it. Studying for a college exam? Picture your ultimate goals after graduation to improve focus and motivation.
Quit After 5 Minutes ...
Not feeling the whole studying thing today? Set a timer for 5 minutes and tell yourself you can quit when the time is up. Turns out, just 5 minutes of progress releases dopamine to your brain and may be enough to get your study plans back on track. There's something about getting past the mental block of beginning that can trick your brain into getting the job done.
News Flash ... You're Not Perfect
Harry Truman once said that "Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction," and this sentiment still holds true today. If fear of failure, a bad grade or slow progress is keeping you from learning, it's time to stop procrastinating and just start. Obsession with perfection does nothing more than paralyze you and keep you from progressing. Instead of spending all your time trying to find the best way to learn or to master a new skill, just start and trust yourself to figure things out along the way.
Find Your Om ...
Everyone's talking about meditation these days; not only does this simple practice reduce stress and anxiety, but it can also boost feelings of well-being and even improve long-term memory. A 2011 study published in "Brain Research Bulletin" also found that meditating increases your ability to focus and helps you reduce your reaction to distractions, which makes for more effective studying and learning.
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