When you think about it, life is mostly about learning. We learn new skills, new languages, and plenty of new names as we network or expand our social circles. Above and beyond the conventional definition, we want to "learn" to be in better shape (muscle memory), "learn" new memories, and even "learn" to be happier. Just about any goal you have probably involves learning, in some form.
However, you’ve heard the saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” The good news is that we now know that it’s patently false, as anyone – no matter how young; old; or what their education level, can learn.
In fact, the human brain is not a static, hard-wired organ, but made up of around 86 million neurons that process and transmit information through electrical and chemical signals. Information is passed from one neuron to the next between our synapses, which are small spaces between our neurons.
At birth, we have only about 2,500 synapses, but by only three years old our brains have grown to 15,000 synapses. New scientific breakthroughs have revealed that a process called Neurogenesis allows us to produce neurons throughout our lives, but there is a catch… we either use them or lose them.
Starting in adolescence, synapses that we rarely use start being eliminated. In fact, about 50% of our neurons don’t survive into adulthood.
So through training and reinvigoration of our brain with fresh information, mind games, and new context (like experiences, travel, etc.), we can essentially reproduce and strengthen these connections – and learn just about anything we want.
Here are 15 facts, tips, and hacks to increase your capacity to learn:
- In general, we learn…
10% of what we read,
20% of what we hear,
30% of what we see,
50% of what we see and hear,
70% of what we discuss,
80% of what we experience, and
95% of what we teach others!
- Just like people’s personalities and thinking patterns differ, so do our ways of learning best. These are the most common learning styles:
The person prefers using words in both speech and writing.
Better learning through the use of pictures, images, and observation.
Effective retentions through sound, music, and lecture.
Learning using tactile senses and the body, hands, and touch
Reason, logic, and patterns of information.
Some people learn everything better in a group, community, or interactive setting.
Learning best alone or independently.
- Use multiple learning methods
Research shows that the more regions of the brain you can involve and utilize when storing data, the more interconnection there will be and the better you’ll learn. So combine different learning methods
- Warm up your brain
Just like you warm up your body before going running or hitting the gym, you should do quick mental activities to get your brain working, like counting backward or reciting a list.
Studies show that frequent self-testing aids learning and memory, as opposed to studying for one external, pressure-packed test.
- Break time!
You should also take lots of short but regular breaks when studying or learning something new, which will help keep your brain focused and aid concentration.
- Stop trying to multitask, already!
You may think that you're being efficient and industrious by trying to do several things at once, but research proves that doesn’t work with anything that takes thinking – including learning. In fact, studies show that our brains work at about 50% capacity when trying to multitask because we keep context-switching – meaning we do both/all things halfway well!
- Set targets
If studying and learning become an endless time drag, you’ll lose concentration quickly. So set yourself clear targets or goals for how much you’ll study to stay focused and learn more effectively.
- Teach it
To make the huge leap in cognition between just repeating information and actually absorbing the concepts, try explaining it or teaching it to someone else.
Immediately after you finish reading a section of text, listening to a lecture, or learning anything, take a few minutes to summarize and translate in your own words. You’ll be amazed how much better you remember it later on!
- Turn words into images
Experiments into learning show that when you imagine clear visual images, you’ll be able to memorize sections of text better. For instance, if you envision a written word as mountains on the horizon, you’ll recall it far more efficiently.
Even 15 minutes of exercise can improve brain function and memory, so if your focus is straying, get up and do some pushups, jumping jacks, or take a brisk walk around the block.
- Sleep well
Research shows that getting a good night’s sleep may be way more important than that extra time you spend trying to learn something. In fact, a lack of quality sleep impedes brain function and cognition in even simple daily tasks.
- Eat some dark chocolate!
Believe it or not, but eating dark chocolate triggers dopamine production in your brain, the chemical that aids attention, learning and memory.
Studies reveal that practicing yoga, meditation and deep breathing all help calm the mind, increase attention span, and reduce cognitive mistakes like errors in memory and perception.
Look for part two of this blog, where we’ll cover 15 more tips to help you learn – and explain more thoroughly how your brain works!