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Brain Hacks to Learn Faster, Deeper, and Better
granted you one wish, what do you imagine you would want out of life that
you haven't gotten yet? For many people, it would be self-improvement
is the backbone of society's progress. Great thinkers such as Leonardo
da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and others'
quests for knowledge have led society to many of the marvels we enjoy
for knowledge doesn't have to be as Earth-changing as Einstein's, but
it can be an important part of your life, leading to a new job, better
pay, a new hobby, or simply knowledge for knowledge's sake whatever
is important to you as an end goal.
knowledge does typically require advanced learning techniques. In fact,
it's been said that the average adult only uses 10% of his/her brain.
Imagine what we may be capable of with more advanced learning techniques.
77 tips related to knowledge and learning to help you on your quest. A
few are specifically for students in traditional learning institutions;
the rest for self-starters, or those learning on their own. Happy learning.
a leg. Lack of blood flow is a common reason for lack of concentration.
If you've been sitting in one place for awhile, bounce one of your legs
for a minute or two. It gets your blood flowing and sharpens both concentration
2. Food for thought: Eat breakfast. A lot of people skip breakfast,
but creativity is often optimal in the early morning and it helps to have
some protein in you to feed your brain. A lack of protein can actually
3. Food for thought, part 2: Eat a light lunch. Heavy lunches have
a tendency to make people drowsy. While you could turn this to your advantage
by taking a "thinking nap" (see #23), most people haven't learned
4. Cognitive enhancers: Ginkgo biloba. Ginkgo biloba is a natural
supplement that has been used in China and other countries for centuries
and has been reputed to reverse memory loss in rats. It's also suggested
by some health practitioners as a nootrope and thus a memory enhancer.
5. Reduce stress + depresssion. Stress and depression may reduce
the ability to recall information and thus inhibit learning. Sometimes,
all you need to reduce depression is more white light and fewer refined
on it. Dr. Maxwell Maltz wrote about in his book Psycho-Cybernetics
about a man who was was paid good money to come up with ideas. He would
lock his office door, close the blinds, turn off the lights. He'd focus
on the problem at hand, then take a short nap on a couch. When he awoke,
he usually had the problem solved.
7. Take a break. Change phyical or mental perspective to lighten
the invisible stress that can sometimes occur when you sit in one place
too long, focused on learning. Taking a 5-15 minute break every hour during
study sessions is more beneficial than non-stop study. It gives your mind
time to relax and absorb information. If you want to get really serious
with breaks, try a 20 minute ultradian break as part of every 90 minute
cycle. This includes a nap break, which is for a different purpose than
8. Take a hike. Changing your perspective often relieves tension,
thus freeing your creative mind. Taking a short walk around the neighborhood
Perspective and Focus
your focus. Sometimes there simply isn't enough time to take a long
break. If so, change subject focus. Alternate between technical and non-technical
your focus, part 2. There are three primary ways to learn: visual,
kinesthetic, and auditory. If one isn't working for you, try another.
11. Do walking meditation. If you're taking a hike (#25), go one
step further and learn walking meditation as a way to tap into your inner
resources and your strengthen your ability to focus. Just make sure you're
not walking inadvertently into traffic.
12. Focus and immerse yourself. Focus on whatever you're studying.
Don't try to watch TV at the same time or worry yourself about other things.
Anxiety does not make for absorption of information and ideas.
13. Turn out the lights. This is a way to focus, if you are not
into meditating. Sit in the dark, block out extraneous influences. This
is ideal for learning kinesthetically, such as guitar chord changes.
14. Take a bath or shower. Both activities loosen you up, making
your mind more receptive to recognizing brilliant ideas.
to music. Researchers have long shown that certain types of music
are a great "key" for recalling memories. Information learned
while listening to a particular song or collection can often be recalled
simply by "playing" the songs mentally.
16. Speedread. Some people believe that speedreading causes you
to miss vital information. The fact remains that efficient speedreading
results in filtering out irrelevant information. If necessary, you can
always read and re-read at slower speeds. Slow reading actually hinders
the ability to absorb general ideas. (Although technical subjects often
requirer slower reading.) If you're reading online, you can try the free
Spreeder Web-based application.
17. Use acronyms and other mnemonic devices. Mnemonics are essentially
tricks for remembering information. Some tricks are so effective that
proper application will let you recall loads of mundane information years
picture tells a story. Draw or sketch whatever it is you are trying
to achieve. Having a concrete goal in mind helps you progress towards
19. Brainmap it. Need to plan something? Brain maps, or mind maps,
offer a compact way to get both an overview of a project as well as easily
add details. With mind maps, you can see the relationships between disparate
ideas and they can also act as a receptacle for a brainstorming session.
20. Learn symbolism and semiotics. Semiotics is the study of signs
and symbols. Having an understanding of the symbols of a particular discipline
aids in learning, and also allows you to record information more efficiently.
21. Use information design. When you record information that has
an inherent structure, applying information design helps convey that information
more clearly. A great resource is Information Aesthetics, which gives
examples of information design and links to their sources.
22. Use visual learning techniques. Try gliffy for structured diagrams.
Also see Inspiration.com for an explanation of webs, idea maps, concept
maps, and plots.
23. Map your task flow. Learning often requires gaining knowledge
in a specific sequence. Organizing your thoughts on what needs to be done
is a powerful way to prepare yourself to complete tasks or learn new topics.
and Auditory Techniques
ideas. Play rhyming games, utter nonsense words. These loosen you
up, making you more receptive to learning.
25. Brainstorm. This is a time-honored technique that combines
verbal activity, writing, and collaboration. (One person can brainstorm,
but it's more effective in a group.) It's fruitful if you remember some
simple rules: Firstly, don't shut anyone's idea out. Secondly, don't "edit"
in progress; just record all ideas first, then dissect them later. Participating
in brainstorming helps assess what you already know about something, and
what you didn't know.
26. Learn by osmosis. Got an iPod? Record a few of your own podcasts,
upload them to your iPod and sleep on it. Literally. Put it under your
pillow and playback language lessons or whatever.
27. Cognitive enhancers: binaural beats. Binaural beats involve
playing two close frequencies simultaneously to produce alpha, beta, delta,
and theta waves, all of which produce either sleeping, restfulness, relaxation,
meditativeness, alertness, or concentration. Binaural
beats are used in conjunction with other excercises for a type of
28. Laugh. Laughing relaxes the body. A relaxed body is more receptive
to new ideas.
don't type. While typing your notes into the computer is great for
posterity, writing by hand stimulates ideas. The simple act of holding
and using a pen or pencil massages acupuncture points in the hand, which
in turn stimulates ideas.
30. Carry a quality notebook at all times. Samuel Taylor Coleridge
dreamed the words of the poem "In Xanadu (did Kubla Khan)...".
Upon awakening, he wrote down what he could recall, but was distracted
by a visitor and promptly forgot the rest of the poem. Forever. If you've
been doing "walking meditation" or any kind of meditation or
productive napping, ideas may suddenly come to you. Record them immediately.
31. Keep a journal. This isn't exactly the same as a notebook.
Journaling has to do with tracking experiences over time. If you add in
visual details, charts, brainmaps, etc., you have a much more creative
way to keep tabs on what you are learning.
32. Organize. Use sticky colored tabs to divide up a notebook or
journal. They are a great way to partition ideas for easy referral.
33. Use post-it notes. Post-it notes provide a helpful way to record
your thoughts about passages in books without defacing them with ink or
yourself credit. Ideas are actually a dime a dozen. If you learn to
focus your mind on what results you want to achieve, you'll recognize
the good ideas. Your mind will become a filter for them, which will motivate
you to learn more.
35. Motivate yourself. Why do you want to learn something? What
do want to achieve through learning? If you don't know why you want to
learn, then distractions will be far more enticing.
36. Set a goal. W. Clement Stone once said "Whatever the mind
of man can conceive, it can achieve." It's an amazing phenomenon
in goal achievement. Prepare yourself by whatever means necessary, and
hurdles will seem surmountable. Anyone who has experienced this phenomenon
understands its validity. [Related Article: How
to Write Your Goals]
37. Think positive. There's no point in setting learning goals
for yourself if you don't have any faith in your ability to learn.
38. Organize, part 2. Learning is only one facet of the average
adult's daily life. You need to organize your time and tasks else you
might find it difficult to fit time in for learning. Try Neptune for a
browser-based application for "getting things done."
39. Every skill is learned. With the exception of bodily functions,
every skill in life is learned. Generally speaking, if one person can
learn something, so can you. It may take you more effort, but if you've
set a believable goal, it's likely an achievable goal.
40. Prepare yourself for learning. Thinking positive isn't sufficient
for successfully achieving goals. This is especially important if you
are an adult, as you'll probably have many distractions surrounding your
daily life. Implement ways to reduce distractions, at least for a few
hours at a time, else learning will become a frustrating experience.
41. Prepare yourself, part 2. Human nature is such that not everyone
in your life will be a well-wisher in your self-improvement and learning
plans. They may intentionally or subconsciously distract you from your
goal. If you have classes to attend after work, make sure that work colleagues
know this, that you are unable to work late. Diplomacy works best if you
think your boss is intentionally giving you work on the days he/she knows
you have to leave. Reschedule lectures to a later time slot if possible/
42. Constrain yourself. Most people need structure in their lives.
Freedom is sometimes a scary thing. It's like chaos. But even chaos has
order within. By constraining yourself say giving yourself deadlines,
limiting your time on an idea in some manner, or limiting the tools you
are working with you can often accomplish more in less time.
as much as you can. How much more obvious can it get? Use Spreeder
(#33) if you have to. Get a breadth of topics as well as depth.
44. Cross-pollinate your interests. Neurons that connect to existing
neurons give you new perspectives and abilities to use additional knowledge
in new ways.
45. Learn another language. New perspectives give you the ability
to cross-pollinate cultural concepts and come up with new ideas. As well,
sometimes reading a book in its original language will provide you with
insights lost in translation.
46. Learn how to learn. Management Help has a resource page, as
does SIAST (Virtual Campus), which links to articles about learning methods.
They are geared towards online learning, but no doubt you gain something
from them for any type of learning. If you are serious about optimum learning,
read Headrush's Crash course in learning theory.
47. Learn what you know and what you don't. Many people might say,
"I'm dumb," or "I don't know anything about that."
The fact is, many people are wholly unaware of what they already know
about a topic. If you want to learn about a topic, you need to determine
what you already know, figure out what you don't know, and then learn
through background processes. Effective multi-tasking allows you to
bootstrap limited time to accomplish several tasks. Learning can be bootstrapped
through multi-tasking, too. By effective multitasking, I don't mean doing
two or more things at exactly the same time. It's not possible. However,
you can achieve the semblance of effective multitasking with the right
approach, and by prepping your mind for it. For example, a successful
freelance writer learns to manage several articles at the same time. Research
the first essay, and then let the background processes of your mind takeover.
Move on consciously to the second essay. While researching the second
essay, the first one will often "write itself." Be prepared
to record it when it "appears" to you.
49. Think holistically. Holistic thinking might be the single most
"advanced" learning technique that would help students. But
it's a mindset rather than a single technique.
50. Use the right type of repetition. Complex concepts often require
revisting in order to be fully absorbed. Sometimes, for some people, it
may actually take months or years. Repetition of concepts and theory with
various concrete examples improves absorption and speeds up learning.
51. Apply the Quantum Learning (QL) model. The Quantum Learning
model is being applied in some US schools and goes beyond typical education
methods to engage students.
52. Get necessary tools. There are obviously all kinds of tools
for learning. If you are learning online like a growing number of people
these days, then consider your online tools. One of the best tools for
online research is the Firefox web browser, which has loads of extensions
(add-ons) with all manner of useful features. One is Googlepedia, which
simultaneously displays Google search engine listings, when you search
for a term, with related entries from Wikipedia.
53. Get necessary tools, part 2. This is a very niche tip, but
if you want to learn fast-track methods for building software, read Getting
Real from 37 Signals. The Web page version is free. The techniques in
the book have been used to create Basecamp, Campfire, and Backpack web
applications in a short time frame. Each of these applications support
collaboration and organization.
54. Learn critical thinking. As Keegan-Michael Key's character
on MadTV might say, critical thinking takes analysis to "a whole
notha level". Read Wikipedia's discourse on critical thinking as
a starting point. It involves good analytical skills to aid the ability
to learn selectively.
55. Learn complex problem solving. For most people, life is a series
of problems to be solved. Learning is part of the process. If you have
a complex problem, you need to learn the art of complex problem solving.
Teachers, Tutors, and Parents
engaging. Lectures are one-sided and often counter-productive. Information
merely heard or witnessed (from a chalkboard for instance) is often forgotten.
Teaching is not simply talking. Talking isn't enough. Ask students questions,
present scenarios, engage them.
57. Use information pyramids. Learning happens in layers. Build
base knowledge upon which you can add advanced concepts.
58. Use video games. Video games get a bad rap because of certain
violent games. But video games in general can often be an effective aid
59. Role play. Younger people often learn better by being part
of a learning experience. For example, history is easier to absorb through
60. Apply the 80/20 rule. This rule is often interpreted in dfferent
ways. In this case, the 80/20 rule means that some concepts, say about
20% of a curriculum, require more effort and time, say about 80%, than
others. So be prepared to expand on complex topics.
61. Tell stories. Venus Flytrap, a character from the sitcom WKRP
in Cincinnati, once taught a student gang member about atoms, electrons,
and protons by saying that an atom was one big neighborhood, and the protons
and neutrons had their own smaller neighborhoods and never mixed. Just
like rival gangs. The story worked, and understanding sparked in the students
62. Go beyond the public school curriculum. The public school system
is woefully lacking in teaching advanced learning and brainstorming methods.
It's not that the methods cannot be taught; they just aren't. To learn
more, you have to pay a premium in additional time and effort, and sometimes
money for commercially available learning tools. There's nothing wrong
with that in itself, but what is taught in schools needs to be expanded.
This article's author has proven that a nine-year old can learn (some)
university level math, if the learning is approached correctly.
63. Use applied learning. If a high school student were having
trouble in math, say with fractions, one example of applied learning might
be photography, lenses, f-stops, etc. Another example is cooking and measurement
of ingredients. Tailor the applied learning to the interest of the student.
Students and Self-Studiers
engaged. Surprise. Sometimes students are bored because they know
more than is being taught, maybe even more than a teacher. (Hopefully
teachers will assess what each student already knows.) Students should
discuss with a teacher if they feel that the material being covered is
not challenging. Also consider asking for additional materials.
65. Teach yourself. Teachers cannot always change their curricula.
If you're not being challenged, challenge yourself. Some countries still
apply country-wide exams for all students. If your lecturer didn't cover
a topic, you should learn it on your own. Don't wait for someone to teach
you. Lectures are most effective when you've pre-introduced yourself to
66. Collaborate. If studying by yourself isn't working, maybe a
study group will help.
67. Do unto others: teach something. The best way to learn something
better is to teach it to someone else. It forces you to learn, if you
are motivated enough to share your knowledge.
68. Write about it. An effective way to "teach" something
is to create an FAQ or a wiki containing everything you know about a topic.
Or blog about the topic. Doing so helps you to realize what you know and
more importantly what you don't. You don't even have to spend money if
you grab a freebie account with Typepad, Wordpress, or Blogger.
69. Learn by experience. Pretty obvious, right? It means put in
the necessary time. An expert is often defined as someone who has put
in 10,000 hours into some experience or endeavor. That's approximately
5 years of 40 hours per week, every week. Are you an expert without realizing
it? If you're not, do you have the dedication to be an expert?
70. Quiz yourself. Testing what you've learned will reinforce the
information. Flash cards are one of the best ways, and are not just for
71. Learn the right things first. Learn the basics. Case in point:
a frustrating way to learn a new language is to learn grammar and spelling
and sentence constructs first. This is not the way a baby learns a language,
and there's no reason why an adult or young adult has to start differently,
despite "expert" opinion. Try for yourself and see the difference.
72. Plan your learning. If you have a long-term plan to learn something,
then to quote Led Zeppelin, "There are two paths you can go by."
You can take a haphazard approach to learning, or you can put in a bit
of planning and find an optimum path. Plan your time and balance your
learning and living.
Don't give up learning in the face of intimdating tasks. Anything one
human being can learn, most others can as well. Wasn't it Einstein that
said, "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration"? Thomas
Edison said it, too.
74. Defy the experts. Dyslexia, in a nutshell, is the affliction
of mentally jumbling letters and digits, causing difficulties in reading,
writing and thus learning. Sometimes spoken words or numbers get mixed
up as well. In the past, "experts" declared dyslexic children
stupid. Later, they said they were incapable of learning. This author
has interacted with and taught dyslexic teens. It's possible. Helen Keller
had no experience of sight, sound, or speech, and yet she learned. Conclusion:
There is more than one way to learn; never believe you cannot.
75. Challenge yourself. People are often more intelligent than
they realize. In a world that compartmentalizes and categorizes everything,
not everyone is sure where they fit in. And genius can be found in many
walks of life. If you honestly suspect that there's more to you than has
been "allowed" to be let out, try an IQ test such as the one
offered by MENSA. It's unlike the standardized IQ tests given in many
schools. You know the kind the ones which traumatize many young
students into thinking they are stupid, simply because the tests don't
really assess all student's knowledge and learning ability. And the ability
to learn is far, far more important than what you already know.
76. Party before an exam. Well, don't go that far. The key is to
relax. The worse thing to do is cram the night before an exam. If you
don't already know a subject by then, cramming isn't going to help. If
you have studied, simply review the topic, then go do something pleasant
(no more studying). Doing so tells your brain that you are prepared and
that you will be able to recall anything that you have already learned.
On the other hand, if you didn't spend the semester learning the ideas
you need, you might as well go party anyways because cramming at the last
minute isn't going to help much at that point.
77. Don't worry; learn happy. Have a real passion for learning
and want to share that? Join a group such as the Joyful Jubilant Learning
community [via LifeHack].
was originally published at the Online
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