How awesome would it be to have super-powered learning abilities? What do you think it would do for your career or studies? It goes without saying that the better you are at learning, the better you’ll do in life. So when it comes to improving your IQ, excelling at college or being successful in your career, a little "brain training" will go a long way.
Your mind is incredibly elastic—it can be strengthened, modeled and reshaped just about any way you want it. With the right techniques and consistent practice, you can improve your ability to absorb information in a relatively short space of time. In this article, we’ve got 8 such strategies to turn your mind into a lean, mean learning machine.
Give them a go—picking up new skills or acing your exams will become a walk in the park, and your mates down the pub will be astounded when you start reading their minds and levitating beer mats.*
* Results are not guaranteed, and will differ from person to person. Also, that may only work for Jedis.
1. Clear the Slate
The average mind is a very busy place, indeed. We’re constantly flooded with thoughts and ideas, which makes accessing and sorting mental information a bit like trying to navigate the streets of Calcutta during rush hour. If you want to learn faster and better, you’ll need to clear a path and cut out the hustle and bustle.
How you do this is up to you, but I highly recommend you start practicing meditation. Before you read a book, sit down for a study session or start your work day, take a few minutes to sit quietly and think of, well, nothing. Imagine your mind as a sponge—the more you can empty it, the more capacity it has for new knowledge.
2. Listen to Music
You probably know from personal experience that music helps relieve stress and soothe the brain. It’s also been associated with enhanced cognitive function and improved focus in healthy adults, according to studies. Put simply, music can put you in a frame of mind that’s perfectly suited to learning.
So what type of tunes should you listen to? While that’s a matter of personal preference, it’s hard to imagine getting focused while blasting out Metallica or LMFAO. It’s long been thought that classical music can give you a mental boost (aka the "Mozart effect"), but some swear by ambient/trance beats while others do well with jazz or blues. Try experimenting until you come up with your own perfect playlist!
3. Practice Chunking
While it might sound like something you’d too after one-too-many shots of tequila, chunking is actually a method of breaking down large swathes of information into smaller, more manageable "blocks." It’s a technique that most of us are naturally equipped with, and we use it all the time in our everyday lives.
Let me give you an example—which of the following do you think would be easier to learn:
Though both are identical, the second number is easier to remember because your mind is better at handling shorter sequences. You can take this approach with just about any subject, from learning the vocabulary of a foreign language to memorising work-related procedures and to-do lists.
4. Write Often
When it comes to the nitty-gritty of actually sitting down to learn and organise information, there are few more useful strategies than writing things down. Your mind is fluid—ideas come and go, floating around in a sea of thoughts. But when you put pen to paper, you solidify those ideas and tell your memory "this is important."
No doubt you’re already familiar with note-taking, but let me reiterate—whenever you read, hear or see something that you want to retain, write it down. You’ll absorb the information better, and it will be easier to recall in the future. You can also practice writing as a means to improve mental dexterity. Keep a journal, write short stories or poetry, and watch your creativity and analytical ability improve over time.
5. Learn By Association
"Association" is another groovy learning technique that will help you soak up and understand information better. It’s the process of taking new material and "anchoring" it to stuff you already know so that it sticks. Remember using picture cards to learn the alphabet ("A" for "Apple," "B" for "Ball" and so on)? The images of familiar objects made it much easier to recall the letters.
You can apply the same technique to just about anything else you want to learn. For example, let’s say you’re trying to learn the elements that make up the molecular structure of water—two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. Imagine the water molecule as a family, with the child (oxygen) holding hands with each of his parents (hydrogen). See how easy that is to remember?
6. Challenge Yourself
Learning, like anything else, gets easier with practice. You wouldn’t expect to beat Roger Federer in a best of 5 if you’d just picked up a tennis racket for the first time that morning. Think of your mind like your backhand—the more you use it, the more powerful and accurate it will become.
Learn plenty and often, but more importantly, push yourself. You don’t just have to read books—you can travel around, meet new people, learn how to play a musical instrument or speak a foreign language. For a quick challenge, try solving crosswords or sudoku puzzles. Whatever you can do to exercise your mind will help improve your learning capacity, so get those neurons working!
7. Sequence Information
Believe it or not, the order in which we learn stuff is very important for effective memory function. "Sequencing" is the process of organising ideas to form a logical flow or progression, so that it makes more sense. When used in combination with chunking, this can be an incredibly effective technique to enhance your learning abilities.
But how does it work? Well, it’s just a matter of prioritising. When you’re learning music, you would start by trying to understand what the lines and markings on the sheet mean, and then you’d learn how to handle the instrument, and finally you’d attempt to play a melody. If you jumble the order, the process becomes less effective. Whenever you learn something new, take a minute to sequence the information in a logical way, and you’ll pick it up much quicker.
8. Learn To Speed Read
Increasing your reading speed is an obvious and very effective way to learn more. The faster you can read, the more information you can absorb in the same amount of time, right? But because we’ve been taught to read aloud from an early age, our reading speed tends to be limited to the pace at which we can talk (even when we read silently).
To break through this barrier, you’ll need to stop subvocalizing the words as you read (i.e. voicing them in your head). It takes practice, but there are plenty of techniques and drills you can try to help you along the way. I recommend you check out this speed reading tutorial from master Lifehacker Tim Ferriss. Go ahead, give it a try and see how fast you can go!
Do you know of any other techniques for turning your brain into a supercomputer? We want to hear about them in the comments below: