Hack Your Mind: 23 Tricks to Learn Anything Better
Creating habits that boost your memory and attention span.
Learning hacks -- they’re a thing, and while the college kids are heading back to school, it’s a good time for all of us to rethink the ways we learn. Student, professional, or parent, we’re all learning every day -- whether it’s how to play guitar, use new software, raise a child, or poach an egg, the mind is always soaking up new information. Make it easier with the following tips.
Prime Your Mind: Creating Habits That Optimize Learning
With a little regular maintenance, the mind can become razor-sharp and ready to tackle any challenge and absorb new information. Keep the brain in tip-top shape by making regular habits out of the following activities.
1. Work Out
Lifting weights and doing cardio carry a host of physical benefits, but turns out exercise can also improve learning and memory. If your thoughts are muddled, try taking a brisk walk or heading to the gym. One study found that memory and cognitive processing (the ability to think clearly) improved after a single 15-minute exercise session.
Regularly getting your om on isn’t just great for managing stress, it also improves memory, impulse control, and attention span.
3. Eat Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
PUFAs (particularly omega-3 fatty acids) are crucial for brain function and help control the brain’s learning and memory centers. Salmon is a famously terrific source of omega-3s, but other fish, such as herring and mackerel, contain a similar amount. Meat-free sources of PUFAs include walnuts, peanuts, and chia and pumpkin seeds.
When the crunch is on, people often sacrifice their Zzs in favor of more time to work or study. But the extra smidge of work that gets done isn’t worth the morning zombie eyes: Getting adequate sleep every night is absolutely crucial for brain function, good judgment, reaction time, and even using consistent grammar. The mind of a sensible sleeper will learn much faster, justifying the hours “lost” by getting an early night.
5. Drink Water
This tip might be a no brainer (pun intended), but dehydration is more widespread than you might think -- if you’re thirsty, it’s already too late. Reaction times, responsiveness, and overall mental processing improve with hydration, so invest in a BPA-free water bottle and take it absolutely everywhere. Also remember that a lot of common foods, particularly fruits, are surprisingly good sources of water.
6. Practice Yoga
There’s an easy way to increase your brain's grey matter: Do yoga. Yogis also report fewer cognitive failures, i.e., errors in perception, memory, and motor function.
7. Take Up a Hobby
It’s important to spend some time each day on activities other than work or studying. Not only does the brain need time to take stock of all the learning it’s done, but picking up unrelated hobbies can make you smarter. Try something that requires a lot of concentration and hand-eye coordination: One study found people who took up juggling classes demonstrated an increase in their grey matter (though it disappeared once they quit). That’s one more reason to never stop learning new things.
8. Set an Agenda
Success is often tied to the ability to implement structure in one's life, so it’s a good idea to set goals and create realistic study schedules. By “realistic,” we don’t just mean allocating more than an hour for that 5,000 word report -- it’s also important to schedule time to recover between bouts of intense work, whether it’s learning new software or how to drive stick. Scheduling in relaxation time for the brain is called “the spacing effect,” and it’s known to improve long-term recall.
Allocating time to relax is important to avoid burnout, but it’s even better to do so with people who make you giggle. The simple act of laughter has been shown to help with problem-solving and creativity. Funny, right?
10. Check Your Motivation
Ask, the question, “Why am I learning this?” People learn better if information seems useful to them, and particularly if they believe it can have an impact on their community. Choose a course, hobby, or career (gulp) that’s important to you and gets you excited.
Learning to Learn: How to Practice and Study Right
Now that you’re ready to focus on learning new skills or information, try to be mindful of the following tips . . .
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