One of the four pillars of Mental Toughness ‘Challenge’ measures the extent to which individuals are likely to view change or a challenge as an opportunity. Those scoring highly on this scale will generally look for opportunities to develop themselves and to learn new skills and adapt to changing situations. Being able to learn quickly appeals and recent advancements in neuroscience have revealed the most effective ways our brains process and hold on to information.
In this post I have selected ‘six of the best’ proven strategies on retaining information and learning new strategies as suggested by author Deep Patel from his recent entrepreneur.com article.
1. Take notes with pen and paper
Though it might seem that typing your notes on a laptop during a conference, lecture or meeting will be more thorough, thus helping you learn faster, it doesn’t work that way. To speed up your learning, skip the laptop and take notes the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper. Research has shown that those who type in their notes process and retain the information at a lower level whereas those who take notes by hand actually learn more.
Whilst taking notes by hand is slower and more cumbersome than typing, the act of writing out the information fosters comprehension and retention. Reframing the information in your own words helps you retain the information longer, meaning you’ll have better recall and will perform better on tests.
2. More sleep and more water
Although it seems natural to stay up late to cram and over prepare before a big project or a major presentation tomorrow, it’s not the most efficient way for our brains to process information.
Research shows a strong connection between sleep and learning as sleep bolsters how the brain remembers something. Deep sleep (non-rapid-eye-movement sleep) can strengthen memories if the sleep occurs within 12 hours of learning the new information. Studies show that students who both study and get plenty of sleep not only perform better academically but they’re also happier.
Similarly, whilst staying hydrated is good for our skin, our immune system and keeping our body functioning optimally it is also important to our cognitive abilities. Drinking water can actually make you smarter and conversely dehydration can seriously affect your mental function because when you fail to drink water, your brain has to work harder than usual.
3. Modify your practice
If you’re learning a skill, don’t do the same thing over and over. Instead, making slight changes during repeated practice sessions will help you master a skill faster than doing it the same way every time. In one study, people who learned a computer-based motor skill, those who learned the skill, then had a modified practice session where they practiced the skill in a slightly different way were found to perform better than those who repeated the original task over and over.
This only works if the modifications are small — making big changes in how the skill is performed won’t help. So, for instance, if you’re practicing a new golf swing or perfecting your tennis game, try adjusting the size or weight of your club or racket.
4. Try a mnemonic technique
One of the best ways to memorize a large amount of information quickly is to use a mnemonic technique: a pattern of letters, sounds or other associations that assist in learning something. One of the most popular mnemonic devices is the one we learned in kindergarten — the alphabet song. This song helps children remember their “ABCs,” and it remains deeply ingrained in our memory as adults. Another is “i before e except after c” to help us remember a grammar rule.
Mnemonics help you simplify, summarize and compress information to make it easier to learn. It can be really handy for students in medical school or law school, or people studying a new language. So, if you need to memorize and store large amounts of new information, try a mnemonic and you’ll find you remember the information long past your test.
5. Use brain breaks to restore focus
Information overload is a real thing. In order to learn something new, our brains must send signals to our sensory receptors to save the new information, but stress and overload will prevent your brain from effectively processing and storing information.
When we are confused, anxious or feeling overwhelmed, our brains effectively shut down. You can see this happen when students listening to long, detailed lectures “zone out” and stop paying attention to what’s being said.
They simply aren’t able to effectively conduct that information into their memory banks, so learning shuts down. The best way to combat this is by taking a ‘brain break’ or simply shifting your activity to focus on something new. Even a five-minute break can relieve brain fatigue and help you refocus.
6. Learn information in multiple ways
When you use multiple ways to learn something, you’ll use more regions of the brain to store information about that subject. This makes that information more interconnected and embedded in your brain. It basically creates a redundancy of knowledge within your mind, helping you truly learn the information and not just memorize it.
You can do this by using different media to stimulate different parts of the brain, such as reading notes, reading the textbook, watching a video and listening to a podcast or audio file on the topic. The more resources you use, the faster you’ll learn.
For access to the underlying research view Deep’s full article