August 19, 2020

#53 : 4 Ways to Learn Things Faster: Part 1

Have you ever tried to study something and it just wasn’t “clicking”?

It’s so frustrating! You stare at the problem, turn the paper in all different directions, review your notes, go over an example but you just don’t get it!

Wow that can be soooo frustrating!

In undergrad, I majored in Psychology and Biology. I was always fascinated by the brain and how it affects our bodies. The brain is an intricate and truly amazing organ. It is so complex that scientists don’t fully understand how it works or how we can use our brains more efficiently and realize its potential. They have made some amazing discoveries, and over the next few weeks I’m going to share with you what they’ve discovered. 

Take for example studying new material. 

Researches have actually uncovered ways that our brains learn efficiently, even when they seem impossible at first. 

I know you’ve all been there. You study for a test, memorize some facts or information, ace the test and a few weeks later, you barely remember what the test was about. It’s weird right? As if our brains were able to retain the information just long enough for us to regurgitate it onto the paper and then poof! It’s gone…

Why though? 

Well it turns out that it all boils down to HOW we actually learned the material. 

If we can figure out how the brain learns best, we can save hours of wasted study time and truly learn new things, not just spill them onto a test. 

Wouldn’t that be nice? Instead of the countless hours of studying I did in medical school, maybe I could have studied less and learned more! Maybe I would have actually had time to do more things! Well, it turns out that some researchers think that the answer to this is YES! These skills really should be taught to all students beginning in grade school. It would help kids develop a strong foundation and increase their chances of academic success. 

Recently, I came across some research done by Barbara Oakley. She is an engineering professor at Oakland University and McAllister University and  studies how we learn. 

Learning how to learn can help ANYONE learn a new skill or new information. So, while it is true that we are each born with certain “gifts” when it comes to learning, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn things that are difficult or challenging if you understand the right way to learn. 

Did you know that we are born with a million billion synapses (connections) in our brains? These synapses (connections) are formed and broken almost every day! They are responsible for everything from our thoughts, to our memories and movements. 

Did you also know that one of the ways that our bodies create new synapses is through sleep??

In fact, when we sleep we technically wake up a different person because our brain is creating new connections that weren’t there the day before!  ( Crazy right? 

So, with school starting, one of the key things we need to maximize is our hours of SLEEP! When you start feeling tired, go to sleep. Listen to your body’s cues!

Sleep is our way of keeping our brains clean and healthy. In fact, getting too little sleep will likely result in lower test scores and over time can result in headaches, depression, heart disease, diabetes, and even dying earlier!

When we sleep, our brains organize the ideas that we are thinking about. It also erases less important parts of memories and strengthens areas that you need or want to remember. 

Our brains rehearse some of the tougher parts of whatever you’re trying to learn. It goes over patterns from things you have learned and tries to make new connections to the new material you are trying to understand. 

Sleep helps you figure out problems that are difficult to understand. 

When we are asleep, our conscious mind is deactivated (there is no intentional thinking). This helps your brain start talking more easily to other parts of your brain and allows them to put together the neural solution to the problem you’re trying to figure out. 

One of the ways to really take advantage of this amazing skill is to plant the seed in your head before you go to sleep or by doing focused learning right before bed. 

Try it! If you’re struggling with a problem, focus on it before going to sleep or focus on trying to figure it out and then go to sleep! 

When we sleep, our brain gets rid of toxins and our brain cells shrink. By shrinking our brain cells, there is more space in between the cells and thoughts can flow more freely. Plus, since our “thinking brain” is “asleep” it can’t get in the way of these new ideas and connections! 

Thinking about something right before we nap or before bedtime, increases our chances of dreaming about it!

This is even more true if you set in your mind that you WANT to dream about the material. This seems to improve your chances of dreaming about it even further!

Dreaming about what you’re studying can substantially increase your ability to understand it. 

I know this used to happen to me all the time. Sometimes I would be working on a tough math problem, wake up in the middle of the night, write it out on a piece of paper and be able to figure it out! I never realized that this was the reason why!

Has that ever happened to you? 

Over the next 4 weeks, since school is starting for many of our kids, I decided to share with you 4 facts about how the brain works best.  I hope that you try them with your kids (since many of you are the teachers this year!) 

I also hope that your kids will learn early on how to maximize the use of their study time for the best results!

Have a wonderful week! See you next week with the next tip!


Elizabeth Vainder, M.D. 

P.S. As always, share with a friend, leave a comment and sign up for my weekly newsletter!

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