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How to Improve Learning Skills


Summary: Learning defined, Multi-pass approach, Take short breaks, Intelligence is distributed, Paradigm shift, Physical Activity

Learning defined

In the business world, the kind of learning that matters is that which increases your capacity for effective action. This usually involves accumulating specialized knowledge, skills, and as much self-confidence as it takes to believe in your effectiveness. One highly effective way to accumulate specialized knowledge is to find a problem and solve it. Technology is changing things so rapidly in business, that it is creating an amazing quantity of opportunities to solve new problems. Choose your problems wisely. Each time you solve a problem, it will increase your capacity for effective action in that area. This new capacity will attract opportunities to apply it to new and larger problems of like kind. In this way, the problems you choose to solve can be destiny shaping. It is not the title of the position you hold, it is the nature of the problems you learn how to solve that will determine your success in this rapidly morphing business world.

Multi-pass approach

The multi-pass approach involves exposing your mind to the new material as soon as possible, even if only for a few moments. The ideas may seem confusing at first, as this is often the first stage of learning. Getting this phase out of the way early puts time on your side because from that point on, your subconscious mind will begin processing and assimilating that material. You will notice the effects of this subconscious processing (incubation) the next time you look at the material. There does not appear to be any limit to the amount of material the subconscious mind can "incubate". Embracing this confusion process early does not mean force feeding your mind. It should be done from a place of eager anticipation--from a place of curiosity.

Take short breaks

If you plan to study for an extended period, schedule a 10 minute break every two hours, and a 2-5 minute break every 40 minutes. Studies have shown that we remember more of the first and last things that we study. Taking these breaks increases the number of firsts and lasts. It also gives your mind a breather, so that when you return to studying, your mind will be sharper and thus your efforts more productive. The scale of productivity when doing mental work can be exponential. Think of your peak studying mode as "Michael Jordan" mode. That's where you are really cranking, understanding ideas and solving problems much quicker than normal. You are much more likely to maximize "Michael Jordan" study time if you give your mind an occasional break.

Intelligence is distributed

Intelligence is distributed throughout the body. For example, if you have ever played a musical instrument, you may have noticed that your hands seem to have a mind of their own. When studying, pay attention to signals your body may be giving you. If you are learning new material and your mind/body seems to be resisting, your body may be telling you that you have other needs which must be tended to that are more important.

Paradigm shift

Shifting your learning paradigm involves changing the role you perceive yourself playing with the information. One way to shift your learning paradigm is to listen, read and observe as if you are a teacher--as if you are going to teach this material to others who can benefit from it.

Another approach is to invest some time up front trying to identify someone with a problem that could benefit from the knowledge you are about to study. Why? Because there is an infinite amount of information to be processed. Most of the value comes from a very small percentage of the information, and this value is determined by the context in which the information is applied. Even two different businesses with the same problem will have very different contexts, and thus very different informational needs. The "metaskill" you must learn is to match specific information to a specific need.

Here's how it works in business: Once you have selected a problem to solve, you invest time answering the following question:

How will we recognize a successful solution after it has been implemented?

By clarifying your desired outcome, you form the basis for directing your subconscious information processing mechanisms. The clearer your outcome, the more effective your subconscious mind will be in directing you to information and people who will help you achieve that outcome. See Chapters 2 and 3 in Brain Dancing for a complete discussion of this process.

Physical Activity

Engaging in activities involving unique physical movements, timing, and coordination encourages dendrite growth in the brain. The more dendrites, the more connections your brain can make. The more connections, the more flexible and efficient your thinking and learning will be. So while hard work and disciplined study is a virtue, balancing it with activities such as the following can amplify your mental effectiveness:

These activities give you "mental rest". Your body rests when you sleep, but your mind keeps on cranking. Have you ever awoken in the middle of the night and noticed that you were thinking about something? The best way to give your mind a rest is to engage in an activity that you totally love to do, and that requires 100% of your attention. Such activities rip you out of your mental ruts and encourage the use of different parts of your brain. When you do get back to work, your mind will be fresh and learning will occur more efficiently.

Varied physical activities broaden your experience of life and nature. These experiences serve as metaphors for learning new conceptual topics. There are many parallels between patterns in nature and the structure of ideas presented in various fields.

Also keep in mind that the brain feeds on glucose and oxygen. Activities that promote cardiovascular fitness will increase the supply of oxygen to the brain. You want your mental engines running on high octane fuel.


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Copyright © 1996 by Patrick T. Magee