I’m the person that buys the new thing and immediately dives into the most difficult possible project. This is usually followed by immense frustration and sometime after that—quitting.
Well, not this time. This time I’m going to do it right. In order to do that, I wanted to understand a bit more about what I can do to promote the best possible learning experience. Hopefully what I found out can be of use to you as you begin to tackle something new in your life.
Tip 1: Know how you learn
You know how in cartoons the really smart characters always had obscenely big heads to house their incredibly intelligent brains? Okay, so we know that’s not how real intelligence works, but certain areas of your brain do expand while you are in the process of learning something new.
Some neuroscientists believe this occurs when your brain is trying to solve a problem it doesn’t know the answer to. Your brain (or more specifically your cortex) doesn’t necessarily know which area of the brain is best equipped to solve the problem or learn a new skill. So it recruits a good portion of the cortex, like a search committee, to hunt for the answer. When this happens, your cortex expands.
To make the most out of your time spent learning, space it out.
Popular convention, or perhaps all those nights spent cramming for tests in college, might have you believe that those short bursts of study time are the best.
Research shows that spacing out your studying over a period of time is actually the best way to enhance your memory of the material.
In fact, if you want to remember something for 5 years, your best choice is to space out your periods of study around 6-12 months. That seems completely counterintuitive but doing this helps the brain build a sturdy foundation for knowledge.
When your brain has finally solved a problem, the cortex will once again contract. The skills that we acquired during that learning period remain. And because the brain work this way, it means making mistakes is vital to the learning process.
Tip 2: Get comfortable making mistakes
You may as well get used to making mistakes right now because when we learn something new, we can’t help but make them. Our ability to make and learn from our mistakes is essential to acquiring a new skill and even to our very evolution and survival.
The brains medial frontal cortex (located in the frontal lobe) monitors negative feedback, action errors, and decision uncertainty—it’s perfectly suited to process our mistakes. The frontal cortex adapts based on negative feedback or diminished rewards and it does that through… yes, you guessed it, dopamine!