Have you ever been to a meeting where the discussion wanders too far from the core subject of the meeting and your minds starts wandering further into a state of “mindless thoughts”?
This is what you do with your mindless thoughts …
Source: Mindless Thoughts from attending a long monotonous meeting
Mind is such a precious resource and I use to feel this kind of art as killing our extraordinary ability to think. The ability that separates us from other living beings, that consumes 20% of oxygen even though its less 2% of our body weight.
15 years ago, I came up with the concept of screen saver for mind – whenever you have time and don’t have something intelligent to think get into this screen saver mode and start doing something productive. Remember how effective was SETI @Home – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Search_for_extraterrestrial_intelligence.
Great thought but not very implementable since screen savers are for computers and humans don’t have this ability.
Its was only recently that I discovered a solution. Here I am going to share some of the methods that you can actually use this stage of human intelligence and do many things that you thought were impossible.
First a brief introduction to Neuroscience
1. Our ability to learn and remember things come from our neurons and their connections (synapses) in our brain. Brain has billions of neurons each neuron is connected to other neurons via thousands of synapses. We create/develop neural patterns during all our life as we gather more information. When we try to understand something, we use either the existing patterns or develop new patterns.
2. Depending on how these neural patterns are used in learning new concepts – there are two modes of mind – Focused and Diffused.
Focused mode uses the neural patterns that are strongest and generally due to the limit on how much memory we have its limited to 4.
Source: Coursera Powerpoint slides for the course “Learning how to learn”
Diffused mode can leverage all the other patterns – remember when some thing comes to your mind when you are not thinking about it.
Source: Coursera Powerpoint slides for the course “Learning how to learn”.
Have you been to a tense situation where you mind goes blank e.g. Going to an Interview and suddenly you don’t know the answer to a question.
and then you let it go and suddenly it appears.
This is exactly your limited ability to use neural patterns in focused mode and when you are relaxed your mind is able to a bigger range of neural patterns in the diffused mode.
3. People can have different orientation in our ability to smart in accessing our focused mode but each person has its own advantage. Higher IQ person might have 9 memory spaces available to focused mode but that also becomes restriction to access the rest of the brain patterns since most of the problems are solved by focused mode.
Using this knowledge to our benefit
Lets see how we use this learning to our advantage and become the genius we always wanted to be.
1. Broaden your thoughts – To develop new neural patterns, its important to have diverse range of experiences, knowledge and memory. Then its important to build these memories so that these neural patterns become stronger and can be used for future learning. First is experiencing new ideas and knowledge by exposing our minds not just limited to our passions but also broadening our thoughts to other areas. When we go through this learning experience its important to use techniques like feedback from peers, testing repeatedly and spaced repetitions. This not only creates the neural patterns but also makes them stronger and bigger.
2. Learning difficult ideas/problems: Once you have the neural patterns to learn new ideas and solve new problems, you need further evolve them for more complex thoughts. If the problem or idea is too tough/complicated then there are two methods to be successful:
a. Chunking – learn the big picture and then break it into smaller graspable smaller pieces so that you learn some chunks.
b. Use both modes of the mind – Spend time with the problem so that your focused mind gets the problem. Then let it cook in your mind – take a long walk, hot or cold shower or just enjoying the morning coffee. Each one of us might have a preferred method to invoke the diffused mode and there might multiple activities. Getting into new environment might also give us new insight.
c. Practice and Repeat: Its more efficient to learn by testing than by just reading something because the retention rate is higher. Higher retention means that neural patterns are stronger. Spaced repeating also helps in making the patterns stronger.
3. Ability to learn never stops: People with extra ordinary IQ or with natural ability to understand math or language are no way superior or inferior. Anyone with little practice can overcome these hurdles or use unique attributes of his/her brain to his/her benefit. Few methods of improving your learning capabilities:
a. Embracing the pain – don’t run away from difficult situation, it helps you build complex patterns that might be solve complex problems in life.
b. Use Pomodoro technique to focus on complex ideas when you have a tendency to get distracted or have procrastination problem. Fix a 25minute focused time with 5 minutes of reward after that. During this time work on the task – focus on the process not on the final product. Incremental improvement can take you a long way. Some times things are easier than what they appear to be.
I am going to be:
1. Open to new ideas
2. Use complete brain
3. Never stop learning