Have you wondered why some people seem to be able to pick up new skills or knowledge effortlessly, while you have problems even recalling what you ate last night? Though a minority of them may be gifted with exceptional intelligence, most people owe their accomplishment to certain techniques that they use in learning. Here are ten creative techniques to help you improve your learning speed and help you think out of the box when it comes to thinking:
1. Get your hands dirty
Are you trying to learn how to paint, massage, swim or drive a car? Instead of spending time reading or thinking about it, why not try it out for yourself? New skills are best learned by real-life experimentation and you will learn a lot faster through trial and error and training your reflexes.
2. Pretend to be a teacher
When you are learning something new, pretending to be a master can help. This may sound contradictory, but by taking on the role of a teacher, you are forced to get all the facts and concepts right and think more broadly than learning just for yourself as you anticipate possible questions from your students. Explaining what you’ve learned also increases your own understanding through the exchanges of ideas with others.
3. Cultivate ambidexterity
Use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth, comb your hair or use the mouse. Write with both hands simultaneously. Switch hands for knife and fork. This helps your brain to create new pathways and circuits for learning.
4. Think in pictures
Albert Einstein thought in pictures, not words. In fact, he had a poor memory for words. So he visualised scenarios, such as light in the form of a train racing down a railway track, to answer complex scientific questions. So did great inventor Nikola Tesla who carried out entire experiments in his mind first before putting them into words.
Think of the information you’re trying to grasp as visuals and make them as fun as possible. Go through the visuals in your mind and interact with them; don’t just be a passive observer. The more engaging the imagery, the faster you’ll be able to absorb and recollect the information later. If you are new to visualisation, try guided visualisation first to realise the potential of guided imagery before coming up with your own.
To further enhance learning, incorporate interesting charts, diagrams, photos and mind maps whenever you can, especially when difficult concepts and theories are involved. Pictures have the benefit of packing tons of words into easy-to-understand graphical representation. Recalling a picture is also much easier than stuffing ten paragraphs of text into your head. Creating your own visuals will help to etch the information into your mind, but if you can’t, Google is only a click away.
5. Exercise your brain
Keep your brain fit with brain fitness programs, puzzles, sudoku, chess, computer games and mahjong, a popular Chinese four-player game. Our brain is a complex organ consisting of billions of cells called neurons that change with our life experiences. By engaging in these activities and learning new things often, it is possible to train our brain to function better and prevent, or put off, the adverse effects of aging, Alzheimer’s disease, or brain injury.
6. Read out loud
If reading has been your predominant way of learning, try listening for a change. That is, read the information out loud, as opposed to reading silently, and understand what you are saying. Be creative: use different tones or alternate your volume. Just make sure you aren’t disturbing anybody or causing any alarm.
Getting your ears into the act can enhance your understanding and help you to better recall information when you need them. The reason is simple. By engaging more than one modality, you create more ‘hooks’ for the brain to attach and link the information, increasing their chances of being retrieved. Although reading aloud may slow you down, the time you saved in re-reading later makes the effort worthwhile.
7. Learn to the tune
Music is another way to enrich your learning experience and some music has been found to relax the brain and improve learning by helping you to recall better. But whether it’s classical, the sounds of nature, or traditional music, the best music is one that works for you.
8. Meditate for focus
If your mind is stressful and imbalanced, chances are you will find it difficult to focus and concentrate, let alone understand and absorb any information. Learn to clear, relax and focus your mind with meditation for fifteen minutes before any intense learning.
There are many types of meditation to choose from and there’s always something for everyone. For starters, try the breathing meditation, as it is easy to pick up and work within minutes to prepare you for a reading marathon. If you can’t sit still, then a walking meditation may be the answer to your agitated mind and hyperactive body.
9. Physical exercise
A healthy body really does mean a healthy mind. In the last decade it became clear that regular exercise beneficially affects brain function. Exercise boosts brain power by stimulating formation of new brain cells (neurons), the process known as neurogenesis. Also, exercise strengthens connections between those cells. Researchers have found the areas of the brain that are stimulated through exercise are associated with memory and learning.
Physical exercise may even help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Several studies have confirmed that regular physical activity reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia in old age.
10. Laugh out loud
Laughter really is the best medicine! The medical world has begun to take more serious notice of the healing power of humor and the positive emotions associated with it. By having fun and laughing, your stress levels decrease significantly and your memory improves. Humor stimulates the parts of our brain that use the “feel good” chemical messenger dopamine.