So you're eager to learn, you have passion for a subject, all you need to do is dive in, spend eight hours a day learning it, and you'll be an expert, right? Not quite... As I mentioned in the last article about Spaced Repetition, your brain needs time to actually grow and link the neural pathways that will store information. It's not just spacing between reviews that you need. You need to unfocus to learn too.
How can I learn faster if I'm not focused?
It's not that you don't focus, it's that you don't try to spend all your time focused. Focus is still needed, it's how we initially get the information into our brains. Concentrating, absorbing information, really applying your mind on something challenging is strengthening your mind. But like building muscles, you need to rest, because that's when the actual gains are made.
Ever notice that when you are working on a difficult problem, and you go for a walk, or maybe a drive, or just do something that takes your mind off what you were working on, that you suddenly have an idea pop into your head that solves the problem? Wouldn't it be great if that happened more often? What you want is to relax your mind in what's called diffuse mode.
What is diffuse mode, and what's happening when your in it?
Diffuse mode occurs when you are not concentrating (focusing) on something in particular. It's when you are relaxed, and able to think about things from a high-level, rather than buried amongst the details.
But how does diffuse mode help?
When you are in this mode of thinking, your brain is still working on the problem, but now that your not focussed on the details, your brain is able to start connecting what you're learning with other knowledge you already have.
"If you are grappling with a new concept or trying to solve a new problem, you don't have preexisting neural patterns to help guide your thoughts" - Barbara Oakley.
This is when diffuse mode helps. It pulls together knowledge you have with the information you are learning, combining them in new ways. When you are focused on something, diffuse mode is blocked. By taking a break (say, every 25 minutes, which I'll talk about in another post), you allow the diffuse mode to take over.
- Book: Barbara Oakley. ISBN:039916524X. A Mind For Numbers.