One of the most important skills that we can learn in life, is the ability to be a better learner. To, quite simply, learn how to learn faster.
We’re in the process of a technological revolution that has changed our access to information, and thus our ability to learn new material – and learn it faster.
When I grew up, I was mostly limited to the information that my teachers exposed me to…unless I wanted to go to the library or pick up an encyclopedia…and I wasn’t that type of kid.
In today’s world however, we have access to learn ANYTHING that we want to, whenever we want to.
Over the last few months I’ve been studying neuroscience – and I can do it from the comfort of my home without having to go get a degree in neuroscience.
It’s a beautiful day and age that we live in. The only limit to what you can learn is your ability to properly search the internet for the information that you want to find.
HOWEVER, with this new access to information, with the new technologies that we have at our disposal, most of us approach learning in the same way that we did as children.
Sit down, read, memorize…..
THIS IS OUTDATED!
CAN you learn by forcing yourself to sit down at a desk, read, memorize, and recite it back? Absolutely. We’ve done it this way forever.
But is there a better, more efficient, more effective way to learn new material? You bet your ass there is!!!
I like to look at it like running – If you want to lose weight and gain muscle can you get results by running every day? Absolutely. But studies show you’ll get much BETTER results of you did weightlifting or high intensity interval training.
Running is the least effective method of exercise, just like sitting at a desk, reading, and memorizing is the least effective way to learn new information.
Science is teaching us that THERE IS A BETTER WAY TO LEARN! We’re learning how to hijack the mind and get it to speed up the learning process, and make it MORE FUN along the way.
So how do we learn between 200-500% faster? How do we make learning more enjoyable and fun?
Before I dive in I want to share a personal story to add some flavor.
I’ve always found it fascinating how, the memories that I create while traveling, are quite literally, burned into my brain. I can’t forget them.
Conversations that I had, and the lessons I learned during those conversations, are impossible to forget.
One of my favorite examples of this? When I was in Korea I had a friend teach me how to count to 10 in Korean – while we were shitfaced drunk.
Normally you would think that alcohol prevents proper learning. Alcohol affects short term memory. Especially when you black out.
Somehow though, although I did black out that night due to copious amounts of Soju, I NEVER FORGOT HOW TO COUNT TO 10 IN KOREAN.
Despite no practice or conscious studying, in one night I learned how to count to 10 and it was forever burned into my brain.
Or what about the time that I was in Israel and we had the whole restaurant chanting “Zeekba, Zeekba, Zeekba, Coos Coos Coos” (penis penis penis, vagina vagina vagina – apologies for any misspell) – and those are probably the only words I learned throughout my time in Israel.
Or what about the time that I learned how to speak Portuguese in under 6 months despite no studying or memorization.
I’ve always found these experiences fascinating because I’ve always considered myself to be shit at learning languages. And I largely still do.
I studied Spanish for 5 years in University but never became above elementary level. Why were these learnings so slow in comparison?
What was it about these experiences that allowed me to learn faster with less effort? Why are these learnings so sticky in my long term memory?
What can I learn from these experiences that I can apply to my future learning? More importantly, how can I reverse engineer these experiences for my day to day learning?
Luckily, the science of flow states can teach us a lot about what was happening behind the scenes of these experiences.
In a “Flow State” – we see that the big five neurochemicals of dopamine, norepinephrine, anandamide, serotonin and endorphins show up in the brain.
Why is this important for our understanding of learning?
Steven Kotler explains – “a quick shorthand for how learning works is that the more neurochemicals that show up during an experience, the better chance that experience has of moving from short term holding, into long term storage. One of the many functions of neurochemicals is to tag experiences. Big neon signs saying ‘really important! Save for later!’”
Shorthand – the more that dopamine, norepinephrine, anandamide, serotonin or endorphins show up in the brain during an experience, the more likely that we are to retain that learning.
Think about the traditional sitting at a desk reading and memorizing – NONE of these chemicals will show up (unless you’re playing some type of game where you are rewarded when you get a correct answer).
Then compare that to sitting around a table drinking with friends in a foreign country. Dopamine is (most likely) through the roof due to the novelty and fun of the experience.
So why did I learn faster in these experiences above? I was most likely flooded with feel good chemicals like dopamine, norepinephrine, and anandamide during those experiences….to the point where they became more powerful than the negative effects of alcohol.
Now am I advocating that getting drunk or traveling is a great way to learn?
No – but I AM saying that FUN is a great way to learn. The more that you can make your learning more MEMORABLE, more EXCITING, more NOVEL – the more likely you are to create a sticky learning.
So as a baseline, if you want to learn faster, you must make learning ENJOYABLE. You must trick your brain into releasing some of these feel good chemicals so that you can improve the likelihood of retaining this new information.
But how do we get to the 200-500% range? This is where flow states come into play.
DARPA researchers induced flow artificially (using transcranial stimulation and neurofeedback) they found the target acquisition skills of military snipers improved by 230%.
Then, when Advanced Brain Monitoring attempted to replicate this study, they found that an artificially induced flow state cut the time it took to train novice snipers and archers IN HALF.
So that famous Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours to mastery? The research shows that flow states cuts this in half.
To bring this all back home, let’s review.
The more neurochemicals we can activate during a learning experience, the more likely we are to retain that information. The master way to activate a flood of neurochemicals? Get yourself into a flow state.
Flow is the gateway to learning. You feel your best, perform at your best, and in doing so, learn at your best.
Now try and take an audit of how you currently try to learn new information – are you implementing these principles into practice? Are you getting your brain to do the heavy lifting for you?
Or, are you trying to “force” yourself to learn new information that you’re not excited about?
If you want to learn faster, learn things after putting yourself in a flow state of some kind. Don’t know how to put yourself in a flow state? I’ve already covered this in detail in other articles.
Don’t learn the old and outdated way – learn the way that science tells us is more effective.
Want to dive more into the applied neuroscience of Flow State? Join my Free Course Foundations of Flow. In it I teach you all of the methods to get into flow on command.
Also published on Medium.