I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: A dead brain will never learn anything, no matter what mnemonic tactics you use.
The science of the mind is a broad field. There are several physical and psychological things to keep in mind if you want to get the most out of your mind. So in order to learn as quickly as possible, your mind has to be performing at its best.
To make the most of your mental energy, you want to be aware of how you take care of your body, as well as when, where, and how you study when it’s time to learn.
At the most fundamental level, the brain needs oxygen and glucose to function. But thinking in broader terms, there are a lot of things that anyone can do to improve their brain’s core functioning.
Here are the major areas of physical energy:
The brain is about 75% water. And yet some researchers have stated that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated.
A few glasses of plain water every day will do a lot more for your health than you might think. Plus, the momentary alertness that a quick drink of water gives you is helpful for getting your brain going.
Drink more water.
If your mind isn’t as awake as it can be, you’re probably 75% less efficient than you could be.
Do you feel tired throughout the day? Some quick math will show you that if you do a lot of stuff with your brain, another hour of sleep will actually probably SAVE you time in the end.
I have a lot of tips and tricks on getting enough sleep, but for a start you should NEVER try to study while drowsy. This is the number one rule. It will quickly create some very bad study habits that are hard to reverse.
Again, lots to say on food, but to keep it quick, you want to fuel your body and brain with food that will give you quality, sustained energy.
The first rule of a smart diet (and this should be no big surprise) is to avoid high-glycemic carbs.
The second rule is to eat protein first thing in the day (as in, right when you get up), and never skip breakfast.
The third rule is to try to keep your energy steady throughout the day by avoiding stuffing yourself at meals but eating frequently enough to stay fueled.
But the biggest rule… Never study while hungry. Again, it inevitably creates bad mental habits.
Richard Branson’s #1 productivity advice is all about keeping up mental energy. Regular exercise, even if it’s just a little walking one or two times a day, will not only sharpen your focus, it will also improve your quality of sleep, which leads to all kinds of good things.
There’s a lot to be said about how and when to exercise, but for now I’ll leave you to do a little research (while plugging Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Body. If you have any questions, send me an email or leave me a question at the podcast page.
Psychological energy and focus
Other than making sure your mind is in top shape, there are three areas to focus on to make sure that you’re actually devoting that energy to learning.
Mindset shift: Study time = study time.
Multitasking is a myth. If you want to cut down your study time by 80%, then invest your full attention during study time. No distractions. No music to sing along with, no movies playing in the background, no Facebook or email notifications.
Ask yourself this simple question: Would you rather spend two hours sort-of-studying-while-sort-of-goofing-off, or just 20 minutes studying intensely (and remembering much better) and then 100 minutes goofing off wholeheartedly?
Once you get the brain hooked on something with the right focus, you mental energy toward that activity will rise. To a point, this continues to increase, so the psychological momentum continues to build.
However, this momentum will always have both an upward and a downward curve. After a while the momentum will begin to run out, after which point it is a good idea to change activities. Timing that change is not always easy, but the important thing is that you focus on one thing for an appropriate length of time, then move on to something else when the momentum begins to wane. Your own experience will make you the best judge of that.
Let’s face it: Studying for a long time is mentally draining and can eventually drive you crazy.
But taking frequent breaks to do other things can refill your psychological energy, allowing you to return to your work with a fresh mind.
Of course, that doesn’t mean checking Facebook every ten minutes (which would just destroy your study). No, you have to balance variety with momentum (above). In order to make the best of your focus, be proactive in how you choose your variety of tasks.
Mix up entirely different kinds of activities: Mentally intense tasks (like memorizing vocabulary), more creative activities (like writing and painting), physically stimulating activities (like running), and restful activities (like casual reading and sleeping).
Variety and momentum have to be balanced, and the formula will be different for every person and every situation.
As always, the best thing you can do for yourself is to test various methods and see what works best for you.
Also check out: The best time to study