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Science-backed methods to keep in mind when you're learning new things

Science-backed methods to keep in mind when you're learning new things
by Yash Chavan Science-backed methods to keep in mind when you're learning new things Photo by Alexis Brown [] on Unsplash [] As a curious person, I constantly find myself reading and learning about new things. So I picked up this book A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley [https://ba


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Just start, break the initial barrier

Every task has a certain Activation Energy (AE), where you initiate certain steps in order to start a task.

Reducing the Activation Energy of new habits you want to form will make it is easier to get started.

If you want to exercise, have your shoes and weights ready the previous night.

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Practice chunking

A memory chunk is a solid connection in your mind that relates various bits and pieces of information. 

Focus on the concept you want to form a chunk of. Write down the basic ideas of what the concept is all about. Build up from these fundamentals to finally create a chunk.

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Learn, Practice, Recall — Repeat

Just forming chunks is not sufficient. You have to maintain them. The more you look after the chunks, the longer they last.

While reviewing material, recall it instead of just reading it passively. Try and recall in a different setting than where you studied it.

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Take it easy

Take it easy

Whenever you face a problem, take a break. Sleep. Clean your room. Do anything except work on the problem. 

This takes your brain into its “diffuse mode” — this mode works on the things you have been focusing on in the background. Come back to the problem later.

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Understand your procrastination

Understand your procrastination

A procrastinator is a person who has a HABIT of getting distracted by things.

Break this habit by eliminating distractions. Another option is the Cue-Routine where you take notice what you do in response to certain distracting cues ,and then make sure to resist it.

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Set an ending time for tasks

Parkinson’s second law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Setting a micro deadline for daily tasks holds your brain accountable to the tick of the clock.

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Use visual and spatial memories

Use visual and spatial memories

The #1 thing you need to do to correctly memorize concepts is understand them. To successfully understand something, visualizing it is key. 

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Use metaphors and stories

Metaphors will help you understand and recall more easily. 

You take something obvious from your memory, and see how it is related to the new concept you are trying to learn. 


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Learn what you want

People learn when they are self-motivated, not when someone comes in front of them for four hours a week, and tells something to them.

Start learning what you want, since that is what actually matters — that is what you must care about.

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Intersection of skills

Transfer learning is the ability to take what you learn in one domain and apply it to a new skill.

Learn to apply old skills to new skills and vice versa.


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Lack of sleep affects memory and recall. 

Sleep helps your brain get into the diffuse mode and thus gets creative ideas about your ongoing projects cooking.


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Learning how to learn

Learning how to learn is a meta-skill. It is a critical skill for everyone who needs to pick up and master new concepts frequently.

Understanding what is learning and how our memory works wil...

Learning skills

Learning how to learn is critical for everyone. Most of us have to deal with a changing world and to learn how to manage tons of new information.

However, most of our learning methods are outdated and far from optimal. It may even be giving us an illusion of learning, like re-reading and highlighting that don't provide proper feedback to show what you haven't learned.

Focused and Diffuse Mode

Focused and diffuse modes provide two models for how we develop, elaborate, deepen and broaden connections. Both methods are important.

  • The focused mode of learning is about bringing related concepts together into a unit, called a chunk. 
  • The diffuse mode operates through a wider net of connecting general ideas across different fields. We use this diffuse mode while we sleep, exercise or daydream.

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"Learning is deeper and more durable when it's effortful... Learning that's easy is like writing in sand, here today and gone tomorrow."

 -  Make It Stick: The Science Of Suc...

Bring it back from memory

Retrieval is so effective is that it strengthens the neural pathways associated with a given concept.

When you're attempting to recall an idea, method, or technique from memory, you're retrieving. Flash cards are a great example: They force you to recall an idea from memory, unlike a technique like highlighting where you're not burning anything into your brain. 

Connect new ideas

... to what you already know.

When you try to put a new idea into your own words, you're elaborating.

For example, if you're in physics class and trying to understand heat transfer, try to tie the concept into your real-life experiences, say, by imagining how a warm cup of coffee disperses heat into your hands.

Re-reading and highlighting

Both of these study strategies are relatively ineffective. Passively reading the same text over and over again won’t do much for recall unless it’s spaced out over time. 

Different learning styles

Systematic studies of learning styles have consistently found no evidence or very weak evidence to support the idea that matching the material to a student’s learning style is more effective.

Right or left-brained

There is no conclusive evidence that people preferentially use the left or right hemisphere.

Certain functions are processed more by one region of the brain than others, and this is known as lateralization. But we all use our entire brain equally.