With so much happening so fast, it’s hard to stay ahead of all you need to know. In this environment, success is tied to how fast you can learn, how well you can remember and how quickly you can adapt. Interesting new science suggests novel ways to do all these things better.
In addition to increasing resilience, learning is also tied to happiness. When you’re learning something new, you tend to experience more joy. This is likely because learning exposes you to new perspectives, causes you to tap into deeper thinking and reminds you of your capabilities, giving you a sense of hope.
So how can you learn more, and what’s so different today?
Manage The Context
One of the primary ways you can positively affect how you learn is through managing the conditions in which you’re seeking to gain new information.
#1 – Reduce Distractions
First, you can actively manage distractions. A study from Simon Fraser University found when people were able to manage distractions around them, they were better able to remember what they’d read or learned. So turn off your phone, silence your notifications and find a quiet place free of visual or acoustical distractions. These steps will help you deepen your processing, engage more deeply and therefore remember more.
#2 – Get Enough Sleep
In addition, be sure you get enough sleep. Repeatedly, research finds sleep is fundamental to cementing new information and making sense of it. In particular, a study at the University of California found during sleep, people build associations between unrelated items. Creativity and problem solving are significantly fueled by putting unlike things together in new ways and connecting dots toward new solutions, so sleep functions as a way to pave the way toward this ability to find relationships between items and concepts.
In addition, research on sleep suggests dreaming is fundamental to helping people adapt to unfamiliar and challenging situations. Most dreams are fairly ordinary and unmemorable, but dreams with threat, fear or danger tend to stick with you. Theories on dreaming include the belief brains use these kinds of dreams to increase resilience and adaptability by priming you for tough situations. When you run from the monster in your dream, you prepare yourself to find the escape from a difficult situation at work.
#3 – Seek Diverse Experiences
Another way to get smarter is by exposing yourself to plenty of varied, interesting and unexpected situations. Research at Ohio State University found when people were exposed to new experiences, even if they weren’t seeking to learn, it tended to make them more ready to take in new information and retain it more effectively. Similar to dreaming which primes you for challenge, varied experiences prime you for openness to what’s new and expand your ability to perceive and retain new things.
Manage Your Thinking
Another way to learn more and remember better is to manage your own thinking.
#4 – Strengthen Your Ability to Focus
Learning requires focused effort and a level of absorption in your task, and you can learn to be more attentive. In fact, a study at the University of Texas found when people were being trained in a situation with content which was constant, they learned more slowly. But when they were exposed to content which shifted, they learned more quickly because they had to tune in and concentrate more.
With so much information coming at us all the time, giving deep attention to tasks can be a challenge. In fact, continuous partial attention can rob us of effectiveness and efficiency. Practice giving your full attention to a task. Set an alarm, so you can protect time to focus for a set period, and select tasks which stimulate you, so you don’t get bored with them. Also actively engage in a task by asking questions or involving others, so you can stay more focused.
#5 – Believe In Yourself
You may have been told you were smart, or perhaps you were told you just didn’t have what it takes. But either of these kinds of feedback are especially damaging because they suggest intelligence and capability are stagnant and unchangeable. In reality, your ability to learn, develop, grow and adapt are lifetime capabilities, and you can strengthen them throughout your lifetime.
A separate study by U of C found learners were more successful when they were reminded their intelligence was malleable and learning goals were achievable. Called growth mindset, this perspective will provide you with the oomph you need to increase not only your confidence, but also your competence in new skills.
Nothing stays the same—of course—but these days, things seem to be changing more quickly and more significantly than previously. Your ability to learn and grow will be the variables which drive your success, but also your happiness.
Burnout is characterized by feeling trapped, cynical and incapable, so when you embrace learning and focus on ways to get smarter and retain more, you contribute to your own feeling of vitality and ability to step toward a hopeful future.