Whether you’re a student, a professional, a parent, or a retiree — all of us are learning new things everyday. It could be how to play the guitar, a new language, how to find the square root of a number, or how to speak in front of an audience without losing your cool. Our minds are constantly evolving with new information.
Undeniably, learning new skills can be frustrating and time-consuming, but what if science could help speed the process up a little?
There are a number of ways to train your brain to memorize things faster and optimize learning.
1. Exercise to clear your head
Working out is good for our bodies, but our brain reaps many benefits as well. Exercise can improve learning and memory, so if you’re having writer’s block or just can’t seem to get through that tough math problem, try walking it off or squeezing in a quick gym session.
A 2013 study found that exercise has immediate benefits on cognition in both younger and older adults — after a simple 15-minute exercise session, study participants showed an improvement in memory and cognitive processing.
2. Write down what needs to be memorized over and over
It can seem like a lot more work to continuously jot down the same thing over and over, but this simple activity can work wonders for your memory recall. Research has shown that listing out facts or problems improves the ability to memorize them instead of trying to passively learn them by re-reading.
Further, another study found that taking lecture notes by hand instead of typing them out on a computer helped students better recall the lesson content.
3. Do yoga
Yoga is an easy way to improve your brain’s grey matter, which is involved in muscle control and sensory perceptions like speech, memory, decision-making, and seeing.
Research has shown that people who practice yoga show fewer cognitive failures. Amazingly, another 2012 study found that just 20 minutes of yoga boosted study participants’ brain functions, leading them to perform better on brain functioning tests both speed-wise and accuracy-wise.
4. Study or practice in the afternoon
Even if you consider yourself a “morning” or “nighttime” person, at least one study has shown that buckling down and focusing on a task in the afternoon can have a greater effect on long-term memory training than other times of the day.
5. Relate new things to what you already know
According to the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, a great brain-based technique for memory retention is to relate new information to what you already know.
“For example, if you are learning about Romeo and Juliet, you might associate what you learn about the play with prior knowledge you have about Shakespeare, the historical period in which the author lived and other relevant information,” the university writes.
6. Stay away from multitasking
In our technology-driven world, we often mindlessly pick up our smartphones to answer a text or check a social media feed while we’re in the middle of another task. In some situations, the ability to multitask can prove handy, but when it comes to learning a new skill or memorizing information, it’s best to focus on that one thing.
A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance suggests that multitasking undermines our efficiency — particularly for complicated or unfamiliar tasks — since it takes extra time to shift mental gears each time an individual shifts between multiple tasks.
7. Teach other people what you’ve learned
Sharing your newly learned skills or knowledge is an efficient way to further solidify the new information in your brain, according to Loma Linda University. The process of translating the information into your own words helps your brain better understand it, and there are a number of innovative ways to break something down to teach it to others. It’s a win-win for everyone.