Learning to learn and how to freshen up – or reboot – the brain

“The key to learning is connecting something you don’t know to something you do know,” says Jim Kwik, “The number one skill set is to learn how to learn.”

He has made a name for himself as a celebrity brain coach, much in demand by entrepreneurs, athletes, Hollywood stars and big companies.

Learning comes naturally to us when we are small children because we are incredibly curious. John Medina, a microbiologist who researches human brains, wrote about this in his book, ‘Brain Rules’: “This need for explanation is so powerfully stitched into [children’s]... experience that some scientists describe it as a drive, just as hunger and thirst … are drives.”

But sometimes this instinct needs a bit of a boost. “It’s not how smart you are — it’s how are you smart?” according to Kwik. As a starting point, to reboot the brain, he suggests focusing on the positives rather than the negatives - “People in our society are constantly talking about all the things they can’t do.”

To create a winning mindset, Kwik believes that people must identify their ‘limiting beliefs’ and then systematically ‘un-limit’ them. Some of the fixed mindsets, created by limited beliefs, which need to be tackled are:

  • Intelligence is fixed
  • Mistakes are failures
  • Genius is born
  • Learning new things is hard
  • Knowledge is power

About the last point, Kwik explains, that knowledge alone is not power. Relating your knowledge is key to empowerment.

Dr Oakley, a professor of engineering at Oakland University in the US, who runs arguably the world’s most popular online course called ‘Learning How to Learn’, describes the brain as having two modes of thinking: focus and diffuse. Focus, of course, is when a learner concentrates on the material. Diffuse is a resting state, in which consolidation occurs – during this period, connections between bits of information take place.

Her programme is devised using evidence from neuroscience. “Virtually anyone can focus for 25 minutes, and the more you practise something, the easier it gets,” she explains. She recommends setting a timer for 25 minutes, then taking a break, which allows for diffuse thinking.

She talks about chunking. This is the method of creating a neural pattern – learning chunk by chunk. For example, learning a basic equation in maths helps when you want to build on it with more complex equations, if you don’t need to think much about how to do the first part anymore. The same goes for playing music or driving. Building on the foundation – to ensure that it comes without much thought - is very effective for learning new, more advanced material.

Dr Oakley’s course also teaches students how important learning styles are. There are those who absorb information fast and those who take longer but perceive greater detail along the way. Each style has its advantages and disadvantages, but it’s all about finding the method which works best for you.

Recommended links:

Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects | Coursera

Learning to Learn: You, Too, Can Rewire Your Brain - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

World-Renowned Brain Coach Jim Kwik Knows You're Burned Out. But He Also Knows 'Your Brain is a Supercomputer.' It's Time to Reboot. (msn.com)

Your Brain is a Supercomputer. Here's How To Reboot It, According to World-Renowned Brain Coach Jim Kwik (chron.com)

Learning to Learn (hbr.org)