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Three Simple Strategies for Learning Anything Better

Oct 25, 2014 09:50PM
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By Dr. Barbara Oakley for Rewire Me

I’ve always sought new perspectives and adventures. So why not try one of the most challenging adventures of all—seeing if I could master the very subjects I’d always felt I couldn’t learn? I decided to turn my attention to studying math and science and I ultimately stumbled on three approaches that can help anyone master tough subjects.

1. Take a break. At first I made the mistake of forcing myself to work on a problem until I solved it. But then I found it best to work only until frustration was kicking in. When that happened, I’d set the problem aside. When you return with more focus, you’ll be surprised at how the solution jumps quickly to mind.

2. Slow down, back up, repeat. I was always intimidated by students who quickly grasped complex ideas in math and science while I struggled with even simple concepts. So I lightened up and slowed down—taking fewer classes so that I could concentrate on what I was learning.

3. Don’t procrastinate. Learning something new is the mental equivalent of training in a sport: you are building neural structures just as athletes are building muscular structures. Starting too late forces you to try to build neural networks in a hurry. Therefore, you need to start earlier than you ordinarily would so your brain has the structure it needs to process the new information.

I did it. I rewired myself to master subjects that I once found impossibly challenging. And if I can rewire the kid in the dean’s office (me) to become a professor of engineering, you can do it, too.

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