A Happiness Journey

How to make stuff happen

In week 1 of exploring what it is to be Limitless from my book by Jim Kwik we talked about mindset and how important it is to be in the right headspace and belief space to achieve your goal. Last week we discussed motivation and looked at small steps and tools to create the drive you need to achieve your goals, rather than just sitting and waiting until you feel motivated to take action. This is the final piece of the triad puzzle. This gives you the How, the actual methods you need to be able to learn the thing or achieve the goal. How to take action. Without Action, it’s all just theory knocking around in your head which is almost as useless as having no awareness at all.

 

Methods are specific processes for accomplishing something, especially an orderly, logical, or systematic way of instruction.

 

Focus

Focus is often the difference between the time you crushed something and the time you didn’t. When we are focused on the task at hand, and we block out all external distractions, we can really dedicate our full concentration to what we’re doing. This allows us to hit that magical sense of flow, and we leave the task feeling accomplished. Those days where we feel like we lack focus, everything takes 20 times as long as it should, we put in a half arsed attempt, and often end up either abandoning the task all together, or finishing it with lack lustre, knowing it probably wasn’t our best work. Weirdly, even though I remember my teachers telling me 100 times a day to concentrate, I don’t remember anyone ever teaching me how to concentrate, and hereby lies the problem with focus. Because we don’t actually know how to focus, we are relying on tripping over it by chance. A very hit and miss approach to achieving one’s goals.

 

“Concentration is the crux of all human success and endeavour”. Hindu monk Dandapani teaches that concentration is like a muscle that gets stronger as you exercise it. It’s the ability to keep your awareness on one thing. A little like the practice of meditation, where you train yourself to keep your awareness on a central point, such as your breath, and not let  your awareness attach onto any passing thoughts. Dandapani describes concentration as holding a bright glowing ball over your intended activity, and not letting the glowing ball drift onto any other task. This takes practice, and the more you do it, the easier it will become to do.

 

I spoke last week of the dangers of multitasking, and here is another place where it becomes dangerous. It is hard to focus on multiple things simultaneously, so focus on just one thing at a time, remove all distractions, and place the glowing ball onto that thing and that thing only.

 

Distractions

It has been shown in Harvard studies that the more things in your field of vision that your brain can latch onto, the harder it is to focus on the thing in front of you. It stands to reason, therefore, that de-cluttering your environment before you start a task, or having a work space in your house devoid of personal detritus, is extremely conducive to focus. Just as we said last week about it taking 20 mins to get back into flow when you get distracted, it makes sense that you would remove all distractions such as notifications on your phone, open tabs on your computer, kids asking questions etc. Another great way of avoiding distractions (and a great way of relieving anxiety) is to book time to be distracted. If you know you enjoy a good scroll on Instagram then schedule it in. That way the nagging thought of your newsfeed won’t be distracting you from your task, and then when you are enjoying insta, you can do it guilt free and with complete focus. When I find my brain looping on things I am worried about I get out my phone and I schedule a time when I can worry about that thing. I physically write it in my calendar, 4pm on Thursday I am going to worry about that thing I said to my friend last week. By physically scheduling in my anxiety, my brain can let it go and see it as a job done. By the time I get to 4pm on Thursday, chances are I no longer care about the thing I was worrying about and I can delete the entry.

 

Study

When learning something for the first time we go through 4 levels of competence:

Unconscious incompetence, we don’t know what we don’t know.

Conscious incompetence, we know what we don’t know.

Conscious competence, we now know what we have learned but still need to concentrate to do it.

Unconscious competence, our subconcious has accepted it and we complete our task without even thinking about it.

The key to moving through these stages is practice and study.

 

Chunking

When you learn a chunk of information, the brain tends to store the first and the last thing you learned. This highlights the efficiency of studying information in small chunks and also explains one of the main reasons why cramming is ineffective. Concentrating on one subject for many hours makes it less likely that you are going to retain the information. In the 1980’s Francesco Cirillo came up with a technique called the Pomodoro technique (named after the Italian word for tomato, which was the shape of his kitchen timer). Based on the theory that 25 minutes is the perfect amount of time to take in information, studying in Pomodoro’s is now an accepted and successful method of learning batches of new information. Cramming also usually happens late into the night, which deprives you of sleep, an essential component to learning, as sleep is when the brain commits the new information to memory. Studies also show that when you cram you will lose almost all of the information you learned. So, if you have 6 hours to spend studying, and you use 10 Pomodoro’s with short breaks, you should be able to retain 20 main pieces of information. Whereas if you study for 6 hours straight, you’ll only remember 2 main pieces of information and then forget most of it in the next few days.

 

Active Recall is a very useful technique for studying which asks you to read something in a pomodoro, then to close the book and recall everything you have just read, then to repeat this technique at planned intervals during the day. Each time you read and actively recall, you will remember so much more than the previous time. Studies have shown that “optimal learning occurred when an initial learning session included repeated study and forced-recall testing of all items at least four times in a row.”

 

Set the mood

Managing your state is incredibly important when it comes to your ability to take in and absorb new information. You can guarantee that you are not being the best version of yourself if you’ve had a bad day at work, or you won’t be at your best at work if you’ve had an argument with your partner. The answer is, to either employ your tools that you know are effective at changing your state (meditation, walk in nature, breathwork, posture work, exercise, music, play with your dog etc) or, don’t attack your new learning task until you are in a better state. Posture plays a huge part in your state. If you are slumped over in your chair, your physiology will match that of someone who is low on energy or depressed. If you really needed to pay attention to something important you would immediately sit up straight, pen poised, eyes bright, and ready yourself. Therefore, this should be the posture you choose to learn in.

 

Music can alter your brain waves and there are certain brain wave frequencies that are more conducive to learning. For example, we have said previously that being in the alpha, or theta brain wave state is a good way to reprogram the subconscious mind so using music to aid that is a great tool for learning. Baroque music classically uses a 50 – 80 bpm framework which incidentally puts the brain into a nice alpha state. So, anything you learn whilst in alpha will have more of a chance of cementing into your neural pathways and your subconscious.

 

Active listening

Whilst we spend the majority of our time listening, most of us aren’t very good at it. The brain has the capacity to digest up to 400 words per minute but most people only speak around 125 words per minute. That means that when we are listening to someone, three quarters of our brain is left to roam free and plan what we’re going to have for dinner. This distraction then means we are less likely to actually take in the 125 words that are being shared with us. We also have this really annoying habit when we’re listening of thinking, less about what is being said, and more about our thoughts on what was said, and how we are going to respond. Again, we are missing so much valuable information by doing this. So, when you are listening to a speaker of any kind, really try to listen with your whole brain, and release any judgements on what they’re saying whilst they’re saying it. Give them your undivided attention.

 

Jim uses the HALT technique for Active Listening:

H – Halt. Give them all your attention, listen to their words, read their body language, and watch their facial expressions. It’s probably worth remembering that 93% of communication is non-verbal in nature.

E – Empathise. Trying to understand where the speaker is coming from and why, will bring additional substance to what they might be saying.

A – Anticipate. Your enthusiasm for what you’re hearing will greatly increase your potential of truly hearing it.

R – Review. Review what they’ve said, paraphrase it in your mind and teach it to someone else. If you have the opportunity then ask the speaker relevant questions. All of this will solidify the information in your mind (hence why I am teaching all of this amazing stuff to you guys 😊)

 

Take notes

Write your notes in a way that will benefit your recall later. It doesn’t need to be word for word as this kind of dictation, unless you are skilled at it, will detract from your ability to listen. The benefit of taking notes is that you are putting the information into your own words immediately, and this is an instant way of using recall. Use a pen rather then a laptop; again the brain will start processing the material faster if you write it out in your own handwriting. Use short hand that makes sense to you so that you can go back to it at a later time and know exactly what you were writing about. If you are actively listening you will know, based on your goal, what information you need the most, and write that down.

 

Memory

Your memory is one of your greatest assets in life and is arguably the most important part of learning. There is no such thing as a good memory or a bad memory, only a trained or untrained one. As well as being important for learning and performing life skills it has been said that “it is impossible to think creatively into the future without a sense of what is known”. So no, you can’t just google everything. In the day and age where our phones are our memory, we have become lazy and sloppy in our thinking. Memorisation helps train the mind to focus and be industrious. Exercising memory also promotes the schema to memory; this means that the more you train your brain to remember the easier remembering and learning new information will become.

 

We are more likely to remember the things we are motivated to remember. Create a reason for needing to remember something, make it personal. If you can convince yourself there’s value in remembering something, you will.

 

Pay attention. If you are looking around the room or not paying full attention when someone gives you their name then it will be lost forever and many an embarrassing conversation will ensue as a result. So, when someone is introducing themselves, make a point to pay attention. Just as a quick side note, a great way to remember a name is firstly to repeat it back to them, then, try to picture something in your head that their name reminds you of, and later on, try to use their name again in a sentence. I met a dog walker named Thelma at the beach a few months back and immediately pictured Thelma and Louise driving off the cliff in their car (spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie) now I remember her name every time I see her.

 

The way we were taught to memorise at school is actually one of the least effective ways of memorising. Repeating a phrase rote fashion, over and over again, is not only extremely tedious, but it has been shown that learning with this method causes 85% of the information to be lost in 48 hours. Our creative brains are actually better at remembering a story so if you have a large amount of random information to learn then turn it into a story that you can see unfolding in your minds eye. That will make it far easier to recall. Thinking is done in pictures in the most part so utilising visualisation is extremely effective. What will make the visualisation even more effective is if you can associate the information with something you already know. Your brain does this naturally, for example, when you hear a song and it reminds you of a person; your brain has made an association between the song and the person. So if you’re learning a new word, consciously try to associate it to something you already know.

 

Adding emotion immediately makes something infinitely more memorable. This is probably why we don’t remember a lot of what we learned in school, because for many of us, it was a boring environment not conducive to learning. Add some emotion to the event however, and it will be committed to your memory forever. Information + emotion = long term memory and we can do this intentionally.

 

Due to our evolution as hunter gatherers it is also hardwired into us to be able to remember locations well. This enabled us to remember where the juiciest berries were and the most fertile soil was etc. If you can associate the new information you are trying to learn with a location, you are much more likely to remember it.

 

When having to deliver large amounts of information without notes, for example for a presentation, this location tool is very handy. Imagine you have to give a talk, you know your subject matter well but you also need to make sure you hit on all the key topics during your long presentation. You could assign a topic to a particular room in your house, and as you’re walking through your house in your mind you can then remember each topic in order. You can make this more diverse by walking into each room and using the things in the room as subtopics, like the table lamp, bed, bedside table, chest of drawers etc.

 

Other quick and easy ways to remember are:

Word substitution – For example Armstrong may be a muscly arm. Monroe may be picturing a man rowing. You can do this for foreign words too by sounding them out and associating them. For example, Facile in French means easy. It sounds like face eel so you could picture someone holding an eel to your face and saying “that’s easy!”. The only limitation to this exercise is your imagination.

Mnemonics help you learn information by putting it to a rhyme. For example a common mnemonic is Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vein which is the colours of the rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet). Another mnemonic is using a song, and the rainbow song is a perfect example of this (now you’re all singing it in your head 😊)

 

Well that’s it really. He goes into speed reading as a technique but that’s far too detailed for this paper. These 3 blogs have been particularly long but I hope they’ve offered some practical tools of how we can truly be limitless. Now there’s no excuse not to learn that language you’ve been putting off!

Find me on other platforms:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

RSS
LinkedIn
LinkedIn
Share
Instagram