Move beyond all-nighters, flashcards and brute memorization to tap your full brain capacity.
Fall means back to school, and back to school really means “back to you” time. Along with committing to training your body, make time to train your mind, to learn and expand. Training your brain will transform your confidence and your capacity to meet whatever the world brings your way. And time and experience prove that continuing education and reflection really are the best ways to discover and uncover what you truly want. Here are 24 ideas, strategies and resources to get your brain grooving along new pathways.
Set aside daydream time, and set a timer if you need to make sure that you stick with it. Give yourself this time to explore: start on a subject, and just follow where it leads. Commit time weekly or daily for your research and keep these tips in mind.
Go browsing, but with a purpose. As tempting as it may be to have 25 different tabs open, keep your focus and remain single-minded in your search. Bookmark the pages you wish to revisit instead.
Do your research at a set time, on a set day of the week, or with set triggers. This creates a ritualistic mindset and yields better results. For example, set aside 30 minutes on Monday nights when the kids are tucked into bed and the day is done. Get settled on the couch with a laptop, pen, notebook (and glass of wine, if that inspires you).
03 Your Weekly Blog List
Create your research alter ego’s email address, and subscribe to blogs and newsletters that feed your search. Check the emails once each week. A couple places to start — crossing many disciplines and interests — include Farnam Street and Ari Meisel’s interesting weekly digest of ideas dedicated to doing less.
Commit to reading at least one book a week. Seven out of 10 American adults (72 percent) have read a book within the past year, in whole, in part and in any format, according to a recent survey. That figure has fallen from 79 percent in 2011. Don’t find yourself part of the downward trend. Reading is essential to leveling up your knowledge. Find a local bookstore and make your visit a weekly or at least monthly ritual. Build a wish list on Amazon. Take Jim Kwik’s course on speed reading. Or, try these tips.
Subscribe widely and wisely. Almost any national magazine has a mission and vision, and they also publish their editorial calendars and sample table of contents, so you can get a sense of whether their curated knowledge will feed your curious mind. Fascinating reads: Wired, Fast Company, Travel, Epicurious.
Reading expands your mind, vocabulary, imagination and empathy. Be sure to mix it up: read fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, classics, new releases. Read for purpose, read for pleasure, read online or in the library — just read. Need help getting started? Check out a book on learning, such as George Leonard’s “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-term Fulfillment,” or a classic, thought-provoking read about being human in a modern world: “The Art of Being” by Erich Fromm.
This is about daily consumption. Choose one or two daily blogs or social media accounts to follow (thank you for choosing 24Life!), on a subject that is important to you and that can help you move forward in your learning quest. Even if you just gather a nugget here or there, knowledge is cumulative. Some staff fitness favorites include Flow Genome Project, Institute of Motion and GMB Fitness.
Writing uniquely helps the brain synthesize and process ideas. In fact, one study found that joint-replacement patients who devised intentions for recovery were more proactive than those who hadn’t, in more aspects of their recovery. It turns out that writing down your plans, dreams, goals or to-do list is key to making something happen.
Recording your thoughts and reflecting on your experience regularly are practices that help develop what neuroscientist Dr. Dan Siegel calls “mindsight,” our human capacity to perceive our own mind and others’. Whether you do a five-minute digital journal exercise or pour your heart out in a leather notebook, journaling allows you to “hear” the internal workings of your mind at key moments in life.
08 Write Letters
Sharing your knowledge, experience and ideas with someone else is a powerful way to expand your understanding of a subject and to build a shared experience. Not only delightful to receive, when approached creatively, handwritten letters are a pleasure to send. Set aside a time to write and create a special spot for your stationery, pens and anything else you need to craft a meaningful message. Get inspired by Letters of Note, a site dedicated to sharing historical letters that impacted the world, and read more on the art of letter writing.
If pressed, most of us will admit we are certain we have a book inside of us — or at least a story we are meant to share with the world. Get it down on paper. Bestselling author Brian Tracy says that when you become an author, your life transforms in ways you can never predict. Follow his simple steps to make it happen. Not sure what to write about? Check out Bo Eason’s methodology to realize the power your personal story has in your life.
You can take your learning on the road, on a hike, on the treadmill, on a date. Commit to listening to something new and interesting every day and make it a routine.
10 Music for Your Brain
Invest in a set of great headphones and some incredible music designed with binaural beat technology, which creates an auditory illusion in order to heal and enhance the function of your brain. Downloadable mp3s or apps such as Binaural or Kelly Howell’s Brain Sync® audio programs combine guided meditation, subliminal messaging and advanced brainwave entrainment techniques to leverage your brain power toward your desired goals. These programs are easily integrated into studying, walking, doing light chores, meditation and even sleep or power naps.
11 Audio Books
If you don’t have time to read, audio books are an incredible way to catch up on ideas or the latest novel while you’re doing something else. Just don’t try mental multitasking: writing a proposal while listening to an amazing speaker only challenges your brain to switch topics at lightning speed, so you absorb less information — and probably write a less-than-perfect proposal. Save the audio books for long cardio workouts, hikes, long drives and gardening. Check out the top list of audible books so far in 2016.
There are so many amazing conversations, ideas and game-changing applications that you can listen to on just about any device. Start with your area of interest or expertise and then explore beyond. Listen while you drive, brush your teeth, cook or organize your closet. A few exciting podcasts to consider: This American Life, Stuff You Should Know and Radiolab.
Make your learning official: enroll in a local course or in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). You can study alongside the Ivy League or with the masters, including songwriting with your favorite artist.
13 Online Courses
If you have access to a device and good Wi-Fi, you can learn almost anything online today: how to build a wood-burning pizza oven in your backyard, play chess or guitar, knit, get into shape, meditate. For a nominal fee, just about any skills are accessible — even professional skills such as photography, social media or website design. Be a good shopper and read reviews before you dive in, and remember the value is in the implementation. Resources to get started include Creative Live, Udemy and your favorite university, or sign up for this free, six-week online course at Columbia University on freedom of expression in the Global Age.
14 Live Workshop or Courses
Live education is powerful and widely available on most topics. Check out your local bookstore for courses from your favorite authors, your local hospital for stress reduction techniques, your local retail stores for decorating courses, and local community centers and community education organizations for lifestyle classes and workshops. Check out this cool course on future studies at Stanford University with Jane McGonigal.
Choose a coach carefully: someone who believes in your dreams as much as you do, and who has the skillset to take you to the next level. Daniel Coyle, author of “The Little Book of Talent,” advises picking someone who scares you a little, is an expert at the fundamentals, can communicate them to you in a way you can hear and is action-oriented to get you in motion. Good coaches will be able to teach you both the soft skills and the hard skills, and know how to portion the hard skills so you advance towards your goals.
Our minds are quick studies and built to learn directly from what we see. Our mirror neurons help us.
16 Online Talks and Lectures
Many people swear by this life-changing advice: watch one TED Talk a week or every day. From TED Talks to lecture series on Google, there is an abundance of great ideas and inspiration to motivate your day. Your output of new thoughts and ideas absolutely depends on the quality and variety of knowledge you put into your system.
17 Live-stream Events and Posts
Platforms such as Facebook Live and Livestream bring your learning to the frontlines with live trainings, workshops, practice sessions and even concerts. These events are not a substitute for attending in person and require more time spent online, yet you can still gain insight and “leave” transformed in some way. On the horizon, virtual reality will enhance these learning experiences. For really interesting insight on consciousness, check out Deepak Chopra’s daily live posts.
18 Home Theater University
You choose whether to chill in front of that screen or to transform it into your own personal university theater. All of your favorite content providers offer documentaries, mastery tracks and interesting series that can add value to your life. The obvious ones are the cooking, DIY and maker series, but offerings in lifestyle, food choices and health practices are packed with success stories that will inspire you to get off the couch and do something. If you have kids or know anyone with kids, be sure to watch “The Fat Boy Chronicles” from Netflix.
Use it or lose it. We know it from school — all that knowledge evaporates after the quiz. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and there are best practices to make sure you retain what you have learned. Embodied learning excites the brain, and we learn more quickly and better.
19 Practice Time
To be devoted to your craft, you must be super-protective of time to practice, as everything and everyone in life will try to talk you out of it. Approach your training systematically, in “chunks” of what you need to know now, in order to move forward; plan your practice and show up for it. Be obsessed, but don’t over-train — especially when you’re learning concepts. Take breaks every 50 minutes; get up and move your body. Then, spend a few minutes recapping, either putting your theories into play, jotting down ideas for doing it later or summarizing why you found the ideas interesting. Lauren Walker, creator of Energy Medicine Yoga, offers this practice to get your energy moving and attention focused, before you dive into your next practice.
20 Study “clean”
A motivated learner is the best learner, but it still takes skills — skills we may not learn in school, according to Sir Ken Robinson. There are traditional learning strategies, such as those taught by Tony Buzan for mind mapping, but it helps to know your preferred learning style. Celebrity learning expert Jim Kwik’s accelerated learning and memory performance strategies include easy-to-learn and easy-to-remember systems such as FAST, to help you learn more strategically, and MOM, to help you recall more of what you learn. These practices help you catch up, keep up, learn and recall more than ever before. Find more mindset tips from Kwik on 24Life.
21 Learning Challenges
Your energy for learning peaks in the shift from possibility to actuality. Learning challenges are generative, time-bound opportunities to make knowledge into reality. You can choose your interval, whether 21 days or 66 days, but give yourself enough time to overcome the plateau that is inevitable when the novelty of learning something new wears off and the reward of success is still hard to view. Set a fitness goal, or learn a foreign language or how to cook — what matters most is that you set a start and an end date, and commit to the pursuit of the goal. For amazing ideas on how to implement and plan your own epic challenges, check out Tim Ferris or Brendon Burchard for their approaches to monthly challenges.
To teach is to learn. Mastery is deepened when you have a purpose and put knowledge into play in a meaningful way. Commit to sharing a weekly digest of what you have learned — who knows, this could become a resource for someone in need or possibly a path to a new, passionate career.
22 Mentor a Kid
Mentoring can make the difference in a child’s ability to achieve in life, and it will transform yours in the process. Read Josh Waitzkin’s “The Art of Learning.” He won his first National Chess Championship at the age of 9, and was the inspiration for his father’s book, “Searching for Bobby Fisher.” Waitzkin approaches achievement as a philosophy or a function of a lifestyle dedicated to a creative, resilient growth process, rather than a focus on wins. So does Carol Dweck, whose seminal book “Mindset” reports on her research into growth and performance mindsets. It’s a great message for any kid or adult to learn at any stage of life.
23 Speak Up on Social Media
Take time to distill your thoughts and share them with others, on the topics that you feel compelled to address with your own point of view. Not comfortable on video? Create a visual statement with a collection of curated videos or stories on Instagram. Curate time-saving solutions and strategies on Pinterest. Publish a collection of poetry on Medium. Whatever your preferred mode of digital expression, you can build a community and teach what you know and what has served you in your life. For example, here is a fun time-saver for parents struggling to get back to an after-school routine.
A workshop, a seminar, a webinar, a class, to one person or 30, for free or for pay. Create an online course, or ask people to join you in a live, experiential session. Whatever you do, be brave and teach someone what you know. Energy and information are best exchanged in relation to someone else: when you teach something that you have learned or for which you have true passion, you increase your relationship to the subject, to yourself, to the other person and to the world. Our brain physiologically explodes with the growth of new neural networks and new connections, and as a result we feel more alive.