In our latest edition of “Take 5 with Stella Collins” I’m going to talk to you about ‘peak learning mode’. So, grab a drink, settle down and watch our latest, five minute video. Or give the content a read below instead, whichever you prefer!
What is peak learning mode?
Surely our brains are always in “peak mode” – going along and doing things automatically for us? Well, no. In fact, if you’ve got something new to learn (and who hasn’t these days?) you want your brain to be fine-tuned and ready for action. You wouldn’t expect a Formula One drive to go out and race his car, if the car hadn’t been fine-tuned in the garage first, would you? And this is the same for our brains.
However our brains are complex and have to go through multiple different states in order to learn well:
Motivation to learn
Of course, the first step to getting your brain in peak performance mode and ready to learn is being motivated. If you (or your learners) are not motivated, then it’s unlikely the rest of the learning process will fall into place. As humans, we need to be able to focus and pay attention to what we’re learning in order to truly learn, and we can only do that with motivation to ignore life’s distractions. Boosting motivation can sometimes be very simple, simply moving yourself away from distractions – such as turning off your phone, or the TV, or asking people not to bother you. Other times, motivation comes from being social – learning is a very social activity after all – so surrounding yourself with others that inspire you or who are working toward the same goal is a great idea.
Focus and attention
Secondly, we need to be able to focus and pay attention to learning. This ability to focus will allow us to connect things together – linking old learning and new learning together. Because that’s how your brain works. It forms neural connections between things you already know to the learning at hand – in order to cement this information in your mind. But forming these new connections requires lots of energy. In fact, whilst your brain is only 2% of your body’s mass – it actually uses (even at rest) at least 20% of your body’s energy. So when it’s hard at work, it’s using even more. It’s unsurprising then, to consider that you must be physically healthy in order to do this. Things like a healthy body mass are important to being a successful learner – in fact, exercise itself has been shown to get us into peak learning/performance mode.
Another key ‘state’ to getting into peak performance mode is being inquisitive. Asking questions and challenging the subject matter – and yourself. To truly learn you must challenge: “What’s going on here?” “I’m not convinced about this” “Why?” Asking these questions can help to deepen our learning and aid recall. To become more curious, you must try new things out and expose yourself to new experiences. This could be as simple as walking a different route to work every day.
Persistence is key
We’ve all heard the saying “practice makes perfect”, and there’s a reason for that. Sometimes practice can be dull, and you’ll feel like you’re not getting anywhere. But you need to work through this feeling, because practice is really vital to learning.
However, this does not mean you should be ‘cramming’ content in your mind. It’s important to take breaks and sleep. In fact, when we sleep, our brains practice the skills we’ve acquired, and all the complex manoeuvres it takes to complete them. Plus, we transfer short-term to long-term memory in our sleep, so if you miss a night’s sleep, anything you learned the day before has probably gone missing!
Reflection is very important to learning. We need to reflect back on what we’ve learned, where we’ve come from and how we might be able to use that learning in the future. The subject matter may not have been presented to you in a way that was very particle – but you must think about how you can use it practically. And you do this through reflection.
And this is also a great time to reward yourself. When you recognise how far you’ve come and that you’ve succeeded, you’ll get the “feel good factor”. This is serotonin in action, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. This also boosts the aforementioned perseverance. Reflect on how far you’ve come – and realise how much further you could go with a little more persistence.
Unconscious learning and peak learning mode
We also need to turn learning from conscious, to unconscious. Take driving a car for example. When driving a car is a ‘new’ skill for you, you’re very conscious of what you’re doing. You’re thinking about how to change gear or steer the vehicle. But eventually, over time, it becomes unconscious. You can simply do the task at hand without thinking about it – and perform it very successfully. But to turn the conscious into unconscious – we need one very important thing: time.
Learning doesn’t happen in one moment. We need time to apply all the aforementioned tactics to being a successful learner. We need the time to reflect, to grow and to let the neurons start connecting in our brains.
So, there’s no one-tip-trick to switching your brain to ‘peak learning mode’. But, there are numerous ways you can enhance your ability to be in peak learning mode, and ultimately be a better learner. Remember – your brain is a muscle. If you want to get it into peak learning mode, you have to use it! And the more you use it – the better it’ll work.