5 Ways to Learn Anything Faster

Do you sometimes wish you’d picked up an instrument, or a new language, when you were younger?

While your brains are much more malleable and naturally faster at learning at a younger age, you can still learn new things when you’re older.

It’s all possible because of your brain’s plasticity – or neuroplasticity, as you’ll read about in this article.

Your brain has a tremendous ability to learn and adapt to new information, habits and behaviors, meaning you can continue learning throughout your life – provided you know exactly how to access this plasticity.

Table of Contents

1. Learn to Make Mistakes

2. Keep Yourself Motivated On-Demand

3. Learning in Short, Focused Sessions

4. Give Yourself a Strong Enough “Why”

5. Physically Challenge Yourself in New, Safe Ways

5 Ways to Learn Anything Faster

1. Learn to Make Mistakes

5 Ways to Learn Anything FasterAre you someone who hesitates to try learning something new because you’re afraid of making mistakes?

Well, guess what? Making mistakes is actually the best way of accessing your brain’s plasticity!

In fact, if you keep sticking to a routine and practicing what you already know extremely well, your brain isn’t getting the chance to expand and create new knowledge and expertise.

On the other hand, when you make mistakes, and there’s a difference between what you want to do and what you’re actually doing – like hitting the wrong note in a piano piece, missing the hoop when throwing your basketball – the feedback alerts your brain that something is wrong.

And because of this feedback, your brain starts trying to figure out why this error is occurring, and how to fix it.

It stimulates a bunch of brain chemicals which create the perfect conditions for plasticity and new learning.

There’s adrenaline circulating your system, creating a sense of urgency and alertness. The levels of acetylcholine increase, helping you unlock better concentration and the ability to learn and recall faster.

Once your brain detects a little bit of progress, it releases dopamine – the motivation molecule.

Dopamine is what causes that feeling of accomplishment you experience once you get a music piece right, or score a basket, or answer your language questions correctly during your daily Duolingo check-in.

Together, these chemicals create the ideal conditions for your brain to change and adapt to incorporate new knowledge – and enable better learning overall.

So, don’t be afraid to make mistakes when trying new things – they’re the key to priming your brain for better learning!

2. Keep Yourself Motivated On-Demand

5 Ways to Learn Anything FasterYou read about how dopamine is the motivation molecule – and knowing how to keep yourself motivated on-demand is what gets you through learning by making errors.

Have you ever felt so frustrated when trying something new and not getting it right that you just gave up?

This may be exactly what is holding you back from accessing and taking advantage of your neuroplasticity.

What you want to do when you hit the point of frustration where you’re making mistakes is simple – you keep going.

Rather than viewing your efforts as difficult or pointless, view them as a challenge – human beings are biologically designed to love challenges, as long as they are realistically attainable.

When you place yourself in the mindset where you are positive about your efforts, and about each small improvement, you allow your brain’s reward centers to light up and stay active.

Your brain releases dopamine in anticipation of a reward, expecting that you’re going to accomplish something, and along with the other brain chemicals working their magic in your system, keeps you driven to work through your mistakes for better learning.

Think about a time you had to work hard on something, but you enjoyed that process of working hard. Perhaps you tried out a new, complex recipe, or ran a marathon for the first time, got to work on your passion project, or played a video game that was somewhat challenging.

How did you feel when your dish turned out great, or when you crossed that finish line, or when your passion project succeeded, or you defeated the final boss of your game?

And how do you remember feeling while you were working towards accomplishing that goal?

Chances are, despite the hard work and effort you put in, you were enjoying yourself – and this is thanks to the dopamine circulating your system, anticipating a reward despite the challenges you run into.

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So, although the advice might sound overly simplistic, now that you know the brain science to it, you know the importance of staying positive.

Rather than viewing the errors you make and obstacles you run into as reasons to give up, use them as reasons to keep going.

Rather than focusing on how you missed a move or beat during your dance classes, or missed the hoop during your basketball practice, focus on the ways you improved – how you got closer to getting what you want to do right.

Your brain and nervous system are naturally attuned to picking out the differences between what you want to do and what you end up doing. The only way to help them correct the gap completely is to keep trying and making mistakes to let your brain know what’s going wrong!

3. Learning in Short, Focused Sessions

5 Ways to Learn Anything FasterYou probably know that staying positive sounds easier than it is.

And if you set yourself a huge goal, and then fail to accomplish it, you do the opposite of staying motivated and positive.

If your brain was anticipating a reward, releasing dopamine as you worked toward a huge goal, and you fail to accomplish it, your dopamine levels actually fall.

And this leaves you demotivated instead.

This is why it’s extremely important to understand that when you try to learn something new, you’re not going to master it overnight – and you shouldn’t be trying to, either.

Trying to learn something completely new and challenging in one go or master a brand-new skill at the first try is simply not how your brain learns best.

When you’re learning something new – for example, trying to learn and remember a bar of a piece of music you want to play on the piano – you’re using your working memory.

Your working memory processes what you’re looking at and taking in right now. It’s working in real-time to collect data about what you’re focusing on and making sense of.

However, your working memory also has a limited capacity. In fact, it can only hold a couple of items of information for a matter of seconds.

Have you ever forgotten a name or date or number mere seconds after hearing it for the first time? Your working memory is simply not designed to hold information indefinitely unless you’re actively trying to retain it.

Luckily, neuroscientists have figured out exactly how to make full use of your working memory – by keeping your learning to short, focused sessions, separated by short breaks.

So, if you’re learning the piano, spend 20-25 minutes practicing that bar you’re trying to learn.

Instead of trying to memorize the whole piece at once, chunk your learning down to sections, and work on these, allowing yourself to make mistakes. The more you do, the more you’re letting your brain finetune what you need to do to avoid making those mistakes.

Then, when you take a break – around 5 minutes – you allow your working memory to return to full capacity.

At the same time, your brain gets to wander because it’s not having to focus intently on something, and this allows it to connect the new information you learned with the information you already know.

It helps synthesize your new learning with your existing learning, allowing you to improve at what you were trying to do.

Moreover, by chunking your learning down, you’re also keeping your dopamine levels up.

Rather than expecting to complete a huge task – like learning the whole piano piece in one go – your brain expects to complete a smaller task – like learning a bar – and therefore, more frequently enjoys that feeling of accomplishment when you get it right.

This in turn keeps you driven and motivated to keep learning and moving through the whole piece, despite the mistakes you might make along the way!

4. Give Yourself a Strong Enough “Why”

5 Ways to Learn Anything Faster

You might not have the same access to plasticity as you did when you were a kid, but here’s a fun fact – you can rapidly speed up your access to plasticity when you have a strong enough “Why”.

What does this mean?

Okay, think about it like this – have you ever completed what felt like a seemingly impossible deadline for work or for school at the last possible minute, pushing past all the obstacles in your way?

Most likely, you had a very strong incentive to get it done – you might have failed the class entirely if you didn’t or might have lost your job or the opportunity at a promotion.

Ask yourself whether you’d have been this motivated if, for example, meeting that deadline wouldn’t affect your grades, or if the work project wouldn’t make a difference to your KPI or career goals.

Probably not, right?

Your “Why” for learning something new is so important. You can practice something over and over, but if you don’t have a strong incentive to learn it, chances are your progress is going to be slow.

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When you have a strong enough “Why”, your brain creates that sense of urgency, with your adrenaline, acetylcholine and dopamine working in tandem to help you learn something much, much faster.

So, before you take on some new learning, ask yourself why you want to learn it – give yourself a strong motive. The stronger your “Why” the greater your ability to expand your neuroplasticity!

5. Physically Challenge Yourself in New, Safe Ways

5 Ways to Learn Anything FasterYou might have heard that exercise helps you learn better and faster – but there’s a caveat.

If you are repeating the same exercise routine, doing the same things you’re already good at, you’re not accessing plasticity.

Your brain isn’t experiencing those signals letting it know that there’s a mistake that it needs to fix, so it doesn’t create those chemical conditions under which your brain expands on its ability to learn and adapt.

Kids have incredibly plastic brains – and kids are also constantly running around and physically challenging themselves in new ways.

Whether they’re climbing things or hanging from things or swinging on things, they’re constantly challenging their brain’s sense of equilibrium, creating a state of urgency within them to constantly adjust that state of balance.

So, trying out safe (emphasis on the word safe, don’t put yourself in danger trying incredibly risky physical activities) new ways to physically challenge yourself can also help you access your plasticity.

Try out yoga, or a new sport you’re not used to, a new workout regimen you’ve never tried before. Try things like mountain biking, surfing, dancing – things that alter your state of balance and task your brain with adjusting to that physical imbalance.

Note, again, that if it’s a physical activity that you’re already good at, no matter how much you work at it, it’s not going to improve your brain’s plasticity.

The key is to try something new, and create that margin for making mistakes, so your brain gets the signal that something is off and works to fix it.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “To err is human” before – and now you know that, scientifically, it’s one of the best ways to learn!

So, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. As long as you know the exact conditions under which your brain learns, with these 5 ways to learn anything faster, you can unlock the hidden potential of your brain!

Pat Wyman is the CEO of HowtoLearn.com and an internationally noted brain coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert.

Pat’s superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, inclluding Total Recall Learning™. 

Pat is the best-selling author of more than 15 books, a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!

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