Some people think old dogs can’t learn new tricks. Here at The ONE Thing, we believe you’re never too old to learn something new.
Not only is it possible for anyone to learn something new at any age, but it’s also beneficial to our emotional health. Researchers have found that there is a neurological connection between learning and happiness. Of course it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start, so we’ve broken it down and found three strategies that may provide the clarity needed to jump right in.
1. Explain New Ideas to Yourself
If you want to jumpstart your brain, start explaining things to yourself. It sounds too straightforward, but not many people consciously go through the effort of making their brain work the simplest of problems. Studies show that one of the most effective ways to learn new information is through self-explanation.
When exposed to a new idea or concept, ask yourself exploratory questions. Prompt yourself and ask what it means, what the implications of the idea are, and how it relates to the world around you. This forces us to take a deeper dive into topics that we’d otherwise accept at face value.
As the Harvard Business Review chronicled, when Brian Ross, a researcher learning to program, began his computer science education, he was decade’s older than his classmates and lacking in experience. However, he was adept at self-explanation:
“He would constantly query himself as he read through the assigned texts. After each paragraph, after each sentence, he would ask himself: ‘What did I just read? How does that fit together? Have I come across this idea before?’”
At the end of the course he was able to outperform younger and more experienced programmers. That’s because people who undergo a process of self-explanation learn, in some cases, three times more than their counterparts.
2. Leverage What You Already Know
Metaphors and similes aren’t just nice devices for poetic imagery. Associating new information with something we already know is a powerful tool for learning. Fortunately, we naturally connect the dots when undergoing self-explanation. However, real progress is made when make connections intentionally.
Like any skill, learning to tie experiences and information together is something that gets better with practice. Whenever you’re presented with something new, have a quick brainstorm with yourself and search for a way to develop the thought with what you already know. Better yet, do it out loud. Striving to make a connection out loud, no matter how silly it sounds, brings the connections from our subconscious to the forefront of our mind. This will also make it easier to develop mnemonic devices (memory tricks like tying a bow around your finger) that help immensely with recall.
3. Repeat What You Learn Intermittently
Repetition has proved time and time again to improve both retention of information and mastery of a skill. Although, like we mention in The ONE Thing, not everything is equal, including the way we engage in repetition.
Sitting down in front of a book and cramming information into your brain over a long period of time doesn’t do anyone any good. The most effective way to comprehend and retain new information is through spaced repetition. Instead of going over new information back-to-back, schedule short sessions with breaks in-between. A study by Dartmouth College found that people who used spaced repetition as opposed to continuous repetition were able to retain information better and longer.
Learning a new skill shouldn’t be reserved for a select few, and lifelong learning is something to be encouraged of everyone. So take the time to learn something new — your brain and happiness levels will thank you for it.