Just like learning about how a tool works helps you use it better, learning about how your brain works can help you learn more efficiently. There are two modes of thinking that are essential to learning: focused mode and diffuse mode. It’s critical that both thought patterns are used to truly learn a topic or concept. Whether you’re studying Calculus or learning to play the guitar, learning how to use both modes of thinking effectively will make you a better learner.
When you are concentrating on a certain topic or concept that you’re trying to learn, your brain is in focused mode. In this mode, your brain works with familiar ideas to understand a topic in detail. For example, you could be studying a chapter and trying to learn the vocabulary terms. Your brain is making connections between familiar ideas to make sense of the concept. This can be considered the heavy lifting mode.
As your brain relaxes, it is actually still working on learning concepts and solving problems in the background. However, it’s more creative in diffuse mode. It will make connections between different things for you to understand a concept or find the answer. Therefore, it’s important to learn something over a good amount of time. Cramming doesn’t allow you to use diffuse mode, so the concepts won’t stick.
Focused and diffuse mode work better as a team. You can learn the basics of a concept without any distractions in focused mode and then passively internalize the concept in diffuse mode. From there, the concept will be understood well and find a home in your long-term memory. If you stay in focused mode for too long, you get tunnel-vision and can’t think outside of the box. On the other hand, diffuse mode doesn’t work well without focused mode.
Tell me if this has happened to you. You hear a song briefly and it sounds familiar, but you can’t seem to remember the title of the song. Let’s say you can’t remember the lyrics or the artist either, so Google is out of the picture. So, you rack your brain trying to figure out the song title but come up empty. In this moment, your brain is in focused mode. After a few hours, the answer pops up in your head. Those few hours when you weren’t focused on trying to remember the song title is your brain working in diffuse mode.
Learn more about how to use your brain effectively at The Family and Learning Center.