I’ll just admit up front I may have been a bit hyperbolic. Then again, maybe not. Because really this is about how to speed up your learning when you’re not doing anything – actively practicing or studying.
There are a lot of ideas and suggestions available to speed up learning a skill or topic but most of them focus on the active part of learning, practicing, studying, or otherwise engaging with the learning itself.
But something that is just as important, if not more important, is what you do after the learning session to be able to integrate, utilize, and retain what you’ve learned. When I invest my time and money in coaching on a skill that I’m trying to improve I want to get as much out of my investment as I possibly can. These are a few things that I’ve found, and have at least some empirical support, that improve that process of integration so that the next time you come back you’re better than you were before seemingly without having done anything.
- Sleep. Sleep is without question one of the most important raw materials for cognitive performance, and it plays a critical part in learning. In a French study adults who went to sleep overnight between learning sessions retained ~30% more French-Swahili word pairs, and required fewer additional trials to learn the rest of them than the group that had no sleep between two learning sessions in the same day. I’ve found that even a short nap is enough to help integrate what you’ve learned. I’ve written about how to improve your sleep before, and I think if there’s one thing worth putting some focus towards it’s this.
- Walking. Besides being the most underrated physical activity ever walking is also a great cognitive enhancer. Steve Jobs was known to spend hours walking on the Apple campus, and took many of his meetings on walks. There’s something about walking that allows the brain to relax, wander, and freely connect dots that doesn’t happen under more strenuous exercise and doesn’t seem to happen in the absence of activity.
- Nootropics. Look I’m going to honestly tell you that I think most nootropics are bullshit. If you’ve paid any attention to the nootropics “story” you’ll know that the general line is that these are powerful “smart drugs” that the government researched and then gave up on because they couldn’t be patented and money couldn’t be made off them or some such nonsense. However, if I am spending a thousand bucks an hour to fly in the wind tunnel popping a few capsules of a nootropic is a pretty cheap way to *maybe* get a touch of neurological help.
- Floating. Sensory deprivation tanks, also known as float tanks, operate on a simple premise. If you can free up whatever cognitive load is being used by keeping yourself sitting or standing and taking in sensory inputs then you have more brainpower to integrate. They’re totally pitch black, usually sound deadened, and you float in a pool of saltwater that is extremely bouyant. You might think of it as extreme relaxation since you’re just floating in space with virtually no sensation. I personally enjoy it, and whenever possible I try to stick a float session around an intense learning session. It’s also fairly inexpensive. Here at home I go to Flotation Philly, but I’ve been to float tanks all over the country.
These are just a few little tricks that I’ve found to have a mild but noticeable impact on my ability to utilize and integrate a skill, movement, or information that I’ve just learned. Over time through the aggregation of marginal gains these small improvements can have a significant positive effect. And for the most part, they require no additional effort.