About effective learning (Part 4): Focused and Diffuse modes

Hello again! I hope you’re doing well and you’re staying safe. In the last post, we talked about the importance of developing a growth mindset in the process of effective learning. Today, it’s gonna be more practical, just a ready-to-use method that can help you retain more of what you study, remember more of what you learn, spend less time studying and more time enjoying. Are you READY? Let’s Goooo!

Alternate focused mode/ Diffuse mode

Researchers have found that we have two fundamentally different modes of thinking, some of them call them the Focused and the Diffuse modes. The focused mode is what we all are asked to do by our teachers, parents and sometimes even our nagging inner voices. That’s when we concentrate intently on something we’re trying to learn or to understand. The diffuse mode, on the other hand, is a more relaxed thinking style that is related to a set of neural resting states, and that can allow us to look at things broadly from a very different big-picture perspective.

It has been found that this mode allows our brains to make new neural connections traveling along new pathways, which means that it helps the formation of long-term memories. Neuroscientists tell us that we’re either in the focused mode or the diffuse mode of thinking (You can’t be in both of them at the same time). But it looks like the use of the two modes is highly effective when wanting to learn something new especially if it’s different than your existing thought patterns.

I didn’t know about that before but it turned out that I was practicing that diffused mode leaning quite often without realizing, and the odds are you’re doing it as well. To me, it will be something like taking a walk, driving or taking a shower while still thinking about that concept I read about or that idea I heard, I’m also thinking about a lot of other things at the same time, I’m not focused on that concept so it doesn’t seem like I was actively learning anything. But it turns out that my brain has enough space to look for similar patterns, to try to connect what I have tried to learn earlier when I was in the focused mode with thoughts and concepts that are already there.

I would sometimes be exercising in the gym ( a place with a lot of visual and auditory distractions) but I’ll be thinking (not exclusively) about something that happened that day, something I learned and halfway through the session I’ll be thinking about similar ideas, making connections, analogies and comparisons without even trying to learn.

And so yes, we need that space (diffuse mode space) to learn more effectively. We can access that mode by doing anything else that doesn’t acquire our full attention and focus. Researchers have found that the best way to access that diffuse mode is physical exercise, although that also has many more benefits on other aspects of learning and memory. But it doesn’t have to be that, any action you do almost automatically ( a habit) and that only uses 5 to 10% of your mental capacity will give the space for other thoughts to come in, especially if they’re fresh ones (you were just trying to form them when you were focused a while earlier).

And so, my friend! go to the gym, dance, go for a ride, cook (if you usually do), draw, play sports, swim, spend time doing your favorite hobby, play a dumb game on your phone, etc. You can even take a nap if that’s what you want (We will talk about the importance of sleep in learning in the next post inchallah). It is not a waste of time, it’s actually essential for your learning, as long as it doesn’t require your full attention and focus, and as long as you did a good session of focused learning just a bit before that.

It’s interesting, no? Let me know in the comment section if you do that as part of your learning strategies.

To be continued

2 thoughts on “About effective learning (Part 4): Focused and Diffuse modes

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