In this article we’ll take a look at a few factors that can profoundly influence your ability to learn and apply new skills effectively. As a bonus I’ve included some simple techniques that are very powerful and easy-to-use. Enjoy the boost, and hopefully this will inspire you to investigate more.
We’re always using our senses simultaneously, but In any given situation, we'll tend to favor one sensory system (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Gustatory, Olfactory) over the others. The preferred sensory system can change depending on the context, but one tends to be the “go to” system for that context. For example, in a class or workshop, some people prefer a teaching style that makes use of charts, diagrams, handouts, etc. (visual). Others may prefer to rely on verbal presentation and recorded audio (auditory), or to have a “hands on” experience.(kinesthetic).
Tip 1: Leverage your sensory preferences
Once you know your preference, you can optimize your learning if you choose a teacher and environment that favors your preferred representational system, or at least includes all of the three main systems (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic) in their teaching. However, even if the learning environment is less than perfect you can still get great results if you know your preferred sensory system and use it to your advantage. This could mean taking good notes with diagrams, etc. (for visual), recording audio in class (if you prefer auditory), or working through examples between classes to get a better “feel” for the material (kinesthetic). Once you’ve got yur sensory strategy on track, you can develop flexibility and new insights by “trying on” one of your less-used sensory channels to supplement this.
Supercharging External Focus
Have you ever been in a class or training session and found yourself distracted by a nagging mental to-do list, or other thoughts whirling around your mind? Wouldn’t it be great to get rid of that internal distraction? Well, here’s a technique I came up with that will help you improve your focus on the material being presented. It’s quick and easy, and nobody has to know you’re doing it.
Tip 2: External Focus Technique: Counting outbreaths, eyes up
As you listen to the lecture, pay attention to your breathing. Allow it to naturally deepen and slow down. Maintain a soft gaze, and keep it level or at a slightly upward angle during this process (i.e. don’t look down). Begin to count each exhalation, starting at 1. If you reach 5, start over at 1. Notice how the rate of your breathing continues to slow naturally. Let the lecture drift through your awareness while doing this. You’ll find you can still follow it. After a couple of 1 to 5 cycles (or as soon as you feel ready), let the counting fade away completely and shift your primary focus back to the lecture. That’s it! Notice how your mind has settled and your focus improves. The whole process only takes a minute or so. Repeat whenever appropriate. This technique is great for quieting internal distractions, allowing for better focus on external input.
Supercharging Internal Focus
Now, there are other times when we need the opposite, when it’s beneficial to focus internally and detach from external input. For example, when doing creative work, making a tough decision, or solving a complex problem. At these times, internal focus can encourage insights that allow us to work smarter.
Tip 3: Internal Focus Technique: Power up your daydreaming
Internal focus can be experienced in many ways. One easy way to get started is to simply be mindful during the times when you naturally daydream. Treasure these naturally occurring trance states and write down anything significant that comes to you. With the conscious mind relaxed and out of the way, your powerful unconscious is free to do its work. Your unconscious may surprise you with insights and solutions you hadn’t considered. Even a couple of minutes in this mindful state can work wonders, so do it whenever you need a new perspective or want to integrate new learnings into your life. With some basic techniques and a little practice, you can learn to enter trance whenever you’d like.
Of course, some of the most powerful techniques to encourage timely internal or external focus are Hypnosis, NLP and related modalities. These techniques are typically used in the context of private sessions at first. In these sessions you develop certain skills that help you access your desired states intentionally.
We all tend to learn things more easily when they affect us directly. Relevance directly affects our “learning state.” For example, if I told you that there was $1,000,000 waiting for you in a certain airport locker and then recited the combination, I think you’d probably be very open to quickly learning and remembering the combination. If I gave you the same string of numbers to memorize for a technical examination, you might be a little less enthusiastic and find the numbers harder to learn. What does this tell us?
Tip 4: Keep it relevant: Go there now
Anytime you need to learn new skills or material, find a way to make that material relevant to your life right now. Ask yourself, “What will learning this get me?” or “How can I have FUN with this?” For example, let’s say you have an occupational test coming up and a good score might lead to a higher paying job. Take a moment to visualize or think about the benefits you will experience--buying a new car, taking an attractive member of the opposite sex out for an evening, taking your family on a vacation, really enjoying the new work and your colleagues, realizing your highest potential, serving a spiritual purpose…whatever gets you excited. Once you have something wonderful in mind, I invite you to experience having it right now (you can do this with eyes open or closed). See what you would see, hear what you would hear, and really enjoy the feelings related to these things. Take your time and note the characteristics of your experience. Nod your head lightly when you’ve got it. Now, each and every time you study, start your session by closing your eyes and revisiting this experience for a short while. As you work with the process you’ll get better at it and find yourself really looking forward to it.
The great hypnotherapist Milton Erickson once described the trance state as "the state in which learning and openness to change are most likely to occur." This is a great description. In fact, many believe that we incorporate new information and skills best when we are in a “learning trance.” This is a state where a type of selective thinking is engaged. It’s a state of relaxed concentration, which can become associated with the learned behavior. The learning trance can be initiated by ourselves, a coach, an environmental trigger, or in other ways. Once associated with the learned behavior, the state can be intentionally activated at a later time to allow the behavior to be performed in the optimal way.
Think about a major league baseball player as he walks to home plate and prepares to bat in an important game. Or an Olympic diver as she takes her position before performing the high dive. Notice the highly ritualized behavior and trance-like demeanor of athletes in these situations. The batter always uses the same stance, and the same repetitive actions, as does the high diver. They’ve rehearsed the situation mentally as well as physically many times. When it’s time to perform, they use certain actions, internal dialog, or cues (anchors) to trigger their optimal state for performing the task at hand. Triggering the state allows the learned behavior to be performed as automatically as possible, with a minimum of conscious interference. You see, once a behavior is learned deeply, it can be executed much more efficiently and accurately when we do it unconsciously and automatically, rather than trying to consciously control each little action involved.
Tip 5: Consider exploring the use of Hypnotherapy, NLP, and related techniques
Top performers in sports, performing arts, politics, and many other fields have known about this for a long time and they often use Hypnosis, NLP, and related techniques to achieve this type of automatic execution. With practice, you can apply the same techniques to your exams, job interviews, artistic performances or any other situation where you want to be at your best.
It’s All About You
I’ve given just a few examples of how our learning ability and performance can be supercharged. It’s an exciting and rapidly growing field of exploration. Practitioners of Hypnotherapy and NLP are on the cutting edge in this area. Whether it’s examinations, performing arts, public speaking, reading comprehension, learning a musical instrument, sports, spelling, job interviews, or any other area, the potential to reach higher and perform better is inside you RIGHT NOW. Feel free to contact me with any questions about your particular situation.