-- Improve Reading Speed & Comprehension --

Several years back I was traveling in the country of Belize. There I met a woman who was also traveling there.

I bring her up not because she was exceptionally smart or mentally gifted (though she might have been). I bring her up because she had a particular habit.

Anytime she got into a new city or town, the first thing she did was take a few hours to walk around and explore the town. She had to do that otherwise she would get anxious and restless.

We ended up traveling together, so whenever we arrived in a new town, we dropped our bags at the hotel and explored the town or neighborhood.

It was an interesting experience.

Doing that not only made me feel like I had done something, but it gave me a good preview of the town. I got a better understanding of what to do, where to go, how to get there, and more importantly, what the locals were like.

Since then, I’ve made her habit my own.

Anytime I travel to a new place, the first thing I do is take out time to walk around and explore for a few hours. This really sets my expectations of what there is to do and how much time I need or want to spend in that place.

This is how I want YOU to approach reading.

I want you to preview material before you actually read it.

That means scroll through the text, looking at the table of contents, major headings, words in bold or italics, visual aids, etc.

It’s the most important thing you can do to improve your reading speed and comprehension.

That’s because when you preview, you give your mind a framework of what will be discussed, the type of information that will be presented, and how it will be organized.

It may not seem like it to you, but to your mind, it’s tremendous.

It’s like looking at the box cover of a jigsaw puzzle. If you start a jigsaw without the cover, you will have a hard time putting it together. With the cover, it’s easier to see where all the pieces go and how they fit.

The same goes with preview.

It makes it easier for your mind to see the pieces and how they are organized.

Skilled readers almost never read a text “cold.” Instead, they first examine the text with preview.

This allows them to start the reading with a great deal of information already processed. As a result, their mind is not guessing or worrying about what’s coming next. It can relax and pay attention to what is being read.

So, whether you’re about to read an article, report, manual, book, novel, or chapter from a text, glance over and preview it before you actually start reading.

A good standard to follow when previewing is to look at the table of contents; chapter titles and headings; words in bold, underline, quotes, or italics; visual aids such as tables, charts, graphs, and diagrams; end of chapter summaries or questions; and anything important that catches your eye.

Also, it helps to read the first and last paragraphs of an article or the first and last paragraph of each chapter in a book.

To remember all this, think of T.H.I.E.V.E.S:

• Title

• Headings

• Introduction

• Every word in bold, underline, quote, and italics

• Visuals Aids

• End of Chapter Questions

• Summary/Conclusion

So, the next time you start a reading assignment, preview it first. You’ll find you not only understand the information better, but you can read it faster as well.

Have you ever noticed when you are in the market for a new car, you start seeing that model everywhere?

Or when you set a goal, you start noticing all sorts of opportunities related to the goal and how to achieve it.

That’s because your mind is a purpose driven machine. When there is an objective or target, all of a sudden, its awareness opens and focus changes, often without you realizing it.

You can apply this amazing feature to your reading.

You can do this by setting a goal or purpose every time you pick up something to read. Determine beforehand what you expect or want out the material.

Once you set a purpose or goal for your reading, you’ll find a shift happens in your mind.

All of a sudden, your mind is not wandering or getting distracted. Instead, it is focused on the task and honed in on the material to get the precise information you seek or need.

This keeps you attentive and helps you get more out of your reading.

Interestingly, we all have a purpose when reading.

Anytime we pick up a book, magazine, or article, there is a reason why we do it.

It might be to ace an exam, write a paper, complete an assignment, find an answer, learn a skill, solve a problem, kill boredom, or to unwind and get lost in a fantasy world.

Whatever the purpose, there is a purpose – even if you don’t realize that purpose.

Now, just because you know you’re purpose, doesn’t mean your mind does.

As people, we falsely assume we are one with the mind. We assume because we know what we want, that our mind automatically knows as well.

Sadly, that is not reality.

The reality is if you want your mind to know your goals and intentions, you must clearly and explicitly state them.

If you can be clear with your intentions, it gives your mind a lot to work with. Instead of figuring out the million other things you want to be doing or thinking about, it has a clear directive. It lets your mind know what to tune out and where to draw its focus and attention.

So, the next time you pick up something to read, state your purpose or intention for reading it.

Your purpose does not have to be long, drawn out, or complicated. It can be as simple as ‘I’m reviewing yesterday’s notes to find answers for tomorrow’s assignment.’

The key is to think about what you want to know and why.

Below are examples of different purpose you can create for a variety of materials:

• I am reading this book to learn money saving strategies to grow my business.

• I am studying chapter four, five, and six of the history textbook to ace next week’s mid-terms.

• My goal for this manual is to improve my computer programming skills for the new project at work.

• I am reading this novel to prepare for tomorrow’s literature discussion.

• I am reviewing this book to get the information I need to write an engaging research paper deserving of an A

• The purpose of reading for the next few hours is to unwind, relax, and get lost in the author’s tale.

• I am researching the internet to find a better treatment option for my illness.

A universal question you can ask is, ‘what can I get out of this book?’ or ‘how will this book impact me?’

Like with previewing, sometimes it’s annoying to step back and think of a purpose and always do that with every item you read. I’m sure you would rather just get started with the material, because the sooner you can get started, the sooner you can finish.

However, if you can step back and take a few seconds or minutes to establish a clear purpose, you’ll get more out of your reading and saving much more time and energy in the long run.

Francis Bacon once said “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

I think what he was trying to say is, there is no one fit all approach to reading.

That is, you don’t want to approach a textbook like how you’d read an email.

And you don’t want to approach an email, like how you’d approach a training manual.

It’s important to gauge the material and adjust your reading according to the difficulty, importance, form, and genre.

You are probably thinking this is obvious.

It is very obvious.

As obvious as it seems though, people continue to read every material as if it were all the same.

The main reason for this is because we get habituated to reading a certain way. Especially if we are always reading the same type of material, such as a novel or textbook.

Once we get into a pattern, that pattern is used on all materials.

It’s not conscious, it just sort of happens.

As soon as we start, our habit takes over, and we’re in the habituated pattern.

And if our habituated pattern of reading doesn’t fit the material, we have a hard time reading or making sense of the content.

This causes us to assume we are not cut out for that subject, topic, or information.

It’s not that you’re not cut out, you just have to step back and adjust your reading process.

For example, if you are reading a technical manual with detailed procedures of how to do something, well you are going to want to chew and digest each line of text. It’s not something you can scan or skim through haphazardly.

If you are reading material related to your major or profession, you don’t have to pay as close attention, but still enough to fully understand the material. This can include taking notes and stopping regularly to review and test your knowledge.

The same goes if the text is complicated with big words and fancy grammar, or if you are new to the subject.

On the other hand, if you already know a lot about the topic or know a lot about the author’s other works, you can be relaxed in your approach.

You can also be relaxed if you are used to a certain type of material. Some people are used to reading textbooks. Whether its computer science or political science, they have no problems learning from such material. For others, textbooks are stale and boring, so they have to really change their pace and rhythm to follow along.

Another thing to consider is how long the information you’re reading will be relevant to you. If you are looking for a solution to a problem, and once solved, you could care less, this is where you can scan and skim.

So next time you pick up a book, don’t just start reading like you would any other material.

Step back and gauge the material and adjust your reading according.

This is why the last two articles on preview and purpose are so important. They help you step back to gauge the material and understand your purpose. If you get that down, adjusting your reading becomes easy.

Do you love reading?

I know tons of people who do.

They read most any type of material from books, magazine, newspaper, novels, etc.

One thing I’ve noticed about these people is although they are well read, they don’t remember much of what they have read.

Sure, they remember it in the moment or for a few days, but not too long after that.

They simply forget most of what they’ve read.

If you read the article on memory, you learned, as people, we forget as much as 80% of what we learn within a few hours.

This applies to reading as well.

If there is no attempt to remember the material, then that information leaves us.

Interestingly, what’s left is this feeling that we do in fact remember the material.

But in fact, we don’t.

So, what I want to recommend is that you stop once in a while to review material you are reading.

If you keep reading non-stop, the brain pushes out old information for the new you are taking in.

By the time you reach the end, you have forgotten much of what was in the beginning or even in the middle.

A good strategy is every half hour or so, stop and try to recall what you just read. Then go back to see if what you remembered was accurate and complete.

This is enough review for the information to stay fresh in your mind.

It’s a simple step that takes very little time – few seconds to a minute – but has a huge impact on your reading and memory of material.

Huge!

I hate to say it, but if you are not ACTIVELY doing something to remember what you read, you’re going to lose it.

Another option is when you get to the end of a chapter, spend a few minutes to think about what you read or learned before moving to the next chapter.

And if you take a break between reading sessions, when you return to the material, recall what you have already read before reading further.

This will not only refresh your memory of the previous material, but segue nicely to the new content.

In this article I want to talk about what you should do while reading.

When reading, it’s very important that you pay attention to the main points or main ideas the writer is trying to communicate.

Most of us read paying attention to only the details, such as facts, dates, descriptions, etc., with no concern for the main point.

For example, in history class, you might be reading about dates and be completely oblivious to what time period, country, or person it relates.

Or you might be reading instructions and not fully grasp the bigger picture of what they’ll help you do.

This is not an effective way to read because you miss out on crucial information that is essential for understanding and memory.

To illustrate, if you were to ask me what I did last weekend, how would you like me to respond?

Would you like me to say, ‘I went on vacation,’

or

‘I pulled out my luggage, packed it with clothes, zipped it up, drove to the airport, checked in my bags, flew to Colombia, took a taxi to a hotel, and sat in front of a beach drinking mojitos.’

Well this is how people read. They pay attention to the packing, flying, and taxi without realizing it is for vacation.

The main point is ‘vacation,’ the rest are ‘details.’

If you don’t get the main point, you will get lost in all the details.

And sadly, that’s what happens to most readers, especially students. When reading, they focus only on the details, so they get lost and don’t understand what they’ve read.

To improve understanding of what you’re reading, pay attention to the main points, the bigger picture, and the higher context.

It will ensure you get more out of your reading.

-- Enhance Memory & Recall --

Last year, I was in the Greek Island of Santorini, an island that consistently ranks top 5 in the world, and for good reason. The views and sunsets are stunning, especially in the town of Oia.

In that town, I met a friend with whom I was admiring the sunset.

While everyone was passionately taking photos to remember the moment, he wasn’t.

In my curious nature, I asked him why he wasn’t taking any photos?

He told me he didn’t want to ruin the moment.

To which I replied, what good is not ruining the moment if you are not going to remember it?

He assured me that he couldn’t possibly forget something so spectacular.

About 5 months later, we were chatting over email about our time in Santorini, to which I brought up ‘hey remember that amazing sunset in Oia?’

His response was a confused ‘no.’

He had not only forgot what it looked like, but forgot the sunset altogether.

This brings up the topic of this article.

As people, we put way too much faith in our memory.

We get a great idea, come across valuable advice, receive important instructions, or hear a painfully obvious fact and think that it’s just too great, valuable, important, or obvious to forget.

But just like my friend, sure enough, we forget.

Not only do we forget what the thought or idea was, but we forget we even had one in the first place.

In fact studies show that people forget 80% of what we read or hear within the first few hours of reading or hearing it.

Not the first months, weeks, or even days, but the first few hours!

This is because in this day and age, we are bombarded with just too much information. Our mind can’t take all of it in so it keeps what it deems important and discards the rest.

The problem is, what our mind deems important is often different from what we deem important.

We might think a magnificent sunset or a crucial deadline is important, but to our mind, it may not as big a concern.

The types of things that concern our mind are things that are dangerous, that are repeated, or that it can relate to other experiences.

For example, if you happen to touch a hot stove, the mind will remember the experience so you don’t do it again.

If you see or hear something over and over, your mind will go, ‘hmm this keeps coming up, may I should take note.’

…and it will.

If you drop a cup and it breaks, when you reach for something similar like a plate, you mind will associate it to the cup and think if dropped, the plate too might break.

By default, our memories regard certain types information as important, like things that are painful, repeated, associated, etc…

Unless we present information in these ways, the mind won’t remember it.

So, the key takeaway is don’t have full, unconditional faith in your memory. Even on matters you feel are just too important or remarkable to forget.

If you have something you want or need to remember, take proactive action to remember it.

It can be as simple as writing it down, taking a picture or screenshot, even making a recording.

The other option is present the information in ways the mind sees as important, like repeating the information, associating it to other information, or using other memory techniques.

Don’t just assume the thought, idea, fact, date, or appointment will stick because you need it to stick.

Instead, do something to record that thought, idea, or moment.

Otherwise, you may forget it sooner than you think.

The other day I was chatting with a new friend about what I do, that I write and teach about improving mental performance.

His first comment was, ‘oh do you have anything on memory? I have an awful memory, I can’t remember anything.’ Then he proceeded to give me a lengthy description of how and why his memory is so bad.

I looked at him and was like, of course you have a bad memory, just look at how you talk about it.

His experience isn’t unique.

Wherever I go, people are always talking bad about their memory, saying ‘how it sucks,’ ‘they always forget,’ ‘can’t remember anything even if their life dependent on it,’ and so on.

Much of the time they say this in a proud manner, as if there is something honorable, impressive, or cool about having a bad memory, especially one as bad as theirs.

This is a very bad habit.

That is because if you talk bad about your memory, your memory becomes bad.

Countless studies show that our mental health and performance is highly vulnerable to what we say, think, and feel about it. Our mind works such that if we get into a pattern of thinking or thought, it starts acting that out.

So if we constantly think or talk negative about our memory and put it down, then its starts performing that way. We start forgetting more and more and begin struggling to recall even the simplest facts.

There are complex reasons why this happens, which is beyond the scope of this article. Though to put it in perspective, it’s similar to how constantly yelling at a child and telling him he will never amount to anything causes the child to grow up that way.

What’s worse is that this can become a cycle. When you criticize your memory, it starts performing poorly. Since it performs poorly, you criticize it more. Which causes it to perform worse.

For most of us, our memory isn’t bad because there is something wrong with it. It is bad simply because we have been talking about it in negative ways.

If you really want to improve your memory and have it function at an optimal level, the most important thing you can do is to stop talking bad about it. Cut out all the negative chatter about your inability to remember.

Just get rid of it.

It isn’t impressive.

It doesn’t make you cool.

Nor is it useful.

If you do anything, talk positive about your memory. Regularly reinforce positive statements like ‘I have a strong memory,’ ‘I easily remember any information I choose.’

Remember, your mind acts out any pattern of thinking or thought you get into. If you get into a positive pattern, your mind will act that out.

If you get into a pattern of talking positive about your memory, you’ll start remembering more, more easily.

So begin today.

Begin by saying something positive or constructive about your memory.

Do this regularly and make it a habit.

Each morning you wake up or when you leave the house, repeat statements like:

I have an excellent memory.

My brain is an information storehouse, it records everything I see, hear, and do.

My memory is getting better and better everyday.

You memory may not change overnight, but overtime, you’ll be astounded how much it improves.

A few years back I was in a small village of Uganda, a country in eastern Africa.

There I met a local with an uncanny memory.

He knew several tribal languages and a few western ones too. Not only that, he remembered the most subtle points of events and conversations, which he could recount in exquisite detail.

What impressed me most was he didn’t use memory techniques nor have much schooling.

One day I asked him, ‘hey man, what’s with you, how do you have such an uncanny memory.’

His response: ‘You westerns have all this t.v., news, facebook, internet, and endless wave of information that clutter your mind. In my village, I don’t have any of that. So the things I learn, I keep.’

That’s true.

In this day and age, we are bombarded with way too much. Our mind is constantly pushing out the old to work with the new.

Since our mind is receiving so much new, what it pushes out may only be a few hours old.

As a result, we are unable to retain information that comes to us much beyond a few hours let alone a few days.

The thing is, majority of the information we do come across is either not useful or useful only for the moment.

Since much of it is not useful, there is no sense in trying to commit every piece of information that comes your way.

Your memory is powerful. It can remember most information you want.

However just because it can remember anything, doesn’t mean you should have it remember anything.

There is no sense in trying to memorize a phone number if you’re going to use it only once.

If you’re grocery list changes week to week, it doesn’t serve you to memorize each and every list.

Or your booking confirmation for next month, is it going to be that important two years from now?

Probably not.

Trying to remember such trivial information is not just a waste of time, but not an efficient use of your memory.

When you crowd you’re mind with such details, you leave less room for the things that matter…

…like your daughter’s birthday, client’s cell-phone number, a new language, or the important events in your life.

I’m not saying that trivial details aren’t important.

They are…

Just not for the long term.

So there is no sense in putting time and effort to force those details into your long-term memory bank.

So what should you do with such trivial details that are important, but not for the long term?

Note them down!

The things that are worth remembering, commit to memory. The rest, note down.

This frees your mind to remember what matters.

Here are examples of the types of information I note and how:

• Useful information I come across on my phone, I take a screenshot.

• If I stumble upon a valuable website, I bookmark or download it.

• When traveling internationally, I text myself the number of each new sim card I buy.

• When a great idea pops up in my head, I email it to myself.

• When I have to remember a lot of written detail, I take a picture.

• And with anything else, I jot in my notebook in the form of a to-do list.

When it is time to recall any of this, I pull out the screen shot, bookmark, text, email, picture, or notebook.

This has made all the difference in my life.

I no longer waste time and energy scrambling to remember websites, confirmations numbers, etc as I have them noted.

So my memory is free to remember the things that matter like what I did with friends, places I’ve visited, and essential points of a lecture or meeting.

If you really want to enhance your memory, stop trying to remember every bit of fact that comes your way. Not only is it impossible, but it’s time consuming and inefficient.

Focus on the things that are relevant or useful for the long term. For these types of information, you can use a variety of memory tips and techniques to help you remember and recall them.

One of the main stereotypes of athletes is that they are dumb jocks.

Sure, they might not be the most ‘studious’ or ‘well-read,’ people around, but athletes aren’t as dumb as we might think.

In many ways, they are quite smart as there is a certain degree of intelligence required to excel in sports.

One has to know a lot of rules of the game, remember different plays, understand their opponent, as well as have precise control of their body.

Even more, they have to predict their opponents’ move and counteract them, just like in a game of chess.

Now, these aren’t skills athletes learn studying at home or reading a book.

It is learned by doing.

They go out and practice and perform to perfection their skill.

The same goes for anyone who is a master at their craft, whether it’s a blacksmith, artist, cook, tailor, or construction worker.

These people may not have the highest IQ, be the most educated, or even know how to read, yet they somehow still learn to do their job and do it well.

They learn not from studying or going to lectures, but by…

DOING

And that is the advice I want to give you today.

The best way to learn or remember anything is to do or be active with material you are learning or want to memorize.

D. Ellis says “People remember ninety percent of what they do, seventy-five percent of what they see, and twenty percent of what they hear.”

We remember more by doing than anything else.

There are many reasons for this, but those reasons aren’t so important.

What’s important is that you take your learning outside of books, class room, and computer screen and be active with what you want to remember.

How can you be active?

• Well, when you are given instructions, perform it several times, so your mind builds a pattern for it.

• If you want to memorize a phone number, visualize yourself dialing the number. Then pull out your phone and pretend to dial it on the keypad.

• To remember a name, bring it up in conversation until it sticks.

• With a new pin, go out to the ATM and key it in as if you are taking money out.

• If it is a speech, recite the dialogue in your head, then out loud. Finally, pretend you are in front of your audience and recite it a few more times.

• For a mouthwatering recipe, bake it ‘til you make it.

• When studying for an exam, answer practice questions, take practice tests, and quiz yourself regularly.

• To learn photography, go out and take photos.

• For anything that requires a skill, practice, practice, practice.

This may seem obvious, but you’ll be surprised how often I encounter people take a lesson, instruction, or course they’ve read or heard, and then do nothing because they think they got it.

Almost always, they don’t.

When it’s time to put the information into practice, they’re at a loss.

If you want to increase retention to 90%, then be active with material you want to learn or remember.

This is one of the best ways to commit information to memory.

You can read, hear, and watch all you want about a topic or subject, but there is level of understanding and mastery that can only be gained when you are active with the information.

For this article, I’d like to take a trip back memory lane.

I want you to think about your childhood and where you grew up. Think about the home you lived in or the grade school and junior high you attended.

I bet you remember these places like you were there yesterday.

You can see the exact location of the living room, dining room, and hallway and how they were furnished, from the aged carpet on the floor to vintage paintings on the wall.

I suspect you can recall similar features of your grade school or junior high as well. Vivid images of the classrooms, hallway, cafeteria, and the subjects that were taught in each room and the teachers that taught those subject come to mind.

Although you have a strong visual memory of these places, you probably don’t remember the address, street name, or classroom numbers quite as well.

That is because your brain is HARD-WIRED to process and store images and information that you see.

For humans, vision is our dominant sense.

For dogs, it’s smell.

For bats, it’s hearing.

But as humans, we remember pictures, places, and faces far better than other types of information.

Do you remember Dr. Ellis’ quote from the previous article, “People remember ninety percent of what they do, seventy-five percent of what they see and twenty percent of what they hear.”

Although we remember 90% of what we do, we remember 75% of what we see, which is still exceptionally high.

This means if you can visually ‘see’ what you want to learn and remember, you are more likely to learn and remember it – 75% likely.

The thing is, most information we come across is not visual. It comes from books, lectures, articles, so it’s either written or oral.

So how can you better remember and recall such information?

A good technique is visualization.

Visualization is the act of creating a mental image. It is using your imagination to sketch a picture, scene, or process in your mind of information you want to remember.

You can use visualization to enhance memory and recall of all types of information.

If you are studying history, say that of Rome, instead of reading meaningless facts and dates, you can visualize the events being played out. You can picture where Rome first came into being and how it spread throughout Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. You can replay the major events and battles that took place and how they shaped the empire. You can even visualize the different leaders coming in to power like Caesar, Augustus, Constantine, and see them giving orders, leading armies, and setting policies.

On the other hand, if you are trying to remember a novel, say The Great Gatsby, you can mentally sketch the main characters of the story, such as Nick Carraway, Daisy Buchanan, and Jay Gatsby. Good novels are thorough in their descriptions of characters, so picture them exactly as described – the way they look, act, and interact with each other. Also picture the setting and scenery of when and where the story takes place. More importantly, play out the major scenes and events such as Nick meeting Gatsby, then introducing him to Daisy, and thus sparking a love affair. Anything the author spends time explaining, expressing, and communicating, put in your mental picture.

Now let’s turn our attention to a process. Say you need to remember how products are manufactured at your new company. Simple. Visualize the routine from beginning to end, from first to last. Picture how different raw materials come into the company through various vendors. Then picture the materials going through production, from one stage to the next. Finally picture how they turn into the the final product and are shipped out to customers.

Then when you want to recall the information, simply call up the images you visualized. You’ll find those images come to mind much more quickly and easily, then mere words.

These are few examples of how to visualize information. As mentioned, you can use visualization to remember any type of information from names, dates, and facts to quotes, speeches and events.

All you have to do is visualize it.

So anytime you want to learn information, try picturing it in your minds eye.

You’ll be amazed just how easily it is to remember.

-- Concentration & Focus --

Concentration is the ability of your mind to focus your attention on a single thought, idea, or action.

This is probably the most critical skill anyone can learn.

Without concentration, you wouldn’t be able to start, stick with, or finish a task.

As critical as this skill is, it is one of the most difficult to develop.

So why is concentrate so difficult? I mean if I want to read a book, I should be able to open it up and start reading without problems. Or if I have an important assignment, it should be easy start and stay focused through completion.

But that rarely happens.

Concentration is difficult because there is a lot going on inside our mind and body that distract us.

For starters, our mind is constantly running on autopilot with thoughts coming in and out of our awareness. Sometimes it comes in to remind us of things, like an important meeting. Other times it goes back and forth thinking about a conversation or argument. Still at times it mulling over decisions or reflecting on something happening.

What’s more is that our thoughts trigger emotions. If a thought comes up, then more than likely, it comes with a certain feeling. So being reminded of that meeting might trigger anxiety. Thinking about an argument may well trigger feelings of anger or resentment. Or the thought of making a wrong decision will bring up fear.

So not only are our thoughts coming in and out, but so are our emotions.

What’s worse is for some of us this is happening very fast with our mind racing on a lot of thoughts and ideas in quick succession. For others, or our mind works such that when we think of one thought, it triggers another thought, which triggers another, causing our mind to jump around randomly. While others have a mind that fills up like a balloon with so many thoughts, our head becomes a cluttered mess.

All of these things make it extremely difficult to concentrate and stay on a thought, task, or activity. Next thing you know, you can’t concentrate not because your thoughts are racing, but quite frankly you’re exhausted.

So how can one get a handle on all this?

As you can imagine, this is not an easy thing to do. You can’t just have instantly stop your mind from racing and you can’t ignore the sting of an emotion.

It takes a lot of time, effort, and training.

Instead of spending months and years trying to control your mind the hard way, there is one quick thing you can do to get all of this under control.

That one thing is a relaxation exercise.

Relaxing the mind slows down your thoughts and stops it from racing, jumping around, or filling your head like a balloon.

More importantly, it DAMPENS YOUR EMOTIONS so they don’t get in the way of your thinking.

When the volume of your thoughts and emotions are turned downed, you’ll be surprised just how easy it is to think, hold a thought, and well, concentrate.

Here is a quick exercise you can do to quiet your mind.

First, close your eyes, clear your mind, and begin to breathe deeply.

Inhale slowly concentrating on the air flowing into your lungs, hold your breath for a few seconds, and exhale slowly while concentrating on the air flowing out.

Focus only on the movement of air in and out of your body.

As you do this, repeat in your thoughts or out loud, ‘I AM CALM IN MIND & BODY’

After a few minutes of breathing and reciting this mantra, you will begin to feel a calming and relaxing sensation wash over you.

Now open your eyes and come back to the present moment.

Notice how the exercise slows down your thoughts and emotions enough to think better and more clearly.

This the easiest, most effective way to improve concentration.

If you notice, the effects are immediate, without the need to put in a lot of time, energy, and mental training.

Do this anytime you have tasks ahead of you that are making you feel overwhelmed, distracted, or stressed out.

You’ll find it puts you in the right state to focus.

In the previous article, you learned about doing a relaxation exercise to improve concentration. This is a good way to calm your mind and focus.

However, it doesn’t solve the underlying problem.

It doesn’t give you control over your raging thoughts, it simply calms it down for the moment.

It’s like sedating a wild beast.

Once the sedative wears off, you have to deal with the beast again.

In order to get a better grip on concentration, it helps to do mental exercises to guide your mind to concentrate better.

It’s like training the beast.

One of the best exercises you can do is self-talk.

Self-talk are statements that you say or think to yourself about changes you want to have or have happen in your life. For instance, if you want to be more assertive, you might repeat a statement like ‘I am a strong, assertive person.’

You may not think that repeating such a statement can actually make you more assertive, but surprisingly, it can.

In fact, it is a method top performers in just about every field use to enhance their abilities and performance, whether it’s in school, sports, or business.

You can use self-talk like this to improve your ability to concentrate. As an example, you might affirm statements like ‘I have a strong concentration,’ ‘I can focus on anything I choose.’

You’ll be surprised just how much it improves your concentration.

Self-talk works on two levels.

1. The mere act of affirming self-talk is a form of concentration training.

When you repeat a statement like ‘I have a strong concentration,’ you have to focus on the words.

As you know, it is easy for the mind to wander, jump all over the place, get distracted with other thoughts, or not want to do the exercise and give up.

Focusing on the words is like doing a mental drill to overcome these distractions and building endurance to narrow your attention on a specific task or activity.

As you build your endurance in this task or activity, you can carry it over to other tasks and activities.

2. Affirming self-talk changes your mindset and identity.

It doesn’t seem like it, but the words that you say, hear, or replay in your mind have a profound effect on your mental state and identity.

If you repeat certain type of words, they go inside and rewire your brain to act out what the words describe.

That’s why top performers use self-talk, they talk to themselves in ways that act out high performance.

So, if you regularly tell yourself that “I am EXCELLENT at concentrating,” those words will go in and change your brain to start acting that way.

So self-talk not only tames the beast through training, but it actually changes the beast.

It goes inside and rewires the mind to not be so erratic and jumpy, but instead, more focused.

I hope you take self-talk seriously because it is the best way to improve your ability to pay attention and stay focused.

In fact, you’ll be amazed at how much doing this exercise a few minutes each day can impact your level of concentration.

In the last article, you learned about the importance of doing exercises to tame the wild beast of your mind and get better in control of your concentration. You also learned about an effective concentration exercise, self-talk.

Sel-talk is a great way to train your brain to concentrate.

Another way is with visualization.

If you read the memory improvement article, you learned about the power of visualization to improve memory.

Here you will learn about the power of visualization to improve concentration.

As you’ve learned, our mind is often on autopilot with thoughts racing in and out, jumping around, and filling our head like a balloon.

You might have a great idea and before you can analyze or look at it, it’s on to another thought or idea, and an another, and before you know it, you’ve lost it.

Visualization can train your mind to hold on to and stick with a thought or idea, while keeping other thoughts from distracting you or getting in the way.

Here is a quick, yet very effective little exercise that’ll train you to have more control over your thoughts.

To start, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and relax.

Free your mind of all thoughts – no chanting, mantras, nothing.

Now visualize an image in your mind – something simple like a circle, square, a number, or symbol.

Hold this image clearly for as long as you can.

If the image starts to fade or lose focus, bring it back to focus.

If other thoughts try to seep in, clear your mind of them and just pay attention to maintaining the image.

As you do this, what you’ll find is your mind doesn’t want to cooperate. It will distort your image, throw other things into the image, or create its own image.

You may even find your mind jumping to a completely different thought altogether. All of a sudden, you’re thinking about a beach vacation.

Do your best to resist these things from happening.

If they happen, center your attention and bring yourself back to the image.

Don’t get mad, frustrated, or beat yourself up, just continue as if nothing happened.

This is the KEY to the exercise – to not get upset and simply continue as if nothing happened.

Each time you bring yourself back, try to see if you can hold the image a little bit longer, and longer, and some more.

The goal is to get to a level where you can hold the image for a 10 -15 minute stretch without losing focus or breaking concentration.

It make take some time and effort to get this level, but once you do, you’ll be able to apply your skill to any other task or activity.

You’ll be able to hold on to a thought without your mind manipulating it or distracting you with other thoughts.

And if you are distracted, you’ll be able to bring yourself back easily.

Practice this exercise for 10 -15 minutes a day.

Here are the steps:

1. Visualize an image

2. Hold the image for as long as you can.

3. If your mind starts to drift, bring it back to the image.

4. Do this for 10 – 15 minutes, trying to hold the image for longer and longer period.

Why not start right now?

In the last few emails you learned about few different ways to improve concentration. So far, many of the exercises were geared to help you control and get a grip on your mind and thoughts.

However, your mind is not the only thing getting in the way of your ability to concentration.

We have distractions all around us – everything from phones, computers and TVs to people, babies, and construction noise.

They can all get in the way of our ability to concentrate.

Now most experts would teach you to eliminate distractions. This is sound advice, but not always possible.

In a class room or office, there is just so much control you have over the environment.

Also, I’d love to see how effective telling construction worker to stop working because you have to complete an assignment is going to be.

In this email, instead of telling you to ‘eliminate distractions,’ which isn’t always possible, I’m going to do something a little different.

I’m going to train you to concentrate despite distractions, which is a far more useful skill.

There are some people you could throw into a crowded football stadium filled with screaming fans and they’d be able to read an entire book from start to finish without getting sidetracked.

You’ve probably experienced these moments yourself, zoning out and staring into space, then returning to reality realizing you weren’t aware of any sound, sight, or movements around you…even someone shouting your name.

You can train yourself to do this on command…and on any task or activity whether it be that boring assignment or annoying project.

To start, find a busy, high traffic area that is really noisy. It can be a hectic restaurant, loud coffee shop, or a crowded bus stop or train station. Some place with so much visual and auditory noise you can’t hear yourself think or imagine being able to concentrate.

Once you’re there, pick a spot somewhere you can put your attention for a few minutes. If you’re outside, it could be a street sign or billboard. If it’s inside, it could be a painting or decoration on the wall, or even on the ceiling.

Whatever spot you pick, make sure your line of sight won’t be obstructed by people or vehicles passing by.

Once you pick a point of focus, I want you to stare at it and keep your attention there without wavering. Keep still, regulate your breathing, and just concentrate on keeping your eyes and thoughts on that point.

As you stare at the point, tune out everything and maintain your focus for as long as you can without getting distracted.

Just like the visualization exercise in the previous article, if you find yourself getting distracted or losing focus bring it back.

If you start to notice people talking in the background, tune them out.

If a screeching sound of a baby triggers feelings of wanting to strangle it, do your best to ignore the feelings.

If thoughts about work comes in your head or your mind starts to drift, slowly bring it back to the exercise.

When you lose focus, don’t beat yourself up.

It happens and is going to happen.

What’s important is to simply take a deep breath to re-center your mind and clear your thoughts, then bring your attention back to the exercise and try to hold it for longer this time.

This is a great exercise to get yourself to focus despite distractions.

In the beginning, it can be hard, difficult, and downright frustrating.

You’ll find you are able to hold your attention for only a few seconds.

Know that we all start off this way.

Everyone of us.

Your concentration is not at such a level where you are doomed for failure.

If you can ignore the frustration and not let it get to you, you’ll be able to hold your focus for longer and longer periods.

What you’ll find is the frustration in of itself is the distraction. It’s important to train yourself to not let the frustration get in your way.

So, you are not only training yourself to ignore distractions in your environment, but the distraction of your emotions like frustration and hopelessness.

The longer you can hold your focus on this task, the longer you’ll be able to hold your focus on other tasks, especially those that are annoying and frustrating to get through, or those that make feel you like it’s hopeless.

In my high school, like in most high schools, if you missed class or misbehaved, you were sent to detention.

For the students who really misbehaved, we had Saturday Morning Detention.

That’s where you had to go to school on a Saturday and sit in a class room for 4 hours.

Nobody liked getting one of those because you had to wake up early on a Saturday, go to school on a Saturday, then in sit in a class room…on a Saturday.

If that wasn’t bad enough, you had to sit there in silence. No talking, texting, tweeting. Nothing.

Interestingly, I had a friend who use to give himself Saturday Morning Detention.

He wasn’t a bad kid or get into any kind of trouble, yet he regularly volunteered to sit in Saturday Morning Detention.

You are probably wondering why anybody would want to do that!

Well, why some people do something’s is a mystery.

With him it wasn’t so much.

He had a very rational reason for doing it.

He did it because it was the perfect environment to get all his reading, studying, and classwork done for the week.

Since there was nothing to do, he was forced to pull out his books and assignments he made sure to bring with him.

No matter how miserable the assignment, he had literally no choice but to work.

Now, 4 hours doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you have nothing to do and cannot go anywhere, you’d be surprised how much you get done in those hours.

In fact, he told me he’d could get a whole week’s homework and reading done in those 4 hours.

After the detention was over, he could relax the rest of the weekend and into the week with little worry on his mind.

Like my friend, a great way to improve your focus and concentration is to give yourself voluntary detention – a self-imposed period of time where you have no choice but to work or study.

In this period, you have only two choices.

1. Sit staring stupidly at the wall or

2. Defiantly do something productive.

Most of the time, we will defiantly do something productive, otherwise each second that goes by feels like hours.

To create a voluntary detention, block out a period of the day between 3 – 5 hours where nothing and no one can bother you.

It helps to leave your home or office and find a place away from family, friends, co-coworkers, or anyone you know who can find and disturb you. A place where you are forced to be quiet like a study hall or public library.

Bring only the items you want to work on, and leave EVERYTHING ELSE behind.

Also bring more work than you think you can finish in the detention period. The reality is what could be 6 hours of work outside detention, might only take 2 or 3 hours in a distraction-free environment.

Its helps if you are dropped off at the place, so you can’t leave until you are picked up again. Then you really have no choice but to focus and work.

Though, make sure you know exactly what you have to do or get done, and bring everything you need. You might also want to bring a water bottle and some snacks so your hunger and thirst don’t become a distraction during the detention.

If you are struggling to focus and get things done, then this might be your solution.

-- Mind Mapping --

Mind Maps are a different way to take notes.

They differ from the standard method which you are used to where you write information line-by-line starting at the top of a page.

With a Mind Map, you don’t note information line-by-line nor do you work down from the top.

Instead, you begin in the center of the page and then expand out in all directions, like a spider web.

When expanding out, you connect the outer information to the inner with branches.

Below is an example of what a mind map looks like:

Looking above, you’ll see we have the main thought or idea in the center. This is referred to as the main topic.

From here we branch out with subtopics.

Within each subtopic, we branch out further into lower and lower levels with subsets.

This is the basic format of a mind map.

To illustrate with a real-life example, let’s look at animal classes. If you remember from school, scientists have grouped animals into 6 main categories – Mammals, Fish, Amphibians, Birds, Insects, and Reptiles.

They are grouped this way because of their characteristics. Characteristics of ‘mammals’ are that they are warm blooded, have fur or hair, and their babies drink milk from their mother. Characteristics of ‘birds’ are that they have feathers, a beak or bill, and their bones are hollow.

A mind map of the animal class would look as follows:

Looking at this mind map above, you can see we put ‘Animal Class’ in the middle as that is the topic we are noting. Around the topic, we wrote the 6 main classes as subtopics. Within each subtopic, we listed the details that make up the class as lower level topics.

This is a plain illustration of a mind map, used merely to help you understand the concept.

Benefits of Mind Maps

1. One of the main benefits of mind maps are that they are visual. As such, there is a lot you can do to make them so.

Two things include using color and adding images.

Below is an example of how the above mind map would look with these elements.

Looking above, you’ll notice each animal class is highlighted in a different color. Mammals are brown, reptiles are green, birds are purple, and so on.

Using color this way helps differentiate information within subtopics. That is, if we see a description in purple, you immediately know it refers to birds and not the other classes. The same applies to reptiles, if you see an item in green, you know it relates to that class and not mammals or fish.

Also, we replaced some words with images. Instead of writing out bears, lions, and humans, we placed images of such animals. This is helpful because words don’t translate over well in our heads, but pictures and images do. They make the information stand out, anything that stands out on the page, will stand out in your mind.

This is one of the main benefits of mind maps.

2. Another benefit is that mind maps works in harmony with the Brain.

The mind likes to connect information to other information. When you learn something new, that knowledge doesn’t drift around aimlessly. It is stored by connecting it to something else.

This is called an association.

You mind likes to associate information to other information – either to information you already know or information you are learning.

As you can see with the above examples, this is what you do with mind maps. When you use the technique, you connect ideas together to make it easier to learn and remember.

3. Yet Another benefit is that mind maps organize information better. If you look at the animal class mind map again, you can see the information is well organized.

We have the six animal groups listed as subtopics around the center, and within each group, we have listed their characteristics as subsets. This way related information stays together while unrelated information stays apart.

If we look at ‘Hallow Bones,’ you know it’s a characteristic of ‘Birds’ because there is a line connecting to it. You know not to confuse it with ‘Reptiles,’ or ‘Amphibians,’ because there is no connection.

This is very useful when you have lots of facts you want to keep straight or when you have complex information you need to break down into smaller parts so it is easier to handle and grasp.

In this article, you will learn how to make your own mind map.

It’s surprisingly simple.

Step 1 – Start with the main topic in the middle of the page. The main topic is the subject or thought you want to study or explore. If you are studying the Revolutionary War, then the main topic will be Revolutionary War. If you are exploring product pricing, then that will be your main topic.

Step 2 – Next, develop the subtopics. The subtopics will be the important points you want to note about the main topic. Think in terms of what it is you want or need to learn, understand, or remember about the main topic. Place these around the main topic, connecting them to the center with a line or branch.

Step 3 – After setting the subtopics, list important details into lower levels. Details are anything that describe, explain, support, or argue a point. This can include facts, dates, data, descriptions, and instructions.

That’s all there is to it!

It’s that simple.

To illustrate, let’s say we are in science class learning about ‘atoms.’

Below is a description of an atom that we’ll put together into a mind map.

As you may have learned, atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons have a positive charge, neutrons have no charge, and electrons have a negative charge. Inside an atom, the number of protons defines the chemical element, the number of neutrons defines its isotope, and the number of electrons defines the magnetic properties. Protons and neutrons are in the nucleus of the atom, while the electrons spin around it.

Even though this is just one paragraph, there’s a lot to take in, process, and note.

As you’ll see, with a mind map, it’s much simpler.

Since the subject is ‘Atoms,’ this will be the main topic. So, we put that in the center.

From the center, draw 3 branches for the subtopics. Label one branch proton, another branch neutron, and the last branch electron.

Within each subtopic, create sub-branches to list the lower level topics. In the proton branch, create sub-branches that list ‘positive charge,’ ‘defines chemical element,’ and ‘nucleus.’ In the neutron branch, create sub-branches to list ‘no charge,’ ‘defines isotope,’ and ‘nucleus.’ For electron, do the same with its properties.

Once you do that, you will have a mind map like this.

This is a simple example to show how easy mind maps can be.

1. You take a topic and put it in the center.

2. Around the topic, you put subtopics.

3. Around the subtopics, you list lower level topics.

There is no limit to the number of lower level topic or branches you create. If you wanted to discuss what an isotope is, you can create branches under ‘Isotope’ with relevant details.

You can do this with all types of information.

As you can see, it’s a better way to learn, organize, and remember information.

Reading the paragraph about atoms is a bit confusing. The mind map on the other hand is clear. It is easy to see which properties belong to which particle and not confuse one with the other.

Now that you know the basic steps of mind mapping, let’s go deeper. In the next article, you’ll learn many ways to break up & organize information into subtopics.

This is critical to the mind mapping process. In fact, it is critical to any effective learning.

In the last article, you learned about how to make a mind map. Basically, you start with the main topic in the middle. Then you branch out with sub-topics. From there, you add lower level topics.

You saw this done with a real-world example of learning about atoms. In the example, we put ‘Atom’ in the middle as the main topic. Around that, we listed the main components of an atom – ‘proton,’ ‘neutron,’ and ‘electron’ – as the subtopics. Around each subtopic, we listed the properties of each particle as lower level topics.

In this example, it was easy to figure out what to use as subtopics – proton, neutron, and electron – as these are the main parts of an atom, so it makes sense to use them as the main branches.

The thing is, determining how to break up and organize information into sub and lower level topics is not always this easy and straightforward.

Information comes to us so many ways and can be organized so many ways. As a result, there are so many ways you can organize branches in a mind map. In fact the combinations are infinite.

For example, if you are studying 20th Century European history, you can set up branches by timeline, leaders, or events. And within these branches, there are so many ways to further organize the info.

This is both the beauty & challenge of mind maps.

It’s beautiful because it works with how each person understands the information.

At the same time, it’s challenging because how do you choose connections that describe what it is truly being communicated?

You can’t just make random connections (although random connections are still better than no connections).

And that’s what this article will address – the different ways to organize, categorize, and structure information within a mind map.

For the most part, it will depend on what you are learning.

Again, for history, you might create subtopics by timeline, leaders, or events. Using the Revolutionary War as an example, to organize by timeline, you might start by creating a subtopic for each year of the war – ‘1776’, ‘1777’, ‘1778’… To organize by leaders, that might branch with ‘George Washington,’ and ‘Thomas Jefferson,’ Major events can include the signing of the ‘Declaration of Independence’ or the battle of ‘Lexington and Concord.’

Or you might choose a combination of these.

With science, time period or leaders are not as relevant, so you’ll look at other ways to break up and organize your map. For example, to note a process like the water cycle, you can organize a mind map by each step in the process. With layers or levels, like that of the Earth’s atmosphere or crust, each layer can have its own branch. Or, as in our previous example, if you’re studying parts, like the parts of an atom, each part can be a subtopic.

If your goal is instead to note instructions at work, one option is to set subtopics based on steps, such as ‘step 1,’ ‘step 2,’ ‘step 3.’ Another option is by activity or job function. Or you might organize subtopics by departments or due dates.

These are some suggestions on how to organize information.

Setting up subtopics is like investing, there is no one strategy to be successful. You can use many different strategies. It’s all about how you see the information or what makes most sense to you.

In the next article, you will learn another key ingredient to the mind map recipe – Keywords.

They are a unique feature to mind maps, and can drastically reduce the words you use to take notes, and therefore the time needed to take and review them.

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