Our brain

The human brain is extremely complex. Volumes have been written about it and much is still unknown. That's why it is impossible to learn all there is to know about our brain here. But this introduction gives you an idea how your brain works and how you can use it to learn.

Two hemispheres

Generally speaking, the brain can be divided into two hemispheres (or sides): the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. They look the same; the difference is in how they work.

The left hemisphere is our school thinking. Reading, writing, knowledge; it all happens on the left side. People with a dominant left hemisphere like order and structure. They are logical and analytical in their thinking.

People with a dominant right hemisphere, on the other hand, like to bend the rules. They think in images, are creative, sensitive, imaginative and emotional. All that is on the right side. The right and left hemispheres work together to perform many different tasks. In fact, the one does not do very well without the other. Yet, often you will be able to notice that one of the two is dominant.

Which brain hemisphere is your dominant side?

Take a look at the image below. In which row do you recognize yourself the most?

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Ideally, both your right and left hemispheres will have developed equally and will be in perfect balance. You would then be able to use your brain to its full capacity. But, more often than not one hemisphere will be dominant. Are you about to learn something? Then you will automatically engage your dominant hemisphere and this will also determine how you prefer to learn. By finding out which one of your hemispheres is dominant, you can also discover which mode of learning is best for you. But, the better you become at engaging both hemispheres, the more effectively your brain will learn.

Example: Do you want to remember details and facts? (left hemisphere) Then it is helpful to visualize images or to attach certain emotions to those facts (right hemisphere). That way you will make it easier for your brain to remember information. How that works you can read below.

A network of cells

In your brain there is a gigantic network of cells called neurons. About 100 billion of them. All of these neurons are connected with one another. And that's how you get a gigantic network of cells that are constantly sharing information.

These cells transmit signals; to your body, organs and back again. Is it hot or cold? Are you hungry? But they also transmit signals to and from the information that's already been stored in your memory. That's how you can remember things you have already experienced or learned. Example: how your room used to look when you were younger. Or what the capital of Germany is. When you learn, you expand this network. You create new connections, and the more concentrated you are while working the stronger the connections will become. Result: the better you will be able to remember things later.

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Brainwaves

The connections are made by tiny electrical pulses. You can imagine that when you are relaxed, your brain will be pulsing at a different frequency than when you are cramming vocabulary lists for a test, or trying to solve the crossword puzzle in the Saturday paper.

There are four different types of brainwaves: 

  • Beta: our normal, every-day action mode. Active when we work, have a discussion, react quickly, make decisions or do several things at once.
  • Alfa: the learning mode. Relaxed but alert. The ideal mode to learn in and take in information. You have these when you're focussed.
  • Theta: the dream- or meditation mode. Mental relaxation.
  • Delta: sleep mode. Physical relaxation.

The alfa mode is the one in which you learn best. But also the mode in whoch you best learn your new behavior. And every day, the challenge is taking yourself out of 'day mode' and into 'learning mode.' 

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Do you want to get your brain in the best possible learning mode? Consider the following tips:

  • Avoid disruption. Every disruption brings you right into action mode.
  • Listen to music of about 60 beats per minute. That pace will put your brain in alfa mode. Which type of music is that? Baroque. Yep, Classical. Try it. It even works when the volume is turned down really low. Are you not a big fan of Classical? New Age music works just as well.
  • Do breathing excercises to relax.
  • Sit up. Slouching down on the couch or bed does not foster a learning mode.
  • Do some brain gymnastics - small excercises you can do every day to train your brain, and get your left and right hemispheres to work together better. You can start by doing some daily activities with your other hand. You could consider writing or eating. By using your other hand, you put your brain to work. You create new connections and strengthen those that are already there. This way you can be training your brain even as you brush your teeth.

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