I want to take a break from writing about flow this week for a bit of a discussion. To me, one of the most important and often under-discussed aspects of learning is overall awareness. There is a huge difference to the quality of one’s ability to study, learn, and create during different periods of the day and week.
When people are able to truly pay attention to the quality of their learning something magical happens. It seems as if over a short period of time, sometimes even a matter of five to ten days, an individual can maximize their ability to absorb information in a reduced period of time. I’ve seen this several times for myself and friends – we struggle on a project and then get into a rhythm or a groove. Everyone has different words for these magic moments.
Unfortunately, for most they occur by happenstance. This is where awareness plays a key role. I have a bit of a laundry list of things to test to see which affect you the most.
Before diving into these, I have a brief anecdote. I’m currently sitting on an airplane heading home from Chicago. I stopped at Potbelly to grab one of my favorite sandwiches on my stroll through the airport and ended up eating right after taking my seat on the plane. It’s about thirty minutes later. I can actually feel how slow my brain is processing information. Part of me wants to nap. Part of me wants to take a sip of water and go back to reading Harry Potter. Ever felt this way before?
While I’d committed to writing this post on the plane, my brain and body don’t want to cooperate and thankfully I still have some willpower left today. I wanted to highlight this feeling because I suspect you’ve felt it before. The key here is that I actually take the time to notice it’s the sandwich I ate. I’m not blaming a long day of walking around Chicago or the lights turning off on the plane. I know my body well enough to understand that eating a sandwich, having any sort of complex carbs shuts me down for an hour or two while I digest it.
Do you know your own body in this way? Do you spend enough time reflecting on the effects of your actions on your feelings, your motivations, your mood?
An awesome test is to spend a week seeing how your body reacts to different foods. Eat some cookies, see how you feel an hour later. Repeat with pizza, and ice cream, shift between high starch and high sweet foods for a couple of days to actually notice the real difference it makes on your body. Then try eating just vegetables, or fruits, or meat. After a week of doing some tests like this you will understand how food interacts with your body better than ever before.
The next group of tests I’d recommend involve sleep and exercise. Again, test how exercising at different times in the day makes you feel. Try writing this down. Workout first thing upon waking, mid day at lunch, right after work, or later in the evening. See the differences in your energy level and how it changes your ability to fall asleep.
Lastly, try going to sleep at different times (this will likely take longer than a week to test). For example, I can take 15-30 minute naps in the afternoon and feel great afterwards. I actually love taking a nap after spending a couple of hours learning as it stores what I’ve learned into long-term memory. Shifting your sleep around can be difficult. I’d recommend trying to fall asleep closer to your current time and working up or down. For instance, if you normally sleep at 1 am, try 12, then 11, then 10, then 9 PM. I would test times between 9 PM and 2 AM to see how your body reacts. I’d also add in naps in the late morning, around noon – if you get a lunch break, I used to sneak out to my car to take a snooze on some days – and then in the afternoon if possible with work.
The overall goal is true awareness of how your lifestyle impacts your ability to learn and work throughout the day. Are you exhausted in meetings? Do you have to watch TV at night because your brain shuts off? Does it take three or four cups of coffee before you can even function in the morning?
Here’s a comprehensive things you CAN test, but really just spend time on the three I’ve already listed and then try to have awareness when other things come up situationally in life:
- Time of day you eat
- Type/Quality – salad vs junk
- Frequency of meals/snacks
- Combinations of food
- Number of hours per night
- Time you fall asleep and wake up
- Time of day
- Duration per day
- Number of times per week
- Type of exercise – see differences between cardio, weights, sports and combinations
- What times of day your work is most focused
- Quality of work at different times of day
- When you feel most distracted
- Internet on versus off
- Setting work goals versus free flowing
- To do lists
- When you feel more connected to people
- Group size
- Restaurants vs other types of interactions
- Alcohol or not
- Frequency of keeping up friendships
- Time of day
- Weekends vs weekdays
- When you feel more connected to people
- Quality of conversation
- When to have difficult talks
- When you both have more fun together
- Activities and how they impact both of your moods
- Active listening vs time of day
- Food – do you get hangry?
- Who interacts with kids better at different times of day
- Kids and Pets
- Family Interactions
You get the drift here, there are a huge variety of different things you can test. Have fun, but most importantly keep track of things! Write them in a journal or on Evernote. Remember that you can change almost any of these things in different ways. The best part is that as you begin to live with awareness about these activities, you will find a huge shift in the quality of your interactions and life as a whole.
Let me know how this works for you and what you discover! I’m sure there are other things I’ve left out, and ways that we can all grow that haven’t crossed my mind.