5 learning strategies to maximize your potential

  • learning strategies

Effective learning isn’t as straightforward or intuitive as most people think. In fact, you are probably doing many things to limit your true learning potential. The learning strategies you adopt, directly impact how well you learn new topics and retain them, which is crucial for reaching your maximum potential. As an entrepreneur, you spend a lot of time taking in as much information as possible, but you’re only encoding less than half of everything you take in. That’s a lot of time wasted and information lost.

Today we’re going to talk about the various learning strategies, which will turn you into a super learner. This post is based off of established academic research. Our team of psychology and neuroscience PhDs have sifted through hundreds of papers to ensure you have the fullest confidence in all our recommendations.

Learning strategies that truly enhance your learning potential

  • Use physical exercise to encode things into memory
  • Using all five senses to learn, can help you retain information
  • Social connections and talking with strangers is good for your brain
  • Relating new material to prior knowledge is a key component to remembering
  • Use stress to your advantage for effective learning

By the end of this article, you will have half the common learning hindrances and methods to change them into your learning benefits. Part two is going to cover more actionable tactics but for now let’s get you on the path towards unlocking your true learning potential.


Benefits of exercise in learning

exercise enhances memory

source – builtlean.com

Scenario: You want to enhance your learning potential for the day so you exercise right before you head into work.

As you may recall from one of our blogs on how to maintain focus, we suggested using exercise before you start work as it can keep you focused for longer. Now I’m here to give you some advice on how to use physical exercise to help you learn more effectively! Yes, there is some different advice for this.

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Physical activity is extremely effective and grossly underestimated when it comes to learning and memory. As it turns out, a couple of Dutch researchers have provided some convincing evidence that appropriately timed physical exercise can lead to long-term memory enhancements! What do I mean by appropriately timed? Well, they found that performing 35 minutes of vigorous exercise on an exercise bike 4 hours after learning improved memory. But don’t get hasty! They compared those who exercised right after learning to those who exercised 4 hours later and the time delay is crucial.

What should you do?

Try to schedule any learning intensive sessions 4 hours before you head to the gym. It’s also important to note that not any exercise will do. Sorry yoga lovers, it’s not going to cut it this time. You will need to make sure you are doing around 30 minutes of vigorous exercise:

  • Biking
  • Running
  • Interval training (30 seconds at 75% and 30 second rest)
  • HIIT workout

How or why does delaying exercise is a cause of memory enhancement

This is still up for debate and the researchers of the paper are currently investigating the possibilities. One argument is that our body releases proteins during exercise which boost the part of the brain responsible for memory. When exercising, your body also releases specific chemical compounds such as dopamine and norepinephrine which are critical for memory and learning. Without the release of these chemicals, memories will decay rapidly.


Use your five senses to enhance your learning potential

learn through your 5 senses

source – samatters.com

Have you ever wondered why we come across certain situations where a sight, smell, taste or sound can bring us right back to a specific memory? This is because we heavily rely on our senses to process information, and you can use this as one of your learning strategies. Additionally, using as many of your five senses while learning allows more cognitive connections and associations to be made with that material.

What can you do?

Try to relate information to colours, smells and tastes. Or you can practice some of these helpful tips that combine senses:


Rosemary and memory enhancement

Did you know that certain senses can help with cognitive functioning? Rosemary in particular has been linked with memory enhancement and is considered to be arousing. In particular, one study carried out a range of cognitive tests on participants who were exposed to either rosemary, lavender or no aroma. Lavender is known to be relaxing and therefore cognitive performance was decline with this aroma. Rosemary on the other hand displayed better cognitive performance than both the lavender and no aroma conditions!

Why might this happen? Well, the brain’s olfactory bulb (area responsible for scent) is intimately linked to the hippocampus (area responsible for memory and learning). That’s not even the full story! Turns out, pharmacological research on rosemary and the body have revealed that this aroma elevates a compound in the blood which increases communication between brain cells. Poof! Increased brain function!

Pick up a diffuser and throw in some rosemary essential oil to increase your cognitive functioning while learning.


Rewrite information to remember better

When you write out information by hand rather than just listening to information, you will remember the important key facts rather than little random bits of information you would, while simply listening. The physical act of writing an help imprint it in our brain. Why? As we write, we create spatial relations between the information we’re writing about. More importantly, before we write we’re putting thought into evaluating and ordering the information! Moral of the story: take handwritten notes when you’re trying to learn!


Read out loud to learn better

When we read, we use visual pathways to form memory links. We remember based on what we’re seeing. This can be effective for those who have photographic memory but for the rest of us, relying on only this form of memory might not be the most effective. If you want more information on how re-reading isn’t the best form of learning go here.

When reading out loud, we form auditory connections, creating both visual and auditory links within our memory pathways. This is known as the production effect. This phenomenon explains the difference in memory performance between words that are read aloud relative to those that are read silently. In particular, it is a robust finding that we better remember things that we read aloud.

Why might this happen? The common explanation is attributable to additional processes of encoding for these items that can later be used for retrieval. This makes the words distinct compared to items silently read.


Make time for friends and talk to strangers

socializing helps your learning

source – explore.tandfonline.com

Let’s first go over some common scenarios, where this learning strategy is effective in.

Scenario 1: You’re standing in line for 10 minutes in the morning at your local coffee shop and spend the whole time on your phone.

Scenario 2: You have a meeting/brainstorming session with your team and you get started right away.

Scenario 3: You skip on a networking event close to your office because you’d rather spend the whole time catching up on some educational reading material.

When you think of ways to cultivate learning and memory enhancements, the first thing to come to mind is probably more “serious” activities such as mastering a new language or solving a tricky crossword puzzle. However, countless studies have shown that filling your life with friends and new friends come with some great cognitive abilities.

Seems pretty strange that having a good conversation can have an affect on your brain at all but this is exactly what some scientists have found! In particular, research has found that social interactions provide a boost in executive functioning comparable in size to solving crossword puzzles. This doesn’t work for just any social interaction however. The research suggest that conversations have to be positive in nature, without any feelings of competitiveness. A simple 10 minute conversation where participants were told to get to know each other resulted in a boost in performance on various cognitive tasks. The scientists believe that this boost in cognitive functioning comes from taking another person’s perspective or putting yourself into someone else’s shoes.

I would say this gives us a pretty good example of how networking can not only add collaborative feedback to your business but can also boost your learning and create memory enhancements!

If this wasn’t motivating enough, I should also add that these benefits persist over the lifetime and can also slow down cognitive ageing. Turns out, maintaining warm and trusting friendships throughout life might be a key factor in slowing down in memory and cognitive functioning.

What should you do?

Talk to strangers

  • Next time you’re about to start an investigation into marketing strategies at a coffee shop, talk to the barista or the person in line behind you.
  • All you need is 5-10 minutes so get to know them, ask them questions but make sure you keep the interaction positive!
    • Smile! Research shows that people are more likely to talk to someone who’s smiling and are more likely to remember them.
    • Use the context of the situation for your conversation
      • If you’re in a coffee shop make a comment about how good it smells
      • Ask the person whether they’ve tried a drink you’ve been thinking of trying for the first time
      • Make a comment about how great the barista is at this location
    • Give compliments!
      • Compliment an article of clothing. Indicate that you’ve been looking for something similar and are wondering where they go it from.
      • Make sure you’re sincere and respectful.
    • Talk about the latest news
      • You can bring up news about politics, sports or special events in the city. Bring up something mainstream, usually this will get the ball rolling for a casual conversation.

Interact with your team!

  • Take 10 minutes before your next meeting or brainstorming session to chat
  • Ask your colleagues what they got up to that weekend, about their plans this coming weekend or how their wife is doing.


  • Planning on skipping out on your networking event? Instead, go in and start a conversation up with 2 different people. Remember, 10 minutes is all it takes!
  • Schedule your next spanish lesson or educational reading after a networking event. Alternatively take time to sit down after networking to write down any valuable information you may have come across.


Relate new information with prior knowledge

link new knowledge to old

source – buzzfeed.com

Whenever you come across a new idea, take a moment to relate it to something you already know. This can be done whether with new material that builds on previous knowledge or connecting material together (remembering the address of someone who lives on the same street as someone else you know). This learning strategy is so versatile that you can pretty much apply to any new topic you’re going to learn.

What is the point of this? Well, as humans we don’t store verbatim events in our memory. Instead, we integrate new information with pre-existing knowledge. What we find is that new information that is consistent with prior knowledge is remembered better simply because it provides a structure into which new information can be integrated, leading to an elaborate memory trace.

What should you do?

Here’s an example of how you can use this to your advantage. Say you want to learn about fundraising. First, you may want to understand what types of investors there are. You start to learn about angel investors, accelerators and government grants. To understand how government grants work you may relate this information back to your university days applying to scholarships or financial aid. You would relate back this information with the new information to gain a fuller understanding of the topic.

Next, you would want to understand each of the aboves’ objectives such as their risk tolerance, expected returns and expected maturity dates. Here, you might take what you know about an angel investor – generally current or ex-entrepreneurs who are looking to invest in companies for mainly financial gain – to help you build a story with your research. For example, because we know angel investors invest their own money, they tend to be risk taking individuals, however, because of this, they are more than likely going to expect a very high return of investment. From here, you can continue to build your knowledge by using the previous information you have learned to understand the following additional concepts.

Basically your brain works like building blocks. You continue to take new information and make sense of it through past experiences. Not only this, BUT if you can find ways to specifically relate this information to things you already know, this can help you make further connections to better remember that information later on.

For example, say we could never remember what an angel investor was. We could relate the concept back to something familiar. Say your definition of an angel is someone who takes care of others, watches over people and helps guide people throughout life without any certainty that they are going to get this in return. Now, you can relate this information to help you remember the definition of an angel investor. They are those who take extreme risks by investing in companies without any absolute assurance that they are going to make their money back. Instead, they believe in the vision of the company which is angelic in a sense as they are investing into something without any reassurance of what they’ll get in return. Relating this new information to old information in your brain, solidifies the material.


Use positive stress as your stress relief  

positive stress improves your learning

source – interpersonalwellness.com

Scenario: You have a big meeting coming up to meet with your first potential investor in 15 minutes. Suddenly, reality has set in and you start to feel anxious. Your hands are sweaty, your heart starts racing and your mouth becomes dry.

You probably find yourself in other similar stressful situations, so let’s use this learning strategy to turn these situations to your advantage.

It’s no surprise that stress can limit your learning potential. Short term stress lasting as little as a few hours can have detrimental effects on learning and memory. Specifically, it impairs communication between brain cells – learning and memory take place at the junction of this communication – causing a decline in cognitive functioning. But what if we could somehow shift our stress and anxiety into something that could actually benefit us rather than hinder our true potential? Thanks to new research, this is exactly what you can achieve.

Use positive stress management techniques to improve learning

When we feel stressed, our brains release a chemical called noradrenaline. This chemical can be both beneficial and terrible for us. It can increase arousal and alertness, enhance the formation and retrieval of memory, help us focus while also increasing anxiety and restlessness. Essentially, there is a sweet spot with this chemical, we don’t function too well with too much or too little.

As long as we can find ways to handle stress it can actually be an amazing way to boost brain function! In the above situation, you are beginning to produce too much of this chemical which can inhibit our memory – of what we want to say in the meeting – and learning – of what we want to take in during the meeting.

What can you do?

Reframe the situation

Many of the symptoms of stress such as elevated pulse and dry mouth are the same symptoms you get when you’re excited. Due to this similarity, rather than telling yourself to calm down, try reframing what you’re feeling. Tell yourself you’re excited rather than stressed out. Both stress and excitement are high arousal states, the difference is that one has a positive valence and the other has a negative valence. This is known as cognitive reappraisal, it isn’t about turning off your negative thoughts, but rather shifting negative thoughts to positive ones.

In the above situation you should try to get yourself pumped about the meeting. Write down a list of everything you’d like to cover in the meeting (remember writing enhances our memory). Get yourself excited about the work you’ve put in and get excited to explain your work to someone else. Remind yourself that the investors chose to meet with you because they saw a spark in your idea.

Why does it work?

When we reframe what we’re feeling, you’re allowing yourself to ride the wave of stress rather than working against it. When we feel anxious right before meeting a potential investor or given a talk in front of a room full of people, the anxiety we experience can drain our working memory capacity (our ‘in-the-moment’ memory), decrease self-confidence and harm our overall capabilities. Suppressing your stress will backfire and can actually lead you to experiencing more of this negative emotion. However, when you step back and ground your thoughts in reality, you’re working with your physiology rather than against it.



Working on some or all of these can help you reach your true learning potential. These are all relatively quick and easy activities you can incorporate throughout your day without much fuss. Let’s go over what we’ve learned today.

Benefits of Exercise for Learning

  • Just as physical exercise is beneficial for keeping us focused, it can also do wonders for our memory and helping us learn
  • LEARN, wait 4 hours and then exercise for 30 minutes

Use your five senses to enhance your learning potential

  • Try to relate information to colours, smells and tastes
  • Rewrite information because this will help imprint the information in our brain
  • Use rosemary to enhance learning because this will increase communication between brain cells
  • Reading out loud forms auditory connections, creating both visual and auditory links within our memory pathways

Make time for friends and talk with strangers:

  • Positive social interaction can boost your cognitive functioning just as well as challenging crossword puzzles
  • In order to boost learning potential, start a conversation with someone, anyone for 5-10 mins before you begin your learning session. This can be done by having a positive conversations before meetings, getting to know someone while waiting in line at your favourite coffee shop or save some reading material for after a networking event.

Relate new information with prior knowledge

  • Find a way to integrate new information with pre-existing knowledge because we tend to remember this stuff better!

Use positive stress as your stress relief

  • Stress and excitement have similar physiological symptoms
  • Shifting your feelings of anxiety to feelings of excitement which has been shown to improve cognitive functioning.

Try implementing these actionable shifts throughout your day and pay attention how these improve your learning and memory retention. Stay tuned for the second half of this blog where I share some more ways in which you can unlock your true learning potential. I am going to be discussing how your intelligence doesn’t matter, how to use metaphors to your advantage and how learning isn’t linear.