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How To Improve Memory By 20%

How To Improve Memory By 20%

Researchers wanted to see what effect a mere walk in the woods would have on people’s memory.  So they gave participants some challenging memory tasks – they had to recite lists of numbers backwards.

Then they had half the participants take a walk in nature and the other half walk around the city.

Then all participants took the same test again.

The results:  Those who took a walk in the urban environment had the same performance on the second memory task as they did before.  Those who took a nature walk improved their performance by 20%.

In subsequent experiments, just showing participants images of nature also had positive effects on memory.

But why?

Researchers think Attention Restoration Theory (ART) has the answer.  This theory suggests that there are at least two types of attention:

1.  Involuntary attention in which attention is captured by intriguing stimuli.  When this type of attention is activated you can pay attention effortlessly.

2.  Directed attention in which attention is directed by cognitive-control processes.  In laymen’s terms this means you must put in more mental effort to manage attention.  The mind has to think, respond and choose.

Natural environments are easy to pay attention to.  Our brains naturally become fascinated by sunsets, green forests or mountain vistas.  These things we pay attention to effortlessly.  And as a result, our ability to use our directed attention for tasks like memorizing are restored.

When you are in an urban environment, your mind must manage it’s attention.  If a car horn blasts, your mind must choose to decide if it’s something you need to pay attention to or not.  And if not, keep it from interfering with other things you are paying attention to.  If there are cars you must pay attention to them so you can avoid them if necessary.  If there are billboards you decipher them or ignore them.  All of these processes use up energy.  They keep you from restoring your facility for directed attention.

The wonderful thing about this piece of research is that it’s so easy to use this information to improve your life.  You don’t have to spend any money or learn any new techniques.

Just go outside and take a walk or view some nature photos.  Do this to restore your ability to pay attention, improve your memory and increase your enjoyment of life.

What could be a better excuse to go outside?

Will you use this idea to improve your performance?  Let me know what you think of this research in the comments below.

Reference to article above:

Psychological Science. 2008 Dec;19(12):1207-12. The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Berman MG, Jonides J, Kaplan S.

How To Gain The Critical Mindset Proven By Science To Make You Successful

How To Gain The Critical Mindset Proven By Science To Make You Successful

Did you know that there is a critical mindset that’s proven to make you more successful?  I’ll tell you exactly what it is today and how to develop this mindset.

This critical mindset was discovered by Carol Dweck of Stanford Univeristy.  She found that how you think about abilities like intelligence—whether they can be developed or are fixed can influence how successful you are for the rest of your life.

She calls the belief that abilities are fixed the fixed mindset and the belief that abilities can be developed with effort and learning new strategies that growth mindset.

In one of many studies that show this effect, two groups of seventh graders were divided into two groups to see whether teaching about the growth mindset would make a difference to their grades.

Both groups were given eight weeks of instruction. One group was taught study skills in a workshop format.  Another group was taught through citing scientific studies that the brain is like a muscle and that it’s connections grow and develop as we learn.  As a result, they came to believe that their intelligence could be developed.

Their grades in math – one of the most challenging subjects for middle-schoolers – were measured before the workshop and weeks later.  Only the students taught that intelligence can improve with effort had better grades.  The other students experienced a decline in math grades (something that is very common with middle-school students).

The teachers of both groups of students knew they were in a special program but didn’t know exactly what they were being taught.  However, they started sending in reports about changes they noticed in some students.  Here are just a few quotes from the teachers of the growth mindset students.

Jimmy, who never puts in any extra effort and often doesn’t turn in homework on time, actually stayed up late working for hours to finish an assignment early so i could review it and give him a chance to revise it.  He earned a B+ on the assignment (he had been getting C’s and lower).

Here’s another:

M. was far below grade level.  During the past several weeks, she has voluntarily asked for extra help from me during her lunch period in order to improve her test-taking performance.  Her grades drastically improved from failing to an 84 on the most recent exam.

A Way To Develop The Growth Mindset

So how can you change your mindset (if you need to)?

Unfortunately, when you’re an adult merely learning that the brain can grow and change may not be enough to get rid of years of believing that abilities are fixed.  However, there are some strategies from another intervention using self-persuasion theory that may be helpful.

Try answering these questions and sharing your answers with others in written or verbal form.

1.  What are at least three reasons why it is important to realize that people can develop their abilities? Include implications for yourself, your family, friends and co-workers.

2.  What is an area in which you once had low ability, but now perform quite well? How were you able to make this change?

3.  Write an email to an imaginary person who is struggling in life with advice to help them improve, include anecdotes about how you have personally dealt with developmental challenges.

4.  Identify three instances in which (a) you observed someone learning to do something they were convinced they could NEVER do, (b) why do you think this occurred? And (c) what may have been the implications.

Each of these questions is based on different psychological theories about how people change their beliefs.  To go into the four different theories to explain why these questions are so useful would make this post too long.

However, if you try them, you will experience a shift in your mindset especially if you share your responses with others.

What do you think about the growth mindset?  Leave me your comments below.

Reference to study above:

Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., and Dweck, C.S. 2007. Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development 78 (1): 246-263.

Dweck’s book that describes the life-changing results of developing the growth mindset in more detail than I ever could on this blog.

Dweck CS 2006. Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

The One Belief Proven By Science To Make You More Successful

The One Belief Proven By Science To Make You More Successful

Yes the headline above is true.  There really is a belief proven by the past two decades of research into people’s beliefs about themselves that proves there is one belief that will help determine how the rest of your life turns out.

Before I tell you what the belief is try responding with an “agree” or “disagree” to the following four statements (your responses won’t be stored).

  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
  2. You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
  3. No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
  4. You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.

If you answered “agree” to statements 1 and 2 you probably have what’s called a fixed mindset when it comes to intelligence.  So you believe that people’s intelligence is fixed and you have what’s called a “fixed mindset” with regards to intelligence.

If you answered “agree” to statements 3 and 4, then you probably have a growth mindset when it comes to intelligence.  You believe that people’s intelligence can grow with effort and you have a “growth mindset.”

Whether you believe that people’s intelligence is fixed or can grow, that belief will determine how successful you can be, how well you bounce back from adversity, and how much you actually grow as a result of your life experiences.  In short it literally determines your potential for success and happiness.

Believing intelligence is fixed leads to a desire to “look smart” and so those that have this belief have a hard time dealing with failure because each failure shows they lack ability.  They tend to avoid challenges.  They give up easily, ignore feedback and often feel threatened by the success of others.

The belief that intelligence and other abilities can be developed through effort leads to a desire to learn.  These people embrace challenges, persist in the face of obstacles, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.

For a much longer list of the differences between people with the two types of self-beliefs click here for a PDF graphic that shows the differences side-by-side.

Here’s an example from the research that shows how people might pass up an important opportunity that could improve their lives due to their mindset.

This study was conducted at the University of Hong Kong in which everything is in English—classes, textbooks and exams—everything.  But some students are not fluent in English.  So if they got a chance to get better in English—something that would impact their success in college—you’d think they’d all jump at the chance right?

So researchers asked those students not fluent in English if they would take a course on English if the university offered it.  The researchers also asked students to fill out a questionnaire with questions like the one above such as “Do you think intelligence is something that cannot be changed?” to measure their mindset.

Students who had a growth mindset said yes.  Those with a fixed mindset said no.

Why would students with a fixed mindset say no?  Because taking a course in English might reveal their deficits in English.  And they would rather feel smarter in the present even if it’s at risk to their college careers in the long run.

This is just one of many studies showing the power of mindsets in determining whether or not a person will take advantage of learning opportunities.

In another study, students making the transition to junior high were followed for two years.  They had been tested to see which of them had growth or fixed mindsets.

As I’m sure you know, junior high is a difficult time for many students.  Classes are harder, instruction is less individualized, teachers are more remote etc.  These challenges and others caused many students grades to slip.

However, only those with the growth mindset maintained their grades.  The fixed mindset students grades continued to drop as the study went on.

The interesting thing is that both groups had the same records to start with.  So the lowered achievement of the fixed mindset group can only be attributed to their mindset and no other factor.

So what can you do if you have a fixed mindset and want to change it?

Unfortunately, mindsets are habitual so you can’t just decide to change and have that change last.  You will need to work at changing your mindset.

Here are some suggestions from the research to help you.

1.  Understand that the brain can never perform a task as well today as it can tomorrow.  Why?  Because when you learn a new skill the brain grows new connections, and these connections get stronger after you go to sleep and wake up.  This means that—everything else being equal–you are likely to do better the next day just because your brain has grown.  If you keep this in mind, you’ll be better able to focus on the learning that can only happen over time.

By the way underperforming students who were taught brain facts such as this gained lasting improvement in their scores in math—usually underperforming student’s worst subject (Mindset p218-221).

2.  Consciously set learning goals along with any outcome goals you create for yourself.  Goals can become habitual if set often.  So if you create learning goals each day, you may find after some time that you unconsciously look for learning opportunities and grow your growth mindset.  Examples of learning goals for me are: Learn how to write enticing headlines for my posts and learn how to do interval training without harming my hamstring.

How valuable will developing a growth mindset be for you?  Let me know by leaving a comment below.


Blackwell, L., Trzesniewski, K., and Dweck, C.S. 2007. Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development 78 (1): 246-263.

Dweck, S, Carol 2006. Mindset. New York: Random House. 218-221

How To Avoid The Type Of Goal Proven To INCREASE Your Chances Of Failure… And The Kind Of Goal You Should Set Instead

How To Avoid The Type Of Goal Proven To INCREASE Your Chances Of Failure… And The Kind Of Goal You Should Set Instead

There are at least five different types of what are called achievement goals by social scientists.  Some goals increase your chance of failing and some increase your chances of succeeding according to the research.

I’m only going to discuss the two most important of these five types of goals.  The one that can help you the most and the one that can hurt you the most (you can find a scientific paper describing all five here).

The type of goal to avoid is the ability goal – whose purpose is to prove you have the ability to do something.  For example, if you need to give a presentation and you have the goal of proving how well you can speak, you have an ability goal.

The type of goal that is most helpful is a learning goal.  In this type of goal you would approach a public speaking situation with specific ideas in mind for what you can learn from the experience.  For example, you might decide you’d like to improve your ability to connect with the audience, your cadence or your use of pauses.

Learning goals are linked to many positive outcomes.  Students with learning goals for example use deeper processing strategies in their courses such as “elaborating” and “networking.”  People with learning goals also tend to increase their efforts after failure.

Although individuals with ability goals can experience high levels of motivation when they are succeeding, they tend to use more superficial learning strategies and when they experience failure they experience more negative feelings and reduced effort.

In one study pre-med college students taking a general chemistry course were tested to see whether or not they endorsed ability goals or learning goals or one of the other types of goal.

After the course their grades were tabulated.

It was discovered that overall the students with learning goals outperformed all other students.  In fact many of those with low performance at the start of the course got better grades on the final exam than they had on any previous exam.  Students with ability goals that performed poorly at the start of the course performed worst of all on the final.

So what does this mean for you?

To achieve the most out of life you should set learning goals whenever possible.

If you want to build a successful business focus on the outcome but also focus on what you need to learn to achieve that outcome.

If you want to be more organized, discover what skills you need to gain to achieve more organization and then set about learning those skills.

Focus on what you need to learn and avoid all focus on proving how smart or competent you are.

This can be challenging though as we actually set many goals without being consciously aware of them.  And the types of goals you focus on are determined by your mindset.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the kind of mindset that allows you to naturally focus on learning goals.  It’s a mindset that’s also been proven in over 20 years of research to increase your achievement.

Until then, please tell me what you think of the idea of learning goals in the comments area below.

Reference to study discussed above:

Grant, H. & Dweck, C. S. (2003). Clarifying achievement goals
and their impact. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,
85 (3), 541-553.

Why We Learn More From Successes Than Failures

Why We Learn More From Successes Than Failures

I’ve heard many people say that we should learn as much as possible from our mistakes… and that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes.  However, recent research shows this common wisdom is plain wrong.

We learn much more from successes than from failures.  I’ll give you proof from scientific research.  And I’ll tell you exactly how to use this information to get better results in your own life.

First, I’d like you to understand how we know this proposition is true.

In 2009 MIT scientists looked into the brain to see what happens as animals, namely monkeys, learn which actions are “right” and which ones are “wrong.”

Here’s what they did.

They had monkeys look at two images on a computer screen that would alternate.  When shown one of the pictures the animal would be rewarded if it looked to the right.  When shown the other picture it would only be rewarded if it looked left.  The monkeys had to figure out which was which by trial and error.

Here’s what researchers found in their own words:

“If the monkey just got a correct answer, a signal lingered in its brain that said, ‘You did the right thing.’ Right after a correct answer, neurons processed information more sharply and effectively, and the monkey was more likely to get the next answer correct as well.  But after an error there was no improvement. In other words, only after successes, not failures, did brain processing and the monkeys’ behavior improve.”

As a result researchers concluded that

“…brain cells keep track of whether recent behaviors were successful or not. Furthermore, when a behavior was successful, cells became more finely tuned to what the animal was learning. After a failure, there was little or no change in the brain — nor was there any improvement in behavior.”

So our brains are set up to learn from successes so we can duplicate them.  Failures just don’t register as far as learning is concerned (although they may register emotionally, making you feel bad).  And I think with good reason.  It’s just not useful to have detailed knowledge of what doesn’t work.  It’s far more effective to remember what does.

Here’s why this is so important to know.

Every day you engage in useful behaviors.  Some of these behaviors would make you more successful if you did them more often.  This study can give you a powerful clue as to how to make your good behavior more consistent so you can achieve more.

You see the researchers made sure to reward the monkeys for successful behaviors.  In fact the reward is the only way the monkeys (and their brains) knew which actions were “right” and which were “wrong.”

In our world though, we often don’t get an immediate reward for useful behaviors.  Therefore the brain doesn’t learn that you’ve done something “right.” And you may actually stop doing something that would make you successful if you persisted a little longer.

For example, I’ve often found it difficult to get myself to plan my day every day or my weeks even though I know the benefits of doing this.

So how can you make sure your brain learns what it should keep doing in the absence of immediate reward?

The answer is simple.  Create immediate rewards.

There’s two simple ways to do this.

One is to actually give yourself a tangible reward just like the researchers did for the monkeys.  The monkey my have gotten bananas for their efforts but you can give yourself something you’d like to eat, gold stars or points instead.

The second way is easier and may also be more powerful.  That is to take time to acknowledge that you did a useful behavior and allow yourself to feel good about it.  Research by Albert Bandura shows that the sense of pride you get after engaging in successful behavior can actually cause you to do those behaviors more often.

Tomorrow I’ll show you a simple method of developing more pride on your work that also causes you to become more intrinsically motivated and more confident in your abilities all at the same time.

I’m actually using this scientifically proven technique to complete the Thirty Day Blog Challenge.

So tune in tomorrow for my next post which will show you how to enjoy achieving more.


Here’s a link to a press release that gives more detail on the study I describe above.