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Baking the Cake in the Background

1 min

What comes to mind first when you thinking of thinking? A picture of a student putting their head down, and knocking out problem sets of math homework?

That is a sequential strategy and uses a rational and analytical approach.

This is the focused mode of thinking. It is a direct mode of solving problems that you are familiar with. It is a type of concentration needed to work through a problem step by step.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, being concentrated all the time is actually not as productive as you think. Our brains have evolved to still be baking the cake in the background even when you aren’t conscious of putting a cake or to rise in the oven.

According to Dr. Barbara Oakley, our brains have different modes of thinking. This is where an alternate mode of thinking comes into play. It is called the diffused mode of thinking.

In this mode, the brain makes connections in a relaxed fashion that would otherwise look disparate from a bird’s eye view. It is unconsciously activated in the background through activities that arouse ideas.

Diffusion of ideas can intentionally occur during study breaks. These can include getting some sort of exercise, while taking a shower, or phoning a friend to lolly-gag. Exercise while in the diffuse mode is proven to be an important role. It is equally as important as an enriched environment to allow the brain to grow new neurons. It helps your ability to learn and remember.

The criteria is to not concentrate on anything. You would think this sounds lazy to not intentionally be problem-solving every minute of the day.

This is what makes the human mind wonderful.

Both modes of focusing and diffusing can be used to strategically help you plan your learning to partner with your mind.

While it takes focus to get all the ingredients while baking a cake, once it is in the oven, it takes patience and time to allow the reactions to occur that transform it.


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