Focus vs Diffuse Mode

دوره: آموزش آموختن - از صفر تا استادی / فصل: The Science / درس 2

Focus vs Diffuse Mode

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Let’s talk about diffuse mode of thinking and focused mode of thinking.

This idea was recently popularized by scientist Barbara Oakley on learning how to learn and her and

her colleagues description of focus versus diffused mode of thinking has had a profound effect on the

science of learning.

It’s so important that we’re starting off this section with this topic.

So what does it all mean.

Barbara Oakley and her colleagues discovered that there are two states that our brains can be in.

One is a focused mode focused mode is when all your energy is completely focused on a task like when

you’re taking an exam you’re locked in your room and focused on one thing nothing else around you really


Your brain does just one thing and it’s so focused that again 100 percent of that attention is going

to one thing.

That’s what focused mode is your brain power and attention goes to one activity.

It’s like you have a laser and that laser is pointing to one thing and the focused mode of thinking

actually activate the prefrontal cortex of your brain that is right here over here the front part of

your brain.

Now the other mode which is the diffuse mode is a little bit different diffuse mode as well.

The opposite.

It’s when your brain is just daydreaming thinking of different things.

We let our minds wander.

And in this case many different areas of the brains are activated instead of just the prefrontal cortex

it’s all regions of the brain are being activated.

You can think of this as instead of a laser a flashlight that has lights just disperse in different

areas so that you can see more of an area when it’s dark outside.

Things like going for a walk or even sleeping actually activate the diffused mode of thinking in our


So let me ask you this which mode makes you a better learner.

Pause the video and try to guess ready right.

This was a trick question.

Most of you might have thought that focused mode is obviously the better method for learning.

Actually what Barbara Oakley and her colleagues discovered is that how well you learn depends on going

back and forth between focus and diffuse mode.

And this jump of going back and forth back and forth is what actually creates efficient learning.

The idea is to spend dedicated time on focus mode and then after a bit of time when you can focus and

you’re getting a little tired you go into diffuse mode you go for a walk you let your mind wander you

just go out in nature you see the way our brains work is that we can’t form strong neural connections

which we’ll get into and just become experts overnight.

You can’t just turn your brain from knowing to not knowing it takes time.

You can’t become an expert overnight right.

We need to focus and create those strong connections in our brain followed by letting our brain rest

and make sure that those connections are created properly.

This idea is actually covered in Cal Newport’s book Deep walk when you focus intensely on a single subject

for a period of time you start forming something called the white sheath on your brain cells and these

are called myelin.

Let’s take a look.

If we look at an image of a neuron which is what forms our brain these are cells that are connected

to one another and that’s how we get knowledge.

You see that they have something called the myelin sheath over here.

And these myelin sheath actually allow for the signals and connections to travel faster and more efficiently

through these different neuron cells because while we have a lot of neurons in our brain when we use

the diffuse mode of thinking when we relax and let our mind wander or even fall asleep it lets our brain

create these myelin sheath to make those connections more efficient so this means by going back and

forth between focus mode and diffuse mode allows our brains to grow and build our brain like a muscle.

So that’s studying a little bit every day is actually better than trying to cram everything all at once

and that’s what Barbara Oakley discovered by going back and forth between the above.

We let these ideas that we form into focus mode bounce back and forth between different topics in our


You start associating topics to other things in your life.

For example let’s say you’re learned to surf and then realize that once you take a break from your first

surf lesson back in the day you skateboard and those neural connections needed to form and realize some

of the same principles that you had in skateboarding are the same as surfing allow those connections

to form when you’re taking a break during diffuse mode so that when you go for your second surf lesson

you’ll actually be better prepared.

Now the key thing is that you can only be in one mode at a time.

So we want to avoid multitasking and focused mode and multitasking are different things.

A lot of people think focus mode means having 50 windows open on your computer and being busy but multitasking

is usually a bad strategy because you can rarely do two things at once especially well there’s actually

a famous study by David Rock at the University of California at San Diego that showed when people do

two cognitive tasks that is tasks that require brainpower at once their cognitive capacity can drop

from that of a Harvard MBA to that of an eight year old.

And it’s a phenomenon called dual task interference.

Essentially it’s a fancy way of saying doing two things at once is a surefire way to do nothing well

and remember how I said efficiency trumps grit as one of our pillars when you need to start making an

effort to learn it’s not about just being in focus mode for hours on end working hard all the time.

It’s about taking breaks and letting your mind wander every once in a while going for nature walks making

sure you sleep taking breaks is actually a sign of high performance not weakness.

And this is actually the smart strategy.

You want to be super focused then super diffused.

I’ll see you in the next one by.

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