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  • Consistency has been a hallmark of good study habits since the 1900s.

  • It's drilled into our heads from an early age.

  • Have a dedicated desk. Have a dedicated time. Eliminate distractions.

  • But what if almost everything we're told about how we learn is wrong?

  • What if being inconsistent can work in our favor?

  • For instance, could something as simple as a change in venue make a difference?

  • Could interrupting work on a large project facilitate more inventive thinking?

  • In the mid 1970's, a trio of psychologists performed an experiment to answer just that.

  • They wondered what would happen if people study the same material twice only in two different places.

  • To test this, they presented a group of students with a list of 40 four-letter words, like ball and fork.

  • All of the students were given two ten-minute study sessions.

  • But half of them studied in the same dimly lighted, cluttered room for both sessions, while the other half studied in two different rooms: the cluttered one, and a neater, brighter one across campus.

  • In the last phase of the experiment, researchers had the students write down as many of the study words as they could in 10 minutes.

  • The difference in scores was striking.

  • The one-room group recalled an average of 16 of the 40 studied words.

  • The two-rooms group recalled 24.

  • A simple change in venue had improved the students' memory by 40%.

  • But it isn't just where you study or practice.

  • How you do so is also part of the environment.

  • Think about it.

  • Writing notes by hand is one kind of activity.

  • Typing them is another.

  • The same goes for studying while standing up versus sitting down, verses running on a treadmill.

  • In the end, it doesn't matter which aspects of the environment you vary, so long as you vary what you can.

  • Despite what traditional advice tells us, when it comes to learning, it's consistency, not change, that is limiting.

  • So next time you need to study, to practice, or prepare for that big project, mix it up.

  • Try another room, another time of day.

  • Take your guitar to the park.

  • Change coffee shops.

  • Switch practice courts.

  • Read in silence and with music on.

  • Why? Because each alteration of your routine, further enriches the skills being rehearsed.

  • Making them more accessible to you for a longer period of time.

  • That's the soul of real learning after all: To carry the skills and the knowledge with youavailable when needed, no matter the environment.

  • "How We Learn by Benedict Carey."

  • On sale September 9th.

Consistency has been a hallmark of good study habits since the 1900s.

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