UPDATE : 2020.6.17 수 15:38

[Vol. 73] Should We Take a Break When Studying?

Brain’s Two Different Modes 김민전 기자l승인2015.05.08l수정2017.11.26 19:49






I study in long marathon-sessions. Putting myself in an imaginary prison, I would spend straight ten hours a day. While studying, I faced something difficult and had been chewing this issue over quite some time. What do you do when you can’t just figure something out? If you learn just a little bit about how your brain works, you can learn more easily and be less frustrated.


Dr. Barbara Oakley, Professor of Engineering Industrial & Systems Engineering, Oakland University, University of California and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski Francis Crick Biological Professor at the University of California find that we have fundamentally different modes of thinking. Here they call them Focused and Diffused Mode.


A Focused Mode that we are already familiar with

We may be more familiar with the Focused Mode. It is when we concentrate. In this mode, our brain is entirely packed by the task. It happens when studying, programming, problem solving, learning and memorizing. Some might believe that all thinking and learning happen only during the focused mode. However, there is another mode of thinking.


A Diffused Mode that we didn’t know

Diffused mode is a more relaxed thinking style. For instance, it is when we are cooking, enjoying good scenery, listening to music, sleeping or doing any other physical activities. While relaxing, your brain is vaguely thinking about what you were trying to study or solve. You might have experienced that in a break time suddenly you happen to enlighten unsolved matter. That is the power of diffused mode that makes you see a big picture of it and think broadly.

Further explanation about Focused and Diffused Mode

For better understanding, let’s imagine. Let’s see focused and diffused modes as a pinball game. If you pull back on the plunger, we can see the ball going around rubber bumpers to the end. In focused mode, your ball has to go through the dense way. If things are familiar to you, for example, you had experienced it before, it is like your ball passing through the paved way. But if the problem is completely new to you, you have to use the other part of your brain. But since in focused mode, there are a lot of rubber bumpers, it makes your ball relatively hard to reach the new pattern located in the back side. 


However, in diffused mode, your brain is shaped in this way. There are only a few rubber bumpers. The less you have of the rubber bumpers, the more your balls are easy to move. Since your ball is not interrupted by obstacles, you can think flexibly on the matter. That leads to a more solidified understanding and more insights.


But, as focused and diffused modes are like two sides of a coin, you can only be in one state of mode. Being in one mode limits access of your thinking. For solid study, it is important to switch between focused and diffused modes. 

Historical artist who utilized the Diffused Mode of Thinking

Have you ever seen this surreal painting?  It is made by a prominent surrealist painter named Salvador Dali. His art pieces are well-known for their unique style. Then, do you ever wonder how he was inspired and came up with brilliant ideas to draw? Actually, he is one of the people who consciously utilized two different thinking modes. He sat in the chair and let his mind think freely about what he had been focusing on and took a nap holding the key in his hand. When he fell asleep and the key dropped on the floor, the clatter woke him up. Then, he immediately entered the focused mode with new connections from the diffused mode. He again started to work.

After knowing about the amazing power of diffused mode above, I directly applied to my marathon study sessions. I set the time aside for relaxing. If completing a small mission, I give myself rewards like few minutes of walking, listening to music or a cup of coffee for break. Comparing past (I acted like cramming new knowledge into my brain) to now, later one leaves me way more satisfied. New method is all the more efficient in learning with less stress. Then, after you read this article, why don’t you try the power of diffused mode that you move back and forth focused mode into diffused mode, sipping a cup of tea?

김민전 기자  rlarhdwnn1@hanmail.net
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