Study Idea – Optimum Learning State (OLS)

I talked a little about placing oneself in an OLS in a Duolingo post, so I’m going to expand upon the idea here. I learned about OLS from a book called “Double Your Brain Power” by Jean Marie Stine. I’ve owned the book, now for the fourth time, because every time I discuss OLS with someone, and loan them the book, they never give it back. In the book, placing oneself in OLS is listed as a procedure on page 48, called Brain Power Doubler #4. There are a total of 65 Brain Power Doublers found in the book’s two hundred pages, but this particular one has always worked well for me.

1. Find a quiet place, and sit  comfortably, spine erect.
2. Put your right hand just above the navel and your left hand just below your rig cage. Then relax your abdominal muscles.
3. Take an easy, natural breath. Perform this a few times until you fell your breathing is easy and controlled.
4. Begin to inhale slowly through your nose to a four-count. Hold your breath on the fourth count, for a four-count.
5. Exhale for a four-count.
6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for 5-7 more times, and visualize tension leaving your body. You are not trying to over-oxygenate yourself, merely allowing your body and mind to relax and lower your state to an “Alpha State”.

The brain has various cycles-per-second, and some are better than others for various tasks.

  • 1-3 CPS is known as Delta Waves and are best for deep dreamless sleep
  • 4-7 CPS are Theta Waves and work best for intense emotion or concentration
  • 8-12 CPS are Alpha Waves, the state we are trying to induce, works best for meditation and relaxation.
  • 18-40 CPS are Beta Waves which exist in conscious awareness and dreams.

Stine had reviewed the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his fellow researchers, for this particular Brain Doubler. To learn more about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his concepts of “flow”, go here:

In every given moment, there is a great deal of information made available to each individual. Psychologists have found that one’s mind can attend to only a certain amount of information at a time. According to Csikszentmihalyi’s 1956 study, that number is about 126 bits of information per second. That may seem like a large number (and a lot of information), but simple daily tasks take quite a lot of information. Just having a conversation takes about 40 bits of information per second; that’s 1/3 of one’s capacity.[6] That is why when having a conversation one cannot focus as much attention on other things.

What I found most interesting in 1997, when I bought the book, is how much is really known about our brain limitations and strengths. It’s been known since 1956 that our brains are not limitless computers that can function on several tasks equally, at once. Modern marketing wants you to believe that your new handheld, smartphone, or tech product enables your mind’s naturally limitless multi-tasking. It does not. When you multi-task, you do more things….worse.

To better understand the brain’s “executive mental control”–or how it establishes priorities between tasks and allocates resources to them–researchers Joshua Rubinstein, PhD, of the Federal Aviation Administration, and David Meyer, PhD, and Jeffrey Evans, PhD, of the University of Michigan, conducted four experiments that measured the amount of time lost when young adults repeatedly switched between two tasks.

The tasks, such as solving math problems or classifying geometric objects, were either familiar or unfamiliar and simple or complex. For all types of tasks, participants lost time when they switched back and forth. Moreover, the time lost increased with the complexity and the unfamiliarity of the tasks.

Drawing from their research and previous studies, Rubinstein, Meyer and Evans propose a new model for executive mental control in which the brain must make two separate preparatory decisions to switch tasks. The first, called goal shifting, involves choosing to switch to a new task. The second, rule activation, requires the brain to turn off the cognitive rules of the old task and turn on the cognitive rules of the new task.

For example, a student who has completed her math homework and is ready to begin her English homework must first decide that she is done with math and ready to begin English (goal shifting) and then turn off the rules of addition and multiplication and activate the rules for reading a story (rule activation).

Accessing the rules for the new task and activating them, the researchers say, can take several tenths of a second–a significant amount of time for some tasks. For example, a mere half-second lost to task switching can be disastrous for a driver using a cell phone while maneuvering on a busy freeway, says Meyer. Those lost seconds can also build up for air traffic controllers, pilots and office workers surfing the Web while writing a report.

The trick to learning a language, which requires several sections of your brain at the same time, is to have a quiet place, where your mental state is relaxed, your materials at hand and ready for processing (write the words out, say them over and over, feel the way they sound, use a mnemonic device where applicable, stay positive in your thoughts…etc.)

For an excellent article on “focus”, read this article:

Stine took aspects of Csikszentmihalyi’s work and combined them with many other similar studies, in order to present his 65 “Brain Doublers”. You can find the book on Amazon for under $5, and unfortunately it is not in Kindle form. It may be worth considering some of the techniques while working with and learning languages. And no, you can’t borrow my copy.

Now that you’ve learned about the ability of your mind to multi-task and focus, start your learning session with a positive statement about what you are going to accomplish during your focused study time. As with anything, if you don’t believe that you can learn a language, it won’t. Why? Because there is a core belief that is firmly placed in the way, and you simply cannot allow this idea to work because it would displace a belief that is very important to you. The result is that your mind will not allow you to succeed in contradicting a belief, in this case, learning a lanaguage.