The funny thing about the brain is nobody really knows much about how it works. It is much like going into uncharted forest without so much as a compass from Sierra Trading Post. Most things known about it is from a bit of observation, a touch of deduction, and a lot of guesswork. One of the things that scientists believe about the brain has to do with learning. They believe that people learn using two distinct modes of thinking: focused and diffused.
This mode of thinking is what most people consider “thinking.” This is when you concentrate on something to the exclusion of everything else. You put a spotlight on the subject and put all your attention on it. This is a particularly important mode when you are learning something new, have a problem you need to solve, or are trying to commit something to memory. Scientists have observed that when a subject is using the focused mode of thinking, the prefrontal cortex goes into overdrive. This part of the brain has to do with attention, memory, and decision-making.
Diffused thinking, as you can probably deduce, is the opposite of focused thinking, Instead of narrowing your focus on anything, you widen your perspective to take in the “big picture” so you can see everything. You allow your brain to wander where it may, stream of consciousness so to speak. The purpose of this mode of thinking is to give the brain a chance to let new information sink in, and establish connections and associations with existing information. During diffused thinking, many parts of the brain light up as these connections and associations forge neural pathways. Realization or comprehension dawns when these pathways form a clear direction or a circuit.
Using them together
Effective learning hinges on the proper use of these two modes of thinking. You need to focus to acquire new knowledge, and you need to diffuse that information to process it. You cannot learn or remember if you do not use them in alternating sequence. Focusing too long on something overloads the brain. You need to pull back and expand your perspective to ease the pressure.
You can learn more effectively if you practice using the two modes of thinking regularly. Learning is a habit. If you develop good habits, you will become a quick study in anything you set out to do.