tjbiddle 2 months ago

This is something I've found true in my own personal experimentation over the past few years. Any time I've been training something, if I take a break from it, I come back and I have more skill than I had previously.

Recently this occurred with my handstand practice. It's something that I've been working on the past year or two on and off, but more heavily recently. I've made some great strides, but the past week or two I've had a number of things distract me from my normal practice.

Jumping back into it this past week, I've found my balance and strength is or order of magnitude better.

This is only a single anecdote - but I've felt it rings true every time.

  • Iv 2 months ago

    What I noticed a few years ago when I decided to bring myself up to date again on machine learning after a ten years break (and what ten years that was for the domain!) I read a ton and watched several online classes.

    I realized that the pace was very different from the classes I had been during my student years: classes were boring, so I had time to think about stuff.

    The rhythm that I found worked really well for such information-dense subjects was 1:1 breaks. One hour of classes. One hour to think about it (usually I would go for a walk)

    Internet taught us to drink from a firehose, but our brain needs some time to process the information. It can't accumulate information and digest it at the same time.

    You just learned about drop-out layers or the drawbacks of softmax? Don't feel bad about switching off the computer and think about it. No one is judging that you are "doing nothing".

    I remember that on my last corporate job, I used to go for a break/walk when stuck on a nasty bug and would often come back with the solution. My colleagues frowned a bit upon that but luckily my boss, a former researcher, totally approved of the method.

    • p1esk 2 months ago

      I thought the point of the breaks was not to “think about it”.

      • nimonian 2 months ago

        I assume he means that going for a walk provides alternating periods of unconscious processing and deliberate thinking in a similar cadence to that described in the study. I'm not always actively practicing when I'm out walking, there are times wh... Ooh, a squirrel!

      • Iv 2 months ago

        My debugging breaks are not to think about it. The unconscious is surprisingly good at ordering things.

        The learning ones are to think about it though.

      • arendtio 2 months ago

        My assumption is that there is a difference between actively pushing yourself to think about it by adding new stuff to your brain as opposed to simply digesting the already added.

        But it is pure speculation.

      • temo4ka 2 months ago

        "Not to think about it" on conscious level. The point is to let your subconscious process the information instead.

      • pletnes 2 months ago

        Also getting time to reflect without bombardment of new information.

    • sharadov 2 months ago

      I read somewhere that you are not thinking consciously about the problem, but the unconscious is. I do it quite a but, walk away, get lunch and come back and viola! you have the solution!

  • agumonkey 2 months ago

    I'm a self taught jack of all trades. What you describe is ultra common in music. I used to obsess for hours on exercises and quickly got nowhere. Whereas not doing anything for a week and going back to the instrument, everything was in place without even trying. Super odd at first.

    Recently I've been trying to learn electrochemistry and electromechanics, by copying youtube videos, which is different from doing it in real life (the consequences can be lethal at times). And I've noticed an amplified version of the music pause-improvement. When I'm stuck on a project, 6 monthes later I wake up one morning and feel 1) confident, 2) motivated, 3) sure about some ideas I didn't really see before

    Again, nothing but time away from the task and again, very odd.

    Got me thinking about progress and time. You can clearly see the steps taken by people or groups in lifting up their lives. You do a bit, live this way, wait, and one day you make a new step. There's a natural rhythm. Except for the illuminated that can skip gaps over the average person of course.

  • rorykoehler 2 months ago

    When I used to practice competitive sports I spent a lot of time doing positive visualisation. This involved (track & field sprinting) visualising the timing of my foot strike, visualising of the stride motion and power transfers, (mtbing) day dreaming about railing difficult lines on my favourite tracks including visualising the bike physics (especially in the wet). Though it's only anecdotal and there were no doubt other genetic factors at play I excelled at a rate much ahead of my peers. I have tried the same with more cerebral tasks and whilst it definitely works I find I need to spend more time immersing myself in the practice with these types of tasks.

    • ohaideredevs 2 months ago

      My understanding is that "visualization" does work in the sense that it forces you to think about the subject, and it's "better than nothing" for knowledge/skill based tasks.

      I find it to be mostly useless for things I don't really know though, since I find myself needing to look up details I don't remember. It can be great for knowing what you don't remember though. Kind of like trying to explain the topic to someone else.

  • resoluteteeth 2 months ago

    This may be true, but the article is talking about 10 second breaks so it's a little bit different from what you're describing.

    • agumonkey 2 months ago

      it may be a similar principle of system mutation, gp is more discrete than the article

  • hanniabu 2 months ago

    Speaking of handstands, I've been wanting to get started with that too as an item on my skills-to-acquire list. Any tips for a fellow beginner? I could never seem to get past the point needed to balance. I kick my body back and it stop right before the balance point and my body slowly goes off center and comes crashing down. Have you found it easier to do with trying to keep your body straight and stiff or feet tucked in a bit? Is it easier to learn with using your head against the ground or going for it with your arms straight? Any supplemental exercises or methods that you've found have helped?

    • lemming 2 months ago

      As someone who's spent more than the last year trying to learn handstands as an adult, they're seriously hard. I don't know how long you've been practising, but I totally underestimated how long it would take me to balance one. I was starting from being pretty out of shape and I'd never done anything like this before, and I'm also tall (6'4"/194cm) which makes it harder, but I see people talking about timeframes of 6 months to a year minimum of training them seriously (say 20-30 mins 4x a week or more) to have a chance at kicking up into a free balancing handstand for, say, 15-20 seconds. It has taken me way longer than that, but I'm now up to ~30 sec holds but still with pretty terrible consistency (i.e. I get a couple of good holds and a few more shorter ones a day out of ~20 attempts).

      For where it sounds like you're at, I totally recommend Yuri Marmerstein's Vimeo series here: Not free but cheap and very good. The basic requirements are being comfortable bailing, and being able to hold a half-decent chest to wall handstand.

      re: body tension, it depends what you're planning to achieve. For just handbalancing you actually don't need a lot of tension, just enough that you're not flopping around all over the place. Most of the information online that talks about buns & core of steel comes from gymnastics, where the tension is used to generate force when tumbling. Most people from a handbalancing background no longer recommend tons of ab work (i.e. dish/hollow body) since it's not really required. You will need tons of trapezius and forearm strength though, working those was really a game changer for me.

    • screye 2 months ago

      They have a whole wiki section for handstands

    • efqerqe54g545g1 2 months ago

      The one trick that helped me quite a bit was to focus on alternating pressure between the tips of your fingers and the base of your wrist.

      • woodandsteel 2 months ago

        As a former (rather mediocre) college gymnast I would agree that is essential.

  • kbutler 2 months ago

    Note that this article is specifically about short breaks (10s) vs overnight or longer breaks.

  • lemming 2 months ago

    I've also been working on handstands a lot recently, and I've found this very hit and miss. Sometimes I will come back and be much better than previously, and sometimes I will totally suck after a break. There doesn't seem to be much middle ground there.

    I've found handbalancing in general to be very frustrating in that sometimes it will go really well, and other times I will totally suck, and there's no obvious reason why. i.e. I slept ok, I ate breakfast, I'm not particularly stressed or unfocused, but it just won't work at all. And then the next day will be fine.

    • pletnes 2 months ago

      I have small kids and have noticed that they can consistently screw up a task when you’re teaching them something. A few days later, they can suddenly do the task without thinking. I suspect learning happens partly after the fact, analogous to physical exercise.

  • random_kris 2 months ago

    This has happend to me with video games. Been really trying to get good at fortnite in februrary/march and I actually got quite good but hit some kind of a mindblock... Then due to busy life I couldn't play for a month. Got sick 3 days ago and been staying home and playing it and I am noticably better than I was a month ago. So maybe alternating in playing for a 14 days and then taking a break for few days could do some real good

    • ajuc 2 months ago

      This may be caused by other factors as well. Some multiplayer games tweak matchmaking algorithms to increase addictivness - after you stop playing for some time when you return they will put you in easier games for a while to make you win and hook you again. Same happens when you are on a long losing streak.


      I've been to a few gamedev conferences and some of the monetization lectures sound like taken straight from a movie villain. They calculate the perfect intervals to invoke the skinner box response, and to milk it for the most microtransactions money.

      • random_kris 2 months ago

        Hmm maybe it could be matchmaking. But I was thinking more about in-game skills. Fortnite is quite intensive in button spamming, lots of different variations based on your position + 360 movment of your mouse. And I noticed great improvements in this area.

    • mk_chan 2 months ago

      Happened to me with Bloodborne. Just couldn't beat a boss after 15-20 tries. Came back next weekend and got em on the second.

  • Razengan 2 months ago

    > Any time I've been training something, if I take a break from it, I come back and I have more skill than I had previously.

    I’ve experienced this first hand, almost like a tangible thing, while learning a language.

    Whenever I came back to it after a break, sometimes after months of no exposure to the language, I was sometimes surprised to find myself being able to understand some new dialogue without looking at subtitles etc.

    • shard 2 months ago

      Although I wonder if the break is really necessary. I have taken an intensive language course (10 weeks, full language immersion and homework from waking to sleeping every weekday), and the full brunt of the language skills I learned didn't hit me until ~2 months later, where I find myself understanding the learned language constructs intuitively without deliberate analysis. It may just be that it takes time for one's subconscious to fully integrate the newly learned material, especially for complicated and non-intuitive subjects such as language, as opposed to any special effect from taking a rest from it. Another aspect is that learned material have an expiration date or a half life, so that if I take too long of a break, it would disappear as opposed to being strengthened. This is where spaced repetition software comes in handy for me, especially for rarely used vocabulary (which are often the most important words in a sentence, and the lack of understanding of would change the meaning of the sentence entirely).

      • jddj 2 months ago

        Anecdotally my experience would suggest that they are important.

        As someone living in one European country where English is less frequently spoken and occasionally traveling for work to others where English is more prevalent, I always felt that I could notice a real improvement in my second language upon returning "home" after speaking English for three or four days.

        Incidentally, those same breaks usually resulted in improvements in rock- climbing (which are a bit easier to measure objectively because of the grading system), but I tended to attribute that to a full recovery / perhaps I was over-training.

        Thinking about it now, maybe it's odd that I always accepted that the stenuous physical activities naturally needed a recovery period while assuming that I could just keep hammering at the mentally taxing skills day after day.

  • projektir 2 months ago

    I have observed similar things and so far the relationship continues to bewilder me. At times I return with a better ability for something I haven't touched in years, while when I was actively training it, improvement was slow. Perhaps some cross-pollination from another source, but still strange.

    It's... not always encouraging, as at times it's very hard to say what has improved it and whether practice is all that useful.

  • z3t4 2 months ago

    I couln't access the article. Is it balance related ? When I learned rope walking, I first practiced for about two months but could only take a few steps. Then I took two months off, and when I tried again I could magically walk the whole rope!

  • steveeq1 2 months ago

    I've noticed this with guitar as well.

    • 0n0n0m0uz 2 months ago

      Me too. After a short break of a few weeks I definitely feel like a better player. I think part of it is a genuine missing of the activity and a renewed motivation and sense of enjoyment.

  • debt 2 months ago

    There’s a phrase “sleep on it”

    • mkl 2 months ago

      The article is all about how that saying is not even close to the whole story.

ramblerman 2 months ago

The best piano teacher I ever had, left me with a little trick like this.

When I was working through a song, getting the next few bars in my fingers lets say. If I got it right without mistake I had to stop immediately. lift my hands of the keyboard, and reward myself with a little breath - and tell my subconscious that was it.

Before that I would just practice the loop over and over.

  • dalbasal 2 months ago

    Sounds curiously like dog/animal training. The training session ends on completion of a task (eg fetch), followed by some sort of reward (food, play...).

    Part of the art is recognizing when the animal isn't into it anymore. If that happens, and you go into another repetition, the last rep is frustrating and/or unsuccessful and it's hard to end on a satisfying success... which is counterproductive. Much better to skip that last rep and get the optimal reinforcement.

    It occurs to me that whether training an animal or yourself, this needs to be a conscious plan. It's more natural to continue when things go well and quit when they stop.

    • motohagiography 2 months ago

      Horsemanship is like this as well. Short lessons, end on high note. Get off and praise.

      I use compounding as a model, where I evaluate the risk of pushing past comfort level based on whether I have the ability to return to a calm high note ending if my gambit goes sideways.

      Regular small improvement yields a higher and more reliable trajectory than grinding toward inconsistent leaps that exhaust a lot of wasted effort. I'm learning there is a cargo cult around work and effort in that it is a substitute for the tact and intelligence you get with a lighter approach.

      Like managers who think they are getting results by having staff work through suffering, and point to how hard people are working as an indicator of their ability to lead. Whether it's horses or people, it's always a disgusting spectacle.

      My trainer likes to say, "go slow, I'm in a hurry."

arkades 2 months ago

The “rest periods” were ten seconds long. This doesn’t generalize into anything meaningful; when was the last time you focused on a new skill so intensely that you didn’t have ten second pauses?

  • fersc 2 months ago

    Everything else considered, the closing remarks of the the press release would be useful to keep in mind if you wanted to develop this technique further

    > “Our results suggest that it may be important to optimize the timing and configuration of rest intervals when implementing rehabilitative treatments in stroke patients or when learning to play the piano in normal volunteers,” said Dr. Cohen. “Whether these results apply to other forms of learning and memory formation remains an open question.”

  • JesseAldridge 2 months ago

    Yes but the work periods were also ten seconds. So the suggestion seems to be that we should spend 50% of our time resting, with many very small rest periods interspersed between many very small work periods.

    • zitterbewegung 2 months ago

      So, if i'm teaching myself to do unit testing I should take a 10 second break by checking HN and then go back to the task?

      • JesseAldridge 2 months ago

        I imagine 10 seconds of quiet reflection would work better.

      • projektir 2 months ago

        I'm curious what is considered a break. Is HN fluffy enough?

        says projektir, checking HN as a break from typing practice

        says projektir, typing as a break from typing practice

      • vturner 2 months ago

        Not sure reading HN is "restful" ;)

      • hanniabu 2 months ago

        Probably better to do a walk around the room and reflect.

        • beaker52 2 months ago

          This. I think what you do in that break really matters. If it's taking a sip of coffee, browsing HN or answering a question then it's not going to help.

          I have learnt to race cars over the past 5 years. I can lap and lap and lap, but the greatest improvement comes from the breaks between sessions, which can be minutes, hours, days or weeks. I stumbled upon the most effective strategy the other week when training in my simulator: I was doing a small number of laps, say between 7 and 10 then returning to the pits. I'd reflect on how the "stint" felt for a couple of minutes and then have a look at the telemetry, comparing laps and correlating my memory of the on-track experience with the sensor outputs that I could see in the telemetry. After doing this for 20 minutes, decide on some small setup tweaks and jump back in for another 7-10 lap stint, rinse and repeat.

          I spent maybe 3 hours doing it and drove maybe 50 laps during that time (I could have done over twice that number if I hadn't taken my approach), but the improvement I got from it by the end was far and above anything I've tried before.

          I can also relate it to another time in a real car where I was learning a new track and car in a short 20 minute session. I had done ~15 minutes on track and the session was stopped. I got back to the pits and sat in the car. I asked my engineer about the time I'd done in relation to other drivers and just sat there in the car thinking through my laps and where I could be "better". I went back out on track for the final 5 minutes and made a huge improvement, finishing top. It wouldn't have happened without that brief period of reflection.

          TL;DR Do what you're doing for the shortest meaningful period of time. Stop and reflect on what you've been doing and what you could do differently/try/better. Let your mind relax whilst you're doing this - it shouldn't be an intense process. The go back in and put your reflection into action.

          It's important that you try to make adjustments to your performance, even if they fail. If you just do the same thing over and over again, you're missing the opportunity to diverge from your current behaviour, which is probably suboptimal given your experience.

          • Expez 2 months ago

            What you're describing here is really what Ericsson refers to when he talks about 'deliberate practice' (from the 10 000 hours meme). You correctly recognized that instead of doing more laps some of your time was better spent on deep analysis.

            If we stick with the racing analogy I think what the article talks about is that you would've seen solid gains if you had tried to run a single lap perfectly, stopped, stayed in your car, and just relaxed while your subconscious got some time to process everything that just happened, without your bombarding it with new information. If you were to follow the instructions to the letter you'd hang out for a time equivalent to your lap time, but they left it as an open question if this mechanic scales beyond the 10s repetitions used in the study.

            I hope they do more of the studies because the required time of rest could plausibly scale in different ways:

            1. Your subconscious can only remember so much stuff to replay and learn from while resting so a break beyond X isn't beneficial.

            2. The rest time needed is linear with the stimulus.

            3. Long action sequences are such a rich source that the subconscious can mine them for a long time. Beneficial rest time scales exponentially.

  • rexpop 2 months ago

    Basically every time I practice my horn. 10 seconds is a long time when I'm trying to crank through an exercise book.

    The thought of holding off, even closing my eyes for 10 seconds, is pretty alien to my practice style.

trillic 2 months ago

I drink tons of water, I try and drink my 32 oz bottle once an hour when I'm working. I feel more productive for two reasons because I do this: 1. I'm not dehydrated, 2. it forces me to get up to use the restroom a lot more than usual. This forces me to have lots of mini breaks almost every hour or so to walk and fill up my bottle and use the restroom.

  • Someone1234 2 months ago

    You may wish to go see your doctor, that doesn't seem normal (excess fluid consumption can be a sign of diseases like diabetes). And more worrying you're bordering on water intoxication at 32 oz/hour:

    > Your kidneys can eliminate about 5.3-7.4 gallons (20-28 liters) of water a day, but they can't get rid of more than 27-33 ounces (0.8-1.0 liters) per hour.

    Also, you don't need 8 glass of water a day, that is a myth, you should listen to your body[1].


    • mrob 2 months ago

      There are only 24 hours in a day, so how it is possible to eliminate 28 liters in 24 hours without exceeding 1 liter per hour?

      • narag 2 months ago

        Sweat. The comment above was about kidneys only.

        Try this: weight yourself before and after sleep.

      • wccrawford 2 months ago

        I agree, despite the other comments, the math doesn't work out here.

        Yes, the statement is about kidneys. It is only about kidneys, though, and includes all of the information.

        No, it has nothing to do with breathing or any other method of eliminating water. The statement says that kidneys max out at 1.0 liters per hour, and 28 liters per day. One of those 2 is obviously wrong, unless we aren't talking about Earth.

      • seeker_ 2 months ago

        Body needs water so it doesn't have to eliminate all that it gets! Do you think we drink water to rinse our internal organs?

        • aiisjustanif 2 months ago

          Why do you think they call it a liquid "cleanse" diet.

          • seeker_ 2 months ago

            If you mean detox diet then water may be a part of it but it is not a detox diet itself.

      • PinkMilkshake 2 months ago

        Presumably your body uses or stores some of it.

    • trillic 2 months ago

      I appreciate the concern and am aware of the dangers that come with over-hydration. It's a 32oz bottle but I probably put about 16oz of ice in it, and the water is ice cold so most of the ice doesn't melt. I also don't necessarily do it every hour on the hour, it's just a habit that I've found helps me stay focused.

  • ramraj07 2 months ago

    Yep let's overwork our kidneys to learn the guitar

    edit: seriously though I'm pretty sure that's not good for you. That sounds actually being in the ballpark of water poisoning.

    • veryworried 2 months ago

      He’s fine. A typical developer’s true work day is probably all of one gallon.

  • farahday 2 months ago

    > I try and drink my 32 oz bottle once an hour when I'm working.

    Seriously, how do you get any work done? Thats like a sip every 30 seconds.

    • PaulBGD_ 2 months ago

      I refill my 26 oz water bottle about once every hour. It's not about sipping, I drink about a third or fourth of the bottle every time I pick it up.

    • erklik 2 months ago

      I have a habit of continuing to drink when I have a glass of water in my mind. It refreshes my mind. So everytime I pick up the bottle, I drink nearly half of it just because it completely refreshes me.

      So, its not really sipping but massive gulps every 10/20 mins or so.

    • a13n 2 months ago

      Take bigger sips

  • hanniabu 2 months ago

    I have never gone to the doctor for this, but I'm pretty sure I have ADD and funnily enough I think I am able to concentrate way better when I'm dehydrated. Being on an empty stomach also seems to help. Anybody know if there's an scientific reason for this?

    • 8456523 2 months ago

      >Being on an empty stomach also seems to help

      There might be microbes (bacteria) in your gut (intestines, etc) that produce toxins that dull your thinking when they have food.

      • arvinsim 2 months ago

        The gut-brain connection do seem to be true on my end.

        I am always careful to avoid carbohydrates when I am starting work that is concentration heavy.

        • OnlyLys 2 months ago

          I have a similar carbohydrate problem too.

          If I have more than a small amount of carbs in one sitting, my mind will get hazy and I'll get really sleepy an hour or so later.

          I did a blood test recently and everything was OK, so I'm really not sure what the problem is.

          And funny thing is that I don't seem to have this problem with quick sugars. I could have ice cream and chocolate and not crash at all.

          • jmauritz 2 months ago

            Mixing tryptophan heavy foods (chicken / salmon / cheese / nuts) with carbs is gonna make you crash / sleepy.

            Same thing with salted + carb heavy food, as the body starts putting on water (dry mouth, drinking loads, puffy + tired)

    • o10449366 2 months ago

      That's interesting that you mention that. I have ADD and I've taken Adderall for most of my life to treat it. One of Adderall's most common side effects is suppression of the appetite. On the days I don't take it I also feel like I'm able to concentrate way better when I'm dehydrated and my stomach is empty. I've always figured that's just because my body has adjusted to the side effects of Adderall after many years, but I'd be curious if there's any research that associates a lack of gut activity with higher concentration because I feel the exact same as you.

    • DoreenMichele 2 months ago

      About 70 to 80 percent of the body's immune cells can be found in the gut. I strongly suspect this means eating is the single biggest immune challenge the body deals with in day-to-day life.

    • RickJWagner 2 months ago

      I'm the other way. If I'm hungry, I'm thinking about food all the time.

      A key for me is to keep snacks on hand that aren't too bad for my health.

  • astonex 2 months ago

    That seems like way too much water and surely bad for your kidneys.

  • aiisjustanif 2 months ago

    32oz per hour?!?! Holy crap man, you are literally a human fountain.

echelon 2 months ago

This seems to fit with the spaced repetition learning curve. By default, Anki (spaced repetition software) will repeatedly show you new facts on a minute-long interval. Once you've got it, that interval becomes ten minutes, and then a day.

This stuff works. I've used it to study Japanese and Chinese with great success.

I'd love to see more studies as to why. If we understand the biochemistry, perhaps we can enhance it.

  • spookybones 2 months ago

    As a Japanese learner who would also like to learn Korean, what do you constitute great success? Are you conversational in each? Can you read in each language? I find Anki pretty boring, but want to like it. After studying the basics, I’ve had better success with extensive reading.

    • kd5bjo 2 months ago

      I started with Anki(1), but had trouble sticking with it. I moved to a Leitner system with handwritten flash cards, and it’s much more comfortable to use — something about working with physical objects makes it much more effective. I’ve also played with the contents of the cards much more than I would have with Anki, because I don’t have to deal with the templates.

      As it turns out, most of my cards are either Cloze deletions from known-good texts or reciting declension tables.

      For the declension tables, I have one card for each row and column. That’s a lot of work, so I only have these for irregular words and a few representatives of each regular patterns.

      For the Cloze deletions, I’ll read an article or a book chapter straight through without stopping to look anything up, and highlight 1 or 2 sentences on each page that seem interesting and come back to make flash cards out of them (and look up words I don’t know) after I’m done reading. Sometimes I’ll delete entire words, sometimes everything except the first letter, and sometimes drop the dictionary form in place of the declined one - The goal is to get my brain trained to choose the right word or word form without me having to think about it consciously.

      For new words that aren’t obvious in context, I’ll look them up in a native-language dictionary. If I can understand the entry, I’ll make a Cloze card from that as well, usually just deleting any form of the word (especially the heading itself). In my dictionary, there’s generally an example sentence and I’ll transform key words there into dictionary form so that I have to remember which case, gender, etc I have to use.

      (1) For learning Icelandic, not Korean or Japanese, but I suspect the concepts will transfer.

    • Reelin 2 months ago

      That's an engagement issue. If a particular tool, approach, or technique doesn't hold your interest then it's very unlikely to work for you. You could try reflecting on why and try to change it, but it will probably be more productive to find a different approach that works from the start.

  • pitt1980 2 months ago

    Yeah, I was wondering that too,

    How does muscle memory work?

    Does space out activity work the same way that spacing out studying work?

    Especially since muscle fatigue is a real limit on athletic training.

    I wonder what could be done trying to optimize sports practice schedules around this idea.

pkghost 2 months ago

A couple of anecdotes:

I went to a group rhythm workshop in San Francisco called TaKeTiNa wherein a group of 50 of us learned, over the course of a few hours, to perform a stomp/clap polyrhythm (that is, a sequence that is really the combination of two sequences with different time signatures) that I wouldn't have guessed we could learn in a single session. The facilitator guided us through by starting with an approachable subunit of the pattern, added to it piece by piece over a few minutes until we fell apart, and then gave us a few minutes of laying-down closed-eye rest time. When we came back, the previous segment seemed relatively easy, and we moved into further complexity. By the end, I was both exhausted and impressed at how much we had learned.

I played lacrosse in high school (West coast, believe it or not). Several times we were in a rut a few days before a big game, and our coach would cancel the intervening practices. We'd show up to the game and be astonished at how well we played. (I realize this is a very different time scale of effect, and is perhaps better explained by higher level psychological factors rather than a lower level neurological/memory-formation mechanism, but, then again, maybe it applies at multiple scales.)

  • zeropnc 2 months ago

    San Francisco really is a different planet

    • piva00 2 months ago

      I'd say that something similar would be possible in any city with a big artsy kind of people. Berlin came to mind immediately when I read what the workshop was about, for example.

    • pkghost 2 months ago

      the workshop facilitator was of ambiguous mediterranean origin and clearly traveled the world giving this workshop.

      i've lived in SF for close to a decade—while it remains a very special and unique place, its reputation as a nexus of counterculture is overinflated.

dorkwood 2 months ago

In my experience, this effect is most noticeable while learning an instrument.

Practice until you start to see diminishing returns, take a short break, and then return to practicing. You’ll notice you’re slightly better than you were before taking a break.

  • PinkMilkshake 2 months ago

    I really notice this during video games. As soon as I feel stuck/frustrated I try stop, take a 15 minute break, then quite often nail it on the first retry.

whatshisface 2 months ago

Are you telling me that checking Hackernews every couple hours is going to pay off?

>take a 10 second break

I guess that's the next browser plugin, instead of blocking Reddit/HN/Facebook/Twitter, limit them to 10 second bursts.

  • codyb 2 months ago

    I have a feeling breaks where you’re doing something relatively mindless (walking around the block, washing a dish, taking a shower, etc) would allow the mind to “breathe” and “digest” a bit better than a break on social media or the news.

    All conjecture but it plays well for me when I’m using pomodoro to get up, move, get water, do a dish, look out the window; as opposed to when I check reddit or hacker news for whatever new information has come out in the last two hours or whatever.

    • varrock 2 months ago

      Meal prepping between my work has done me wonders. I'm still being productive, but it's mindless enough to the point where I return back to my work feeling refreshed and more efficient than if I had stuck it out.

  • meowface 2 months ago

    >I guess that's the next browser plugin, instead of blocking Reddit/HN/Facebook/Twitter, limit them to 10 second bursts.

    No clue if this would actually be beneficial for me, but I'd love to try an extension like this.

    • aasasd 2 months ago

      Leechblock NG is that.

  • 6nf 2 months ago

    My slow internet already takes 10 seconds to load a new site

    • TeMPOraL 2 months ago

      So you have this benefit already built-in.

      I guess we finally have a sensible argument in favour of website bloat.

mikekchar 2 months ago

I wonder if this is related to desirable difficulty [1] Ironically the idea is that making your task more difficult by making yourself less familiar with it helps with the learning process. One of the main concepts, the spacing effect [2], shows that spreading out learning over time improves learning. However, the interesting thing is that laving a long "lag" time (time between repetitions) is better than having a short lag time. I should note that this effect is similar, but different than the similarly named "spaced repetition" [3] Most spaced repetition systems use the SM2 algorithm [4] to determine the amount of lag time. This achieved a recall rate of 92% in Wozniak's studies, however as far as I know he never justified that target. It's always been interesting to me to consider the possibility that increasing the lag time in order to increase the difficulty (reduce the recall rate) might actually increase learning rates. I've never gotten around to trying it.

[1] -

[2] -

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mrcoder111 2 months ago

Sounds good, the problem is in social settings (at work) if you take a break i.e. play a game during work hours people think you're lazy.

  • loco5niner 2 months ago

    I think playing a game during the break (I assume video game?) would be counterproductive.

    It is not at all the same as taking a "resting" break, as described in the article.

    I actually have some experience here, as I have for several years played the same video game on my phone every time I go on break at work and, anecdotally, actually feel it has not helped me in this area.

    I've recently decided to avoid the game except on my longer lunch breaks, and attempt to have 'restful' breaks instead. We shall see how it goes :-)

ketzo 2 months ago

Anecdotally found this to be totally true, particularly with muscle-memory. I’m currently learning to play the drums, and I could be beating my head against a wall trying to get a certain fill down over and over with no success, but the moment I get up and take a walk around the room, I sit back down and nail it!

GiantSully 2 months ago

I have been trying to remember 15 thousand words for the last 3 years during which I have similar experiences.Several times, I pushed myself hard to keep learning for hours, but ended up with efficiency decreasing as time went by. I may be unable to take in anything after two hours of intense learning. Then I try to rectify my own approach to find the most suitable method for myself. Following is my own experiences. Whether the break is needed depends on my specific task. Whatever task I do, I try to keep doing it without any break for at least about 45 minutes. If I’m coding, I need less intervals of break, and I can keep coding as if I enter a status called the mind flow. While if I’m reading and digesting a whole book, I need to stop sometimes to think. Well, if I’m remembering and digesting plenty of words and its usages, it’s better for me to take a break more frequently, maybe I will watch a short video about 20 minutes every 45 minutes, to clear my mind.

IMO, it all about the ability to keep oneself concentrated. I’ve heard that some people can stay concentrated for a very long time, like several hours, and I’m not this type of person although I once experienced this state for two days and lost it forever. And I get exhausted more quickly when I am less concentrated than I am.

lanewinfield 2 months ago

With both this article and the propranolol one, it sure seems that resting (both short breaks and full sleeps) really help a lot.

Wonder why every CEO's boasting 4 hour nightly sleeping schedules?

  • andy_ppp 2 months ago

    Lies and testosterone? It also allows you to do more work that you already know how to do, but makes any new work frustrating and difficult.

  • acura 2 months ago

    Isn't there people that actually needs less sleep?

    And needing less sleep could be an explanation to why they reach these levels?

dogsgobork 2 months ago

Sounds a bit like the Pomodoro Technique.

asimjalis 2 months ago

I’m curious how the learning effect would have changed if the breaks had been 20 seconds. What if they had been 5 seconds?

ciaran-ifelse 2 months ago

Barbara Oakley's book "A Mind For Numbers" talks about this.

dpatru 2 months ago

Learning is a physical process. The brain needs time to form connections. Like building muscle, the best we can do is stimulate and then give time to grow.

atoav 2 months ago

Making a break not only gives you time to reflect on what you did, but it also prevents you from meaningless repitition.

kirillzubovsky 2 months ago

The title is rather misleading. The outcome of the research, as per the writeup, is correlation in a particular set of circumstances, at best.

Although I find science fascinating and would want this to be true, stuff like this is what leads people to disbelieve in legitimate science.

If someone can say that breaks improve memory, for sure, 100%, definitely (but actually only, you know, maybe), then someone else could say that vaccines cause cancer, and that would be totally believable. Game over.

bechampion 2 months ago

this reminds me when i was younger and i would tell my mom that i need to take breaks because "knwoledge needs to rest in my brain"(sentence translated from spanish) , now i can tell her science backs me up.

randomacct3847 2 months ago

I think the key is sleep...

  • mkl 2 months ago

    The article is about research that shows the key isn't sleep.

punnerud 2 months ago

Sleep = Backpropagation + Updating “weights”?

avjinder 2 months ago

I've had this happen to me multiple times now. The last time it happened, I was trying to learn Kotlin Coroutines and found them very difficult. After struggling for a while I gave up and stopped. Almost a week later I gave it another try and to my surprise found it very easy to understand. I felt surprised and elated.

nabla9 2 months ago

In other words, for humans batch learning improves results over online learning.