How to remember everything you learn (3 Non-Negotiables)


“Behaviour first. Thoughts, feelings and perceptions follow.” — Prof. Andrew Huberman

What to do

Learn up to 10x more efficiently by optimizing alertnessfocus and rest.

Why it works

Prof. Andrew Huberman (pictured above) is a neuroscientist and professor at Stanford University. In 2021, he launched the “Huberman Lab Podcast”, which quickly became the most popular podcast in Science, Education, and Health and Fitness worldwide. As a scientist, Prof. Huberman has made numerous significant contributions to the fields of brain development, brain function and neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity denotes the ability of the nervous system to rewire and learn new behaviors, skills and cognitive functioning. In his newsletter, Prof. Huberman has shared a terrific, science-based Neuroplasticity Super-Protocol to help anyone learn anything more efficiently. In that protocol, he identifies three non-negotiable elements of learning.

First, you need to be alert to trigger neuroplasticity. Second, you need focus to engage with the material you want to learn. Third, you need rest to rewire the neural circuits that underlie learning. Here are some of my best tips to optimize the three non-negotiables — and remember everything you learn while accelerating your learning by up to 10x.

How to do it

First, optimize alertness. Here’s how to get into the right state to trigger neuroplasticity:

  1. Get light right. This optimizes your cortisol and melatonin levels so that you’ll be more alert during the day and fall deeply asleep quicker at night. To do so, use the 10-10-10 rule: get 10 minutes of sunlight into your eyes before 10 am and avoid bright, blue light after 10 pm. Learn more about the 10-10-10 rule here.
  2. Have water (and caffeine). Insufficient hydration is a sure way to make you tired. Women need 2 liters and men 3 liters a day. For caffeine, quantity and timing matter: first, up to 400 mg are fine (that’s two regular cups); second, stay away from caffeine in the last 8 hours before bed to avoid destroying your deep sleep. And to learn more about water and caffeine, read this.
  3. Time it right. Follow the 30-3-11 rule and pick one of three times for your learning session: ~30 minutes after waking, ~3 hours after waking, or ~11 hours after waking. According to Prof. Huberman, these times are when you tend to be most alert (due to your “circadian rhythm”).

Second, optimize focus. Here’s how to go deep on the material that you want to learn:

  1. Defuse your phone. The biggest weapon of mass distraction is in your pocket. It’s your smartphone. Fortunately, the best tool for defusing that weapon comes preinstalled on it. It’s called airplane mode. Use it (h/t to Ben Meer).
  2. Minimize distractions on your computer. Even without your phone, getting into deep focus is hard. So don’t make it harder for yourself. Turn off email and group chat before you start. Also, consider a distraction blocker like Freedom
  3. Master the start. Every focus session looks like in the graph below. In phase 1, resistance always is high, and focus is low. It’s perfectly normal. Master that start. Phase 2 is worth it. And if you want to learn more about optimizing deep focus, read my article on the Ultrafocus approach.

Third, optimize rest. Here’s how to support your learning and allow for the actual rewiring of the underlying neural circuits:

  1. Insert micro-rest intervals into your learning session. When you pause and do nothing for 10 seconds, neurons in the areas of the brain involved in learning and memory show the same activity that occurred when you engaged with the material — but 10 (!) times faster. Prof. Huberman recommends one 10-second pause about every 2 minutes.
  2. Get 10-30 minutes of deep rest. This enhances the rate and depth of learning. Prof. Huberman recommends it within 1 hour after a learning session. One popular form is non-sleep deep rest (NSDR). Too busy? Think again. Even Google’s CEO does this on most days. Learn more about three brutally-effective and science-based forms of deep rest here.
  3. Get plenty of deep sleep at night. While engaging with the material provides the stimulus for the possibility that you might learn, the neural circuit rewiring occurs during (deep) sleep. On top of getting light right, try “intermittent digital fasting” (IDF) to prepare for getting plenty of that most restorative sleep phase: put your phone into its own bedroom (not yours!) one hour before bed, and let it “sleep in” for one hour after you wake up. If you want to delve deeper into deep sleep optimization, read this.

By optimizing the three non-negotiable elements of learning – alertness, focus and rest – you’ll learn up to 10x more efficiently.

Regardless of whether you’re a student, busy parent or professional, give these a try and let me know how it went.