Focused and Diffuse Modes of Thinking

When you’re studying for a test, you never seem to have time to relax. However, with this technique, you’ll be able to find a balance that allows you to perform better in any test.
Focused and Diffuse Modes of Thinking

Last update: 25 July, 2021

Of all the tools to improve learning, one system that stands out involves focused and diffuse modes of thinking. This method eradicates the belief that, in order to learn successfully, you must endure long study sessions. In this article, you’ll discover how the system works.

An article entitled “Sleep Neurobiology and its importance: Anthology for the university student” states the importance of rest for successful learning. This is exactly what focused and diffuse modes of thinking involve.

A man studying.

How do focused and diffuse modes of thinking work?

They work in a simple way. You’re probably already quite familiar with focused thinking. This is the area of learning where you focus squarely on what you want to assimilate or learn. In order to do this, you often need silence to repeatedly review the study material. You may also recite it aloud to memorize it better.

However, the diffuse part of the technique tends to be least well-known. It involves clearing your mind. This might be by going for a walk, reading a book, going for a drink with friends, or sleeping. Your brain keeps working in diffuse mode.

Combine focused and diffuse thinking

Once you know how the focused and diffuse modes work, you’ll find you get better results if you combine both two techniques. Although this may sound easy, it isn’t necessarily so. After all, how many times have you spent sleepless nights or remained in a focused mode right up until the moment you start a test.

You’ll probably answer this question with the words “too many”. However, the article we mentioned above comments on the impact of lack of sleep on the cognitive abilities of a population of medical students. It states that:

“…sacrificing hours of sleep, in order to study more, rather than a benefit, implies a decrease in their academic commitment and in their ability to learn”.

Let’s see how you can combine focused and diffuse modes of thinking.

How to use the techniques

The first step is easy. In fact, you’ll be used to it already. It consists of getting into focused mode. To do this, assemble all the topics you may be questioned on in the test and choose the best strategy to study them. You might do this by:

  • Reading about one of the topics.
  • Preparing a summary or outline.
  • Reading aloud to memorize the ideas.
  • Creating a mind map of the most important elements.

Some people might find it best to only do summaries or repeatedly read the study material. Nevertheless, this is purely a matter of personal choice, and you should choose whatever method best suits you.

After focus mode, you then enter the diffuse mode. You can do this in whichever way suits you best. For example, if you study for two hours without a break, you could then set aside half an hour to enter diffuse mode.

In diffuse mode, you shouldn’t waste time looking at your cell phone or scrolling through social media. It’s important to clear your mind. You could take a short walk, read a book, call a friend, or take your dog for a walk. The important thing is to completely move away from the focused mode.

A woman running through the grass.

Advice before a test

As you can see, using the focused and diffuse modes of thinking isn’t difficult. However, you must make sure that you’re productive in both modes. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you only stay in the focused mode for an hour. You could take a 15-minute break, for example. This time depends on your own personal needs and capabilities.

Before a test, it’s extremely important to be in diffuse mode. This is because you want to be in focused mode during the test. Therefore, you should give your mind a break before starting.

Being constantly in focused mode is never positive. You’ll find yourself feeling anxious and stressed. Consequently, this could lead to poor exam results. Therefore, you should consider combining the focused and diffuse modes of thinking. They could prove extremely useful to you.

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  • López Mejías, Modesta, Jústiz Guerra, María, & Cuenca Díaz, Maritza. (2013). Métodos, procedimientos y estrategias para memorizar: reflexiones necesarias para la actividad de estudio eficiente. Humanidades Médicas13(3), 805-824. Recuperado en 30 de julio de 2019, de
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