If I asked you the lessons you learned from the last three books you read, chances are, your answers will be vague — if you give me any. And this is because if we don’t take deliberate efforts to remember the things we read, we forget them.
Most people take reading as a way of satisfying their conscience. “I’ve read, so I’m building good habits… I’m a productive person.” This is why some people get addicted to self-help content without having any tangible improvements in their lives.
Reading to remember doesn’t come naturally. It’s easier to run through books and move on to the next because of the rush of dopamine we get from checking off those books from our checklists.
We will get so much more from books if we can remember the things we read. That said, here are some helpful strategies to help you remember things more easily.
1. Master deep work
It’s hard — if not impossible — to remember anything when your mind is divided between three different things at once. The foundation of remembering anything, before you learn any cool tricks, is to first learn how to read in a quiet and focused environment.
Great minds like Carl Jung, Albert Einstein, Arthur Schopenheaur, and even modern deep thinkers like Bill Gates, the philosopher Alain de Botton, Carl Newport, and many others, know how to take long periods away from distractions so they can get their brains to focus.
During the period that led to his discovery of analytic psychology, Carl Jung spent long periods alone in the woods refining his thoughts.
As Carl Newport, a professor of Computer Science explained in his book, Deep Work,
“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.”
If you want to remember the things you read, start by making it easier for your brain to focus. The brain is naturally designed to connect ideas if you let it go deep enough.
If you keep pausing every minute to check your social media feed or a text from a friend, then you short-circuit the learning process.
2. Create visual representations
We naturally find it easier to remember pictures than numbers.
If I show you a random arrangement of ten groups of numbers in twos, to memorize in five seconds, there’s a high chance you wouldn’t remember half of those numbers. But if I show you ten pictures and ask you to tell me what you saw after five seconds, there’s a high chance you’ll remember almost everything.
We just remember things much easier when it’s in picture form.
According to studies, 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. And visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text. This is why the lectures you receive with practical experiments stick more and are easier to understand and remember.
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3. So how can you apply this to remember the things you read?
Well, it depends on the context.
For instance, let’s say you’re a science student and you have complex notes you took in class about the human brain that you’re struggling to comprehend. One way to help yourself remember is by looking for YouTube videos that show the human brain in 3D form.
This way you can get a more visual representation of what you are learning. Hence, when you want to remember the information, you won’t be struggling to remember the information you memorized, you’ll be remembering what you saw.
This method can be repeated in any field. Finding a visual representation for a piece of information will make that information stick easier and faster.
4. Use “the generation effect”
The generation effect is a phenomenon that explains information is better understood and easier to recall when it’s generated by your own mind rather than simply being read.
One of the ways you can use this to remember is by generating acronyms for things that you need to memorize. For instance, if you need to memorize a list of 10 things, you arrange the first alphabet in a way that makes sense and use it to form a single word.
One of the reasons this method works, according to research, is that your brain remembers the things it generates by itself more.
Another way you can use the generation effect is by generating visual representations or explaining it to yourself in a different way. All these exercises will stimulate your brain and make the information register on a deeper level.
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5. Teach someone else
Teaching someone else can also be seen as a way of generating the information you just read.
Before you can teach, you have to find a creative way to organize and simplify what you’ve read, especially if it’s something complex.
You have to also create techniques and sometimes generate terms that are convenient in explaining the information you want to pass across. This is why teaching is effective in remembering what you’ve learned.
According to studies, the process of solely preparing to teach a lesson to someone else makes students develop a deeper and more consistent understanding of a topic.
6. Use mind mapping
Mind mapping is a process of using a diagram to represent tasks, ideas, or keywords in such a way that there’s a central idea which other ideas expand from.
The brain is naturally designed to map.
For instance, when you have a birthday coming up, that birthday is the central idea. And from that central idea the place, the clothes you’ll wear, the friends you’ll invite, the kind of celebration you want to have, and the food you’ll eat start coming up.
From the food, you can start mapping out the specific foods and drinks that you’ll want to eat on that day. You get the idea. Besides the fact that mind maps help you remember things, it especially helps to organize your mind.
The map serves as a visual representation.
For a long time, mind mapping has been a widely known strategy used for remembering information better. But it was popularized by Hazel Wagner, author of Power Brainstorming in her TEDx talk on mind mapping. And the reason mind mapping works in her words is that we rarely store information in our brains in the form we consume them.
The brain remembers things in the form of images, key points, and how that information relates to the information we’ve learned in the past.
7. Find ways to use the information
Two friends graduated from medical school together. One of them started practicing immediately. But the other one decided to take two years off to attend to other businesses.
Which one do you think will remember the things they learned more in school after two years? The one that has been practicing, of course.
Applying the information you learn is the whole point of doing experiments in the sciences. When you embody a piece of information, it becomes difficult to forget.
If you just read about habits or cleaning your room, for instance, put those things into practice, no matter how little the step may seem.
The key here is to understand that the brain rarely assimilates information in the same way you consume it. To make it stick, you have to transform that information into something more visual or relatable.
Create visual representations, use the information, or generate your own ideas from it. As Hazel Wagner further explained in her TEDx talk,
“We store information in the form of images, key ideas, and the connection between the things we’re learning and the things we already know.”
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