“Knowing and not doing is the same as not knowing.” — Peter Sage
If you read a lot, but seem to forget most of the information you so eagerly soak up, this is for you. I’d like to give you 3 things today:
- A wake-up call.
- An explanation of why it’s necessary and how it’ll help you remember better.
- Four hacks you can use to memorize stuff more easily.
In 2016, I learned something from a different book every single day and then wrote about it. Here’s the biggest lesson that taught me:
Today, facts are available at the click of a button. Yes, knowing stuff makes you interesting, but you’ve been around for a while, so I bet you already have a ton of cool stuff to talk about at parties.
Don’t just learn for the sake of learning. Be a practitioner. Use the information you consume. It’s only as good as what you do with it. That’s what matters.
Ironically, learning things just in time when you need them will also help you remember them better.
There are two types of memories:
- Memories you make a conscious effort to form.
- Memories you form unconsciously through experience.
The first type of memory is stored in your hippocampus. It’s what happens when your new neighbor John introduces himself to you and you go: “John, John, John, John, John…” in your head, over and over again, to not forget it.
The second type is stored in your neocortex. When you went to Disneyland with your grandparents for the first time, got ice-cream, it fell on the floor, and the nice lady behind the counter gave you a new scoop, this experience ends up there.
Memories stored here are much stronger, because each part of your memory is stored in a different section.
For example the taste of the ice-cream your grandma bought you is stored in the synapses of the taste section, while the 1920’s design of the ice-cream parlor lies in the visual processing section.
More synapses in more locations means better recall, and that’s why experiences are easier to remember.
Experts in any field, be it chess, kung fu or sales, become experts through repetition and practice. It’s their experience of using what they learn that builds their memory.
So don’t just cram your hippocampus. Use what you learn to form experiences.
Think of it in terms of input and output. When you have an output you’re trying to generate (for example solving the problem of creating a marketing plan for your business), you have something to tie the input to (a book about marketing).
You can of course make up a reason to need it. Last year I needed to learn something from a different book every day — because I had a blog post to write!
It’s only because I directly used what I learned and turned it into something that learning became meaningful.
Given you have a proper reason to remember, here are 4 things that’ll make it easier.
Mumbling John’s name over and over again the first time you hear it won’t help you remember. It’ll make your brain bored. Your brain needs breaks to remember things.
Sending yourself a reminder with John’s name two days after you heard it the first time will be much more efficient.
This is called the spacing effect.
2. The Zeigarnik Effect
Your brain has the tendency to remind you of things you’ve left unfinished.
This is called the Zeigarnik effect.
In learning, this means while you’re taking a break after a 4 hour hardcore math session, your subconscious keeps processing the last problem you got stuck on and the solution might come to you in the shower the next morning.
So there’s a double benefit to taking breaks: the right input frequency will let the memory sink in deeper and your brain automatically reminds you of the information at the right time!
1117200112241999 is tough to remember.
But two consecutive dates aren’t: 11/17/2001 and 12/24/1999. Especially if I put them into context: my friend’s birthday and Christmas 1999.
Chunk up large pieces of information into smaller bits and put them into context and they’ll be much easier to recall.
4. The Memory Palace
While experiences are the most powerful way to remember, you can also create them in your head to observe a somewhat similar effect.
Walk along a route you know really well in your mind and place objects or things you want to remember along the way.
For example, imagine taking a walk through your house and putting your grocery list items in different places. The onions go in your sock drawer, bread on the kitchen table, lemons in the closet.
Then, once you’re at the grocery store, all you have to do is take your mental walk again and pick up all items as you go along.
But don’t just read them for fun — think of something you want to get better at memorizing first! The biggest hack of all remains to read it when you need it.