To reinvent yourself, you need to learn new things and remember them. In my previous post, I wrote that memory actually leads to critical thinking. But how does memory work? How can you avoid forgetting what you learn?
🧠💭 Memory = a Byproduct of Deep Thinking
You have 24 hours in a day and a lot of things happen during that time frame. However, you don’t remember everything that happens every day. You forget most of them. In his book Forgetting: The Benefits of Not Remembering, Scott A. Small says forgetting is actually a good thing for our sanity.
But you don’t want to forget everything. Actually, you don’t forget everything. Certain things stay in your brain for a long time. What is it that sparks you to remember certain things for a long time?
When you’re going about your daily life, you probably don’t tell yourself, “An important thing is happening right now. I should remember this.” Instead, you remember the things that you’ve actively paid attention to and thought about deeply.
This is how our memory works. The majority of what we remember is simply a byproduct of deep cognitive processes. If you want to remember something, your brain needs to process it deeply.
In his book, Why Don’t Students Like School?, Daniel Willingham says,
“Memory is the residue of thought.”
🤔📚 Passive Learning vs. Active Learning
Rereading books or highlighting while you read them are common ways of studying. However, these are passive activities. Your brain isn’t necessarily deeply engaged.
By seeing the same information multiple times, the materials start to look very familiar to you. This familiarity often creates an illusion called the “Illusion of fluency.” You’ve probably had experiences when you thought you understood and remembered something, only to realize you didn’t when you took a test or tried to write it down.
A better learning method is a more active one.
You can actively check your memory and understanding periodically using tools such as flashcards. You can use traditional flashcards or an app such as “Anki,” which means memorization in Japanese. (I made a YouTube video for learning vocabulary using Anki and Kindle, so check it out!)
While you read a book, take notes. You can use a note-taking method such as “the Cornell note Taking System.”
Then when you review your notes, just look at the cues and see if you can bring the content back to your mind.
Another effective method to deepen your understanding and strengthen your memory is to teach or explain the material to someone else or even yourself.
Explaining a concept requires you to organize your thoughts and articulate the key points, which in turn, reinforces your own understanding. Furthermore, attempting to answer questions or address doubts from others (or yourself) can help you identify any gaps in your knowledge and better grasp the material.
This kind of active method, commonly called “retrieval practice,” is harder compared to passive activities such as rereading or highlighting. Robert Bjork, a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, calls this “desirable difficulty,” and it actually leads to remembering and learning.
🧠🔗 How to Create Neuron Links
In their book, Uncommon Sense Teaching, Barbara Oakley, Beth Rogowsky, and Terrence Sejnowski say that when you learn something new, your brain tries to create sets of neuron links related to the new information in your long-term memory.
Every time you retrieve newly learned information to your conscious mind, the neuron links you are creating get stronger and stronger in your long-term memory. This is crucial for the new information to stay in your long-term memory.
💤📚 Sleep and Learning
Another important factor for remembering things is sleep. Barbara Oakley, Beth Rogowsky, and Terrence Sejnowski say that a lot of consolidation processes—when the brain strengthens its new neural links—happen while you sleep.
Sleep works like glue and cements the newly learned information into your long-term memory. So cutting back on your sleep to make time to study is detrimental to learning.
💡🧠 Take Action Now!
If you want to remember something, you need to engage in a deep cognitive process with the material and retrieve it to your conscious mind multiple times over multiple nights of sleep.
Opt for active learning methods, like using flashcards, taking notes, and explaining concepts to others, to help solidify your understanding and enhance your memory retention.
Remember, practicing retrieval, teaching others, and getting enough sleep are essential components to avoid forgetting what you’ve learned and to continue your journey of self-improvement and growth!