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5 Simple-Yet-Useful Strategies To Always Remember Things You Learn

5 Simple-Yet-Useful Strategies To Always Remember Things You Learn
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Our brains are incredible landscapes that medical science is just beginning to understand. They are made up of a vast territory of firing neurons bathed in chemicals that enable us to inhabit our bodies with authority and purpose.

As humans, we exercise the most powerful machine of recall on the planet, with a memory capacity that far exceeds any modern-day hard drive. When faced with the challenge of assimilating new information, the human brain goes through a specific method of cognitive processing. All input is stored initially in short-term memory, but this piece of our processing is like a small bucket, constantly overflowing and losing facts under a deluge of information and sensation.

Studies indicate short-term memory can hold up to 7 items for only twenty seconds at a time. Extensive research into learning strategies in the past few decades have enabled scientists to identify a few methods that ensure your brain will hold onto and remember the factual items you process. Most of the following are simple methods that you can use independently or combine to improve your ability to learn and retain important information.

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Strategy 1: Write It Down

This method, confirmed by a Princeton study in 2014, is based on the research that indicates our brains are much more likely to remember information that we physically write down as opposed to simple auditory processing or even typing electronic notes.

Because the physical act of writing utilizes different areas of the brain, it gives our memories more points of reference when we seek to recall that information. The tactile sensation of pushing against the paper is an important component of this strategy, as well as the speed in which we are able to take written notes. Scientists found that the slower pace of writing required students to reorganize information in smaller, shorter phrases that proved to be advantageous over electronic note takers, who were more likely to produce notes verbatim, but also less likely to remember the increasing amount of detail.

Strategy 2: Use Mnemonics

This is a strategy that has risen in popularity in recent years and studies have supported its ability to increase memory performance. Mnemonics involve consolidating a larger piece of information or a complex idea into a simpler phrase or sentence, where key points of the concept are usually represented by a corresponding letter that begins the first word of the idea being recalled.

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For instance, a mnemonic for the scientific method might be ” Quick (Q= Question) Rabbits (R=Research) Hover (H=Hypothesis) Everywhere (E=Experiment) Chewing (C=Collect Data) Giant (G=Graph/Analyze Data) Cabbages (C=Conclusion).” The Center for Research on Learning reports that students who employed this method before exams received test grades that increased from an average of 51 percent to 85 percent.

Strategy 3: Create Visual Organizers

Teachers have long noted the appeal of this method, specifically for younger learners. The use of visual imagery in note taking has the ability to cement ideas in the brain that enable the memory to work more easily off association, like a kind of shorthand. This mind mapping, if done well, can create a vast web of concepts tied to a particular image in the learner’s mind and is effective for those who are more active learners. It also, by default, utilizes the same tactile sensations as the strategy of producing notes by hand and can even employ mnemonics as an additional advantage for recall.

Strategy 4: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

While the effectiveness of this method has been under fire in recent years, it is still a preferred strategy for many learners. The brain is more likely to remember information it sees repeatedly. But there are a few ways to enhance this fairly simple tactic, including auditory methods like repetitive songs or chants that utilize mnemonics or an approach called spaced repetition.

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Spaced repetition, championed by language learning icon Paul Pimsleur, involves repeating exposure to information at increasingly longer intervals of time. Initially, when seeking to learn something, it helps to repeat frequently. But as time goes on, spacing the repetition out a few hours and then a few days between can result in better recall over longer periods of time. It’s like endurance conditioning for your memory.

Strategy 5: Get Some Sleep

You’ve probably seen the research that suggests sleep is necessary to cement our memories and keep the integrity of information we learn intact. While we rest, our brains are quietly categorizing a vast trove of items in our memories, sorting and prioritizing so that information can be pulled up with ease when the need arises.

A study in Germany in 2011 suggested that our ability to learn information is enhanced directly before we sleep. To take advantage of this method, try to read and review notes immediately before drifting off. Our minds have a habit of holding onto the last thing we do or see before sleep and this phenomena can work in your favor when seeking to learn something new.

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Featured photo credit: wokandapix via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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