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The Only Way to Remember Everything You Have Read

The Only Way to Remember Everything You Have Read

Our brains aren’t made to remember everything that we encounter. Unless you’re one of the rare individuals who has a photographic memory, it’s likely that details about the content you consume fade quickly.

How often do you recall reading an article, but forgetting what it’s about? Have you ever recognized a movie title but failed to remember the plot? If you frequently forget the things you’ve read and the movies you’ve watched, you aren’t alone.

Think about what you had for lunch yesterday or what you did last weekend. Those memories are probably blurry because they aren’t critical for your survival. Our brains have about 8 GB of capacity for immediate recall, and only the most essential information will make the cut. This can leave us with a blurred picture of nonessential information. Learn more about this in my other article: You’ve Been Using Your Brain Wrong: Human Brains Aren’t Designed to Remember Things

The human brain is not designed to help you handle with massive amounts of data. We’re bombarded with stimuli every day. If we processed and remembered everything, then it would probably make it difficult for us to function. Your brain sorts through all your experiences to weed out the significant and insignifcant things that we encounter.[1]

The first time you read something, finishing it is the only aim.

It doesn’t matter how much you’ve been looking forward to seeing a movie or reading a book. Unless the content is linked to your survival, chances are that you’ll forget what you’ve seen or read soon after viewing it.

Part of this is because your primary objective was to watch the film or read the book. When you’ve never seen something, your urge to finish the story is your main concern. After you’ve satisfied your desire, you probably won’t remember what you’ve seen. Finishing the movie or book is not the same as remembering all the details.

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Human beings store memories through a process called encoding. Our brain is better at encoding information when it can associate new information with pre-existing experiences.[2]

The first time we encounter information is akin to us passing strangers on the street. Your neurons process that you’ve encountered someone, and that’s the end of it. There’s no recognition, and after you leave the situation, you probably won’t remember who you saw.

    Some people do remember what they see, though. Why?

    You might feel frustrated when you can’t recall what you’ve just seen, but it can be even more maddening when you run into someone who seems to have absorbed everything. This is the friend that recites details from the movies that you watched months ago. Long after the finer points of a text have slipped your mind, they’re still talking about it. How do they do it?

    These people don’t have extraordinary memories. They simply take in the information actively. Since they’re actively processing information, they are able to experience the book details or the movie scenes repeatedly in a short time. They revise and synthesize the information so that it becomes their own.

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      It’s like taking the same route every day and running into the same people. You begin to recognize people and observe more about them because they are already familiar to you. Likewise, your neurons can easily make new connections when they have been asked to revisit and analyze new information instead of passively observing it.

      The key is to see, connect, and then repeat.

      The more you actively engage with the content that you are consuming, the more readily you’ll remember it. As your neurons revisit the same subject over and over, it’s easier for them to make new connections.

      Think of it like taking a walk through the woods. At first there is no path, but if you take the same route every day, eventually, you’ll create a trail. You’ll be able to move quickly and easily in a place where you used to have to move slowly. Your brain handles memory like this too. You want to build a well-worn path for your neurons.

      Don’t rely on your initial memory

      The first time you go through something, you’ll probably forget many details. You may find it difficult to absorb specifics because there’s too much new information. When you watch movies or read books, you may find yourself obsessed with what will happen next. Your goal is just to get to the end.

      It’s helpful to revisit the content several times. You may find that since you already know what happens, you’ll be able to appreciate the details.

      Replaying or rereading isn’t enough

      You can look at the same piece of information over and over, but it doesn’t mean that it will stay in your head. Rote memorization (memorizing by repetition) doesn’t allow you to make meaningful connections with what you’re seeing.[3]

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      To remember something, you need to apply it. Instead of passively taking in information or actively trying to memorize it by rote, it’s important to make connections. If you can apply what you’ve learned, get feedback, and re-apply a concept with feedback, it’s much more likely to stick.

      For example, reading a recipe alone won’t help you learn to cook. Cooking a meal and having the combined feedback of your taste-buds and the comments of others will stand out in your mind. Watching someone do an exercise never has the same impact as doing it yourself. A framework is all but useless unless you apply it.

      When you apply a concept or practice to your life, it becomes easier to internalize the information. Think about the first time you had to travel to work versus now. At first, you had to think about each step on the route, but now, you don’t even have to think about it. It is the combination of repetition and application that solidifies neuron connections.

      Have a question at the back of your mind before you read/watch it

      When you pick up a book or sit down to watch a movie, have a purpose in mind. If you don’t, your default mode will simply be to get to the end of the book or film. Have a question that you’d like to answer before you begin.

      For example, reading The Power of Habit without a purpose will not be very helpful. It will seem useless to anyone who isn’t ready to build a habit no matter how good the book is. On the other hand, if you think of a bad habit that you’d like to quit before you start reading, you can instantly connect what you’re reading with your own life.

      When you spot related chapters or ideas in books, find ways to connect them. Highlight them, write notes, or clip the sections that are related. Taking notes by hand is an especially valuable way to help you remember important concepts.[4]

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      People who watch lots of movies or read lots of books, but can’t remember them, waste a lot of time. They haven’t taken in any information that will actually help them. To avoid forgetting everything you see, apply it immediately after you see it, and revisit the concepts often.

      Have a mind like a steel trap

      Chances are that by tomorrow you will forget what you’ve read in this article unless you save it, highlight it, and make a point of relating it to your life. Bookmark this and come back to it so that you can remember what you need to do to have better recall on the media you consume.

      Watching movies and reading mindlessly is a a waste of time. Make the most of everything that you see and read by finding ways to engage with the content. Think of what you’ll be missing if you allow these learning opportunities to pass you by.

      Featured photo credit: Vecteezy via vecteezy.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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      Last Updated on December 2, 2019

      How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

      How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

      Are you the kind of person who wants to achieve massive success in your life? Do you have the mental toughness to make that happen?

      I think we can all agree that no matter your ambitions, achieving success can be difficult; and over time, the daily grind can take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional energy.

      Achievers and high performers from all walks of life face ups and downs along the path to success—they face failure, burnout, discouragement, fatigue, self-limiting beliefs, stress, and so much more.

      How do some people continually strive towards their personal goals year after year while others give up on them? How do those people stay strong and persevere when there is so much stacked against them?

      Studies now show that mental strength is a critical key to success. If you haven’t read Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, you should. In it, she shows that “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.’” In other words, mental toughness plays a significant role when it comes to achieving goals.

      Sometimes, our goals wear us down and leave us feeling exhausted. Other times, our goals get difficult, and success seems impossible, so we lose hope, become discouraged, and want to quit.

      At its core, mental toughness is simply the ability to stick to something when the going gets tough. People with high levels of mental toughness can push beyond these obstacles and forge a path towards success while those with lower levels of mental toughness may abandon their dreams.

      Want to know the good news?

      No matter who you are, what you’ve been told, or what you currently believe, you can develop the mental toughness you need to be successful.

      All you need to do is learn to develop a positive mindset, focus on your why, and utilize the people around you for support.

      1. Develop a Positive Mindset

      If you’re going to increase your mental toughness, the first thing you have to do is focus on building a strong, positive mindset.

      According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average person has 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 95% of those thoughts repeat each day and, on average, 80% of repeated ideas are negative.[1]

      That’s roughly 45,600 negative thoughts per day!

      Carrying around these negative thoughts is like going on a hike in the mountains with a backpack full of rocks. The hike is hard enough on its own, but having extra junk weighing you down is a recipe for failure.

      Sometimes, building mental toughness isn’t as much about building new strength as it is about saving your strength for the right tasks. Wouldn’t it be easier to dump the rocks out of the backpack instead of trying to get strong enough to carry the extra weight?

      Absolutely!

      But how can we learn to spot those 45,600 negative thoughts and get rid of them? How can we empty our metaphorical backpack?

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      Well, it gets a whole lot easier if you know what you’re looking for. Some of the most prominent types of negative thoughts are self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, and dwelling.

      Let Go of Self-Limiting Beliefs

      It’s pretty hard to be mentally tough when you’re constantly beating yourself up. Self-limiting beliefs are any beliefs that hold you back in some way. Here are some examples:

      “I’m not smart enough to…”

      “I don’t have enough experience to…”

      “I’ve tried that before, and it didn’t go well, so I must just be bad at…”

      When we allow these self-limiting beliefs to flood our minds, negative self-talk runs rampant, and we crowd out our ability to think positively. We’re effectively working against ourselves.

      If you want to keep your mind strong on your path to success, you have to overcome the self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back by realizing one key truth: self-limiting beliefs are thoughts, not facts.

      When you recognize a self-limiting belief cropping up in your mind, quickly silence it by telling yourself that it’s not true and then back that up with some positive affirmations:

      • “I am smart enough; I may just need to do some more research first.”
      • “I may not have as much experience as someone else, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. I have enough experience to get started. I’ll figure the rest out on the way.”
      • “Just because I failed at this last time doesn’t mean I’m going to fail this time. My past does not dictate my future.”

      Get Rid of the All-or-Nothing Thinking

      Another form of negative thinking that could be preventing you from building mental toughness is all-or-nothing thinking.

      All-or-nothing thinking is the concept of thinking in extremes. You are either a success or a failure. Your performance was totally good or totally awful. If you’re not perfect, then you’re a failure.

      But this isn’t true!

      If you’re trying to lose 30 pounds and only lost 28, isn’t that still better than not losing any weight at all? I’d say so!

      If you allow all-or-nothing thinking to rule your mind, you’ll be on cloud nine when you succeed, but you’ll beat yourself up when you “fail.” Acknowledging the shades of gray in between will allow you to see success more often and it will help you celebrate your smaller wins.

      When you recognize an all-or-nothing thought, remember to look for the positive in the situation. What did you gain by trying? What would you have missed out on had you not tried? Could you do better if you were to try again?

      Ditch the Dwelling

      Self-Limiting Beliefs and All-or-Nothing Thinking can lead to a bad case of dwelling on the negative. If you want to build some mental toughness and keep your mind strong, you have to ditch the dwelling.

      Every day, bad things happen to each of us, and while there’s nothing we can do to prevent that, we can control how we react to these situations.

      When we dwell on our misfortunes, we waste massive amounts of energy that we could be using to achieve our goals. When this happens, we’re more likely to quit altogether.

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      But that doesn’t mean you’re not mentally tough; it just means you’re misusing your energy.

      The next time something bad happens, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the disappointment and frustration, but work on reducing the amount of time you dwell on the situation.

      Easier said than done, right? Try these:

      1. Call a friend or mentor and talk it through with them. Get some outside perspective on your situation.
      2. Time block your dwelling by allowing yourself to dwell for no more than one hour.
      3. Then, tell yourself to move on, that you’re human, and you’re allowed to make mistakes or experience setbacks.
      4. If all else fails, find a good way to distract yourself until you can calm down and reexamine things with a clear mind.

      The faster you can focus on the positives and move past the problem, the quicker you can get back to achieving success in your life.

      Be Patient about the Process

      No matter which negative thoughts tend to run around your mind, working to replace them with positive thoughts can take time.

      Learning to spot self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, or dwelling is one thing, but learning to quiet those thoughts is another thing entirely.

      If at first you don’t succeed, don’t fret. Instead, take a deep breath and try again. As you work towards improving your mindfulness and your mental toughness, remember that you’re going to get better with time.

      To make things a little easier, it helps to connect with your purpose.

      2. Connect with Your Purpose

      One of the most critical elements to building mental toughness and keeping a strong and focused mind is having a strong ‘why’ for everything you want to do.

      If you set out to achieve a huge goal that you don’t have a ‘why’ for, you’re going to find yourself distracted, discouraged, or disengaged as soon as you experience your first setback.

      Think about the last time you were working on a goal or resolution and things weren’t going well, maybe you even wanted to quit. Perhaps you thought you didn’t have enough willpower. Maybe you told yourself that you didn’t have enough discipline.

      Here’s the truth: you just didn’t have a strong enough why.

      Simon Sinek has been spreading his message “Start with Why” across the globe.[2] In short, he says that:

      “Your ‘why’ is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you.”

      One of the biggest drains on your mental energy is pursuing a goal or a task that you don’t have a ‘why’ for. This is when we tend to look for external motivation or question our willpower, but those aren’t the issues.

      Often, we set goals because we like the idea of the goal, not the reality of the goal. Without connecting to our why, we can’t intrinsically motivate ourselves to achieve our most challenging goals.

      Find Intrinsic Motivation

      Intrinsic motivation is our innate desire to do something and it comes when we work towards something that satisfies ourselves above all else—not our parents or our bosses or our teachers.

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      Let’s say you think you want to quit smoking because you know it’s bad for you, but you really enjoy smoking. If you don’t truly want to quit smoking, it’s going to be nearly impossible, regardless of your willpower or mental toughness.

      But if you want to quit smoking because you just had a baby, and you don’t want your baby growing up around smoke, then that ‘why’ is going to give you intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than sheer stubborn willpower, and it’s far easier to maintain over the long haul.

      If you’re trying to develop mental toughness, connecting a why to everything you want to achieve will reduce the effort and energy it will take to achieve those things. Once you’ve found a strong why for all of your goals, you’ll find that you’ll have significantly more energy to pursue your more difficult challenges.

      3. Find Strength in Unity

      The final aspect of developing mental toughness is embracing the idea that you’re not in this alone. It’s a fact, anyone who’s ever achieved success in anything didn’t do so alone.

      Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft alone. Oprah didn’t build her network by herself. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPhone without a team. Michelle Obama didn’t implement the “Let’s Move” campaign on her own.

      Behind all of these successful people were countless other people who were there offering support, mentorship, guidance, and encouragement.

      If you want to develop unmatched mental toughness, you need to understand that you don’t have to go it alone. Even the toughest Navy Seals have a team backing them up.

      If you want to stay strong in your endeavors, you need to build a team of supporters who will step in and back you up when it counts.

      Find a Mentor or Committee of Mentors

      The benefits of having a great mentor are far too many to list, but to boil it down to the basics, a mentor is someone who will help show you the path to success.

      A good mentor will help you discover your greatest strengths, spot and overcome your blind spots, and work through your weaknesses.

      If you’re struggling to deal with your internal negativity or with finding your purpose, talk it through with a mentor. Sometimes we lose the forest for the trees, and a mentor can help us take a step back and see the bigger picture.

      Here’s how to find the right mentor for yourself: How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

      Recruit Some Cheerleaders

      If you want to stay strong, it never hurts to have a group of personal cheerleaders. Unlike mentors who are going to jump in and help you address your problems, a group of cheerleaders will help keep your spirits up.

      Even if you have a strong ‘why’ and a positive mindset, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a positive attitude 100% of the time. It doesn’t make you weak to need some help from time to time. Having a group of people cheering you on will make all the difference in the world.

      As you work towards your goals, tell a few close friends about what you’re doing, and when things get tough, tell them about it. And when they give you the pep talk you need, don’t resist their positivity or counter it with your self-limiting beliefs or your all-or-nothing attitude.

      Allow their optimism to refill your energy and use that energy to press on.

      Form an Accountability Group

      Cheerleaders are great, but sometimes we need someone to give us the kick we need to keep going. You might have a strong ‘why’ for running a marathon or losing 30 pounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy; and trying to force yourself to follow through is a sure way to tax your mental energy.

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      Why not save some of your mental energy by forming an accountability group?

      Find a person or a few people who have similar goals, or at the very least, the need for an accountability partner. Then, form an agreement within the group to push each other every day.

      Even if your goals aren’t the same, accountability partners are great for giving us the push we need when we need it most.

      Regardless of which relationships you choose, sometimes we have to be able to work through things on our own. Mentors, cheerleaders, and accountability partners are a great way for us to combat our naturally negative mindsets, but occasionally we have to be able to pick ourselves back up.

      4. Learn to Pick Yourself Back Up After Setbacks

      Building a strong mindset and developing mental toughness isn’t easy! Anyone who’s ever achieved massive success knows that obstacles, setbacks, and failure are inevitable, and you’re no different.

      As you work on your goals, you’re going to face many ups and downs, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have mental toughness, willpower, or discipline.

      We all struggle. We all fail. It’s what we decide to do after we fail that truly counts.

      When you find yourself in a low spot, ask yourself these questions:

      • “Am I being too hard on myself?”
      • “Are negative thoughts such as Self-Limiting Beliefs or All-or-Nothing Thinking distorting my view?”
      • “What’s the positive side of this setback/obstacle/failure?”
      • “Why was this goal important to me? What was my purpose?”
      • “Is this goal still important to me? Do I still have a ‘why’?”
      • “Who can I ask for help? Who can mentor me or cheer me on? Who can help hold me accountable?”

      Asking yourself these questions is a great way to check in on your mindset. When we get lost in negative thinking or lose connection to our purpose, it’s far too easy to become discouraged. When we feel discouraged, we start feeling weak, maybe even a little hopeless.

      Also, this article provides some useful tips to help you get back on track: How to Deal with Failure and Pick Yourself Back Up

      Tying it All Together

      Are you still with me? I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, from developing a positive mindset and combatting your internal voice to connecting with purpose and building a committee of mentors. It’s a lot to take it!

      But here’s the bottom line:

      A crucial part of developing mental toughness is learning to recognize these tendencies and taking action to correct them early on. Developing mental toughness is not about eliminating weakness, but learning how to deal with it and overcome it.

      No one is perfect, but when we focus on the right things, we can develop a mental toughness worthy of life’s biggest challenges.

      More About Mental Strength

      Featured photo credit: Zulmaury Saavedra via unsplash.com

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