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Last Updated on December 11, 2019

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 January 21, 2020

      5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

      5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

      Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

      All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

      The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

      “Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

      The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

      “The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

      The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

      “The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

      So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

        Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

        1. Build a Memory Palace

          What is it?

          The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

          How to use it?

          Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

          “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

          Example

          An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

          • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
          • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
          • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
          • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
          • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

          You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

          2. Mnemonic

            What is it?

            A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

            How to use it?

            Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

            Example

            I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

            I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

            Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

            Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

            Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

            Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

            C

            J

            H

            D

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            P

            Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

            Cubs

            Just

            Hate

            Doing

            Push-ups

            Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

            3. Mnemonic Peg System

              What is it?

              According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

              How to use it?

              The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

              Example

              Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

              0 = hero

              1 = gun

              2 = shoe

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              3 = tree

              4 = door

              5 = hive

              6 = sticks

              7 = heaven

              8 = gate

              9 = line

              Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

              4. Chunking

                What is it?

                Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

                How to use it?

                In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

                Example

                Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

                Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

                081127882

                Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

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                081 – 127 – 882

                Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

                “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

                5. Transfer of Learning

                  What is it?

                  Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

                  “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

                  How to use it?

                  There are two specific ways to use it:

                  1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
                  2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

                  Example

                  I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

                  Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

                  The Bottom Line

                  The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

                  We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

                  Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

                  “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

                  More About Enhancing Memories

                  Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

                  Reference

                  [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
                  [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
                  [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
                  [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
                  [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

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