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The Only Way to Remember Everything You Have Read

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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 August 11, 2021

      23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

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      23 Killer Sites for Free Online Education Anyone Can Use

      Whether you’re five or ninety five, the internet has a lot to offer. Particularly when the topic is education, the resources on the internet are endless. Best of all, many high quality sites are completely free. From history to coding, excellent, free online education awaits on the following 23 sites.

      1. Coursera

      Coursera is a website that partners with universities and organizations around the world. This brings a wide variety of topics and perspectives to one searchable database.

      Coursera is a powerful tool for free online education and includes courses from many top universities, museums and trusts. This gives the site an extremely wide range of in-depth courses.

      Coursera is extremely useful if you’re looking to study many different topics, or want courses from different schools and groups. However, the free courses are now quite limited, so you’ll have to

      2. Khan Academy

      Partnering with many post secondary schools, Khan Academy offers a useable, well-organized interface. Also curating many courses from around the web, Khan Academy offers impressive depth on many different subjects.

      Among the more well-known educational sites, Khan Academy is also incredibly user-friendly, which may make it easier to keep learning goals. If you’re looking for a free online education, you can’t go wrong with Khan Academy.

      3. Open Culture Online Courses

      If you are struggling to find exactly the material you are looking for, try Open Culture’s listing of free online education courses. The page highlights 1000 lectures, videos, and podcasts from universities around the world.

      The site features a lot of material found only on universities’ private sites, all in easy-to-browse categories. This means you can find hundreds of university courses without having to visit and search each university’s site.

      Open Culture’s list features courses from England, Australia, Wales, and many state universities around the United States. It’s a very helpful resource for finding many courses in one area of study.

      4. Udemy 

      Udemy’s free courses are similar in concept to Coursera’s but additionally allows users to build custom courses from lessons.

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      Working with many top professors and schools, the site mixes the customizable platform of other sites with a heavy emphasis on top-quality content. This is another site, however, that mixes free and paid content.

      5. Lifehack Fast Track Class

      Lifehack believes in skills that multiply your time, energy, and overall quality of life.

      In this rapidly changing world, traditional education skills just don’t cut it anymore. You can’t afford to take years learning a skill you’ll never really practice. Besides offering some paid courses that will help you become a better self, it offers a list of free courses which aim to train some of the Core Life Multipliers including:

      These are cross-functional skills that work across many aspects of life.

      6. Academic Earth

      Another site with courses from many different schools is Academic Earth. Much like the three sites above, Academic Earth brings together top notch courses from many different sources and focuses on offering a wide variety of subjects.

      Academic Earth lists courses by subject and school, so it might be easier to find what you’re looking for.

      7. edX

      Another great option for free online education is edX. Also bringing together courses from many different schools, the site has impressive, quality information for everyone. edX covers a great range of topics from universities such as Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley, meaning a high-quality, free online education is entirely possible here.

      8. Alison

      Unlike the previous sites on this list, Alison is a free education site offering certification in some areas. Alison offers courses mainly in business, technology, and health, but also includes language learning courses.

      It’s a great option if users need a professional certificate for their learning, as Alison also offers school curriculum courses.

      9. iTunesU Free Courses

      A very convenient place for free online education is iTunesU, because it integrates seamlessly with your iPod or any app-ready Apple mobile device. On an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, users download the iTunesU app.

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      Desktop users can access iTunesU on the upper right hand corner of the iTunes Store. iTunesU is also convenient because the store is categorized much like iTunes.

      Users can search learning materials in many different ways, including by genre and topic. However, courses are often a mix of free podcasts or videos and paid content.

      iTunesU does include courses on a variety of topics, but it does not integrate with Android, Google or Windows mobile devices.

      10. Stanford Online

      Your hub for all the online offerings from Stanford University, Stanford Online offers self-paced and session-based courses. While Coursera features some courses from Stanford, many classes are only available via other hosts. Some courses require iTunes, but most are completed in your web browser.

      Stanford Online is a great site for high-quality courses, though the topics are somewhat limited compared to sites partnered with more than one school. If you’re looking for free courses, make sure to mark the “free” option on the left-hand side.

      11. Open Yale Courses

      Open Yale Courses echoes Stanford Online, in that it offers only courses from Yale. While the site is similarly limited to topics taught at the school, Open Yale Courses offers a lot of videos of actual campus lectures. The availability of videos makes the site a great option if you’re looking for quality courses but learn better by watching than by reading.

      12. UC Berkeley Class Central

      Much like the other schools on this list, UC Berkeley has a variety of free online education options. The school has slightly fewer courses than the schools above, but it includes some supplementary lectures, webcasts, and RSS Feeds, making it easy to keep up with the topics you choose.

      13. MIT OpenCourseWare

      Similarly, MIT offers a variety of free courses. The school has a comparable number of courses to the schools above, and it includes very in-depth course materials on the subjects available. MIT also offers free RSS feeds, a convenient way to continue learning.

      14. Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

      Carnegie Mellon’s free online education site is comparable with the other school’s on this list. However, Open Learning Initiative also covers a smaller range of topics, but for the topics that are covered, impressive, in-depth material is available.

      15. Codecademy

      Codecademy is a website dedicated specifically to teaching coding. Where other coding sites follow an example/practice session workflow, Codecademy includes a live practice window. This means you can practice coding while still viewing the lesson material.

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      The courses at Codecademy are well-written and easy to follow, and the website is organized very nicely. Codecademy features a centralized dashboard where you can monitor your progress, and it organizes lessons into complete modules. This lets you learn an entire language without needing to pick the next course manually.

      16. Code

      Code is another website focused on coding and app writing. A site with high-quality courses, Code also features learning options for kids.

      In addition to kid-friendly courses, Code offers free online education classes on a wide variety of technology topics. These classes include app writing, robotics, and Javascript.

      Most of the courses are also geared in a such a way that they can be useful in a classroom setting. This makes Code a great resource for harder to find coding topics, as well as various learning settings.

      17. University of Oxford Podcasts

      The University of Oxford features many different podcasts. Most are public lecture series or lectures from visiting professors, with several different recordings available.

      The advantage to this particular site is that podcasts are organized into series, making it easy to subscribe to multiple lectures on one topic. This is another great site for thoroughly in-depth lectures.

      18. BBC Podcasts

      For the more casual learner, the BBC offers a wide variety of podcasts on many different topics. Most podcasts are updated weekly and focus on everything from finance, to sports, to current events.

      Through the World Service line of podcasts, there are also many in different languages. The focus of these podcasts are less in-depth and theory based, which may be more accessible to the average person.

      19. TED-Ed

      Another great destination for more general learning and free online education is TED-Ed. From the same people that brought you the all-encompassing, motivational web series comes a site chocked full of educational videos. Most include impressive animation, and all are ten minutes long or less.

      Not only is TED-Ed an excellent site for the curious, but it also includes supplemental materials and quizzes on the videos. This makes the site extremely useful in formal education settings, as well as in entertaining ways to brush up on new discoveries and topics.

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      20. LessonPaths

      LessonPaths is another great tool for those looking for a more usable and convenient way to access learning material. On this site, users create link playlists of their favorite learning materials from other sites. Users then rank these collections, making it easy to find many different high-quality, accessible sources on a given topic.

      21. Memrise

      Another impressive free online education site offering ease of use and convenience is Memrise. Available both on desktop and as an app, Memrise is a particularly powerful tool if you are studying a language. The site encompasses many other topics as well, though some of the course material is user generated content.

      Part of what makes Memrise special is their integration of games into the learning materials, mixing learning with entertainment.

      22. National Geographic Kids

      The kids site for National Geographic is another site that makes free online education applicable for younger users. For those looking for kid-friendly education, a large variety of games, puzzles, videos and photos keep kids interested on this site.

      National Geographic Kids doesn’t organize learning into courses, making materials available by topic and medium instead. This makes National Geographic Kids a good option for those looking for a more casual learning environment.

      23. Fun Brain

      Fun Brain is another great option for kids looking for free online education, as it focuses on games and fun puzzles. Particularly focused on math and reading, Fun Brain’s game-based approach can be valuable if the child in question struggles to pay attention.

      Fun Brain offers rewards and challenges as well, and it is another site aimed at a casual learning experience for kids K-8.

      The Bottom Line

      With so many amazing free online education resources, everyone has the ability to boost their skills and knowledge. Whether you’re interested in picking up some interesting trivia for your next party, improve your resume with some coding or business skills, or become a more well-rounded person, these resources are perfect for you.

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      Featured photo credit: Dai KE via unsplash.com

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