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13 Tricks to Help You Remember What You’ve Learned

13 Tricks to Help You Remember What You’ve Learned

Memory is fallible. If you forget everything in this article, remember this fact: Researchers estimate that we lose 90% of everything we learn immediately after learning it. Ninety percent. Have I got your attention now?

Trying to recall information can be like digging a hole without a proper shovel: Sure, you can implement what you have to make the hole, but the tool you employ is makeshift. Or perhaps you only have your hands.

When our minds begin to absorb new information, there is a limited amount of time before that information becomes useless to us. For several reasons, our brains are in a constant process of forgetting. Most of the details that you learn are lost to you within a short time, because your brain only has limited space. And your brain doesn’t actually know how to determine if a detail will be useful to you at a later time… so it just forgets it.

Throughout your learning process make time to ensure that you will remember the information you want to remember by following these 13 simple tricks.

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1. Acknowledge How You Learn

Articles are published every day about how the educational systems of the world are flawed, for various reasons. Perhaps the most fundamental component that is missing from these systems is the process of learning itself: students are not learning how to learn. Facts and figures are thrown at pupils, and they are asked to memorize them by rote. Students are not told about the process of learning and what goes on in that process, how the brain commits information to memory and how to recall it. Each example in this series relates to either the learning process or the ability to recall – incorporate these activities into your own processes to enhance your ability to remember.

2. Motivate to Remember

When you are interested in a subject, you are more likely to remember what you have learned. Motivate yourself with authenticity. Is this a subject that you are passionate for? If the answer is yes, then you are on the right track. If you have a zest for knowledge already, then you know this is the case when it comes to learning. Learning one task begets an insatiable urge to learn more, and your hunger grows as you realize how much there is to learn in the world. On the other hand, if you find that you are unmotivated to learn something or if you have a shallow relationship with the subject, then your brain in turn will be less interested (and therefore, less likely to be able to recall it). When you select a subject that you know you will find engaging, then you will have a greater opportunity to remember all about it.

3. Concentrate to Remember

Concentration utilizes a great deal of brain power, and signals your mind to fix a process or subject into your long-term memory. Your attention must be undivided, and your focus must come naturally. If you are fatigued or distracted, then it is very difficult for your mind to commit information into memory. Set up a peaceful space without distraction when you are going through your learning process, and you will be more likely to recall the details you’ve learned.

4. Listening and Reading Aren’t the Best Ways to Learn

When you are trying to learn and recall something, listening and reading pale in comparison to other forms of learning, like group discussions or teaching. In order to learn something well, you must be concentrating, and often we are struggling with the information we learn from simple hearing and seeing. Activities must be hands-on and, as humans, all of our best learning comes from making mistakes. So get as involved as possible in the process so that you can learn at your best.

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5. Calculate Recall Times

You’ve got to challenge your mind to recall what you’ve learned. This allows your memory to not only show you that it’s working but the process itself improves your ability to summon the information you’ve learned. According to the experts, there are a myriad of times that are best for when to try to recall. (One UCLA study argues that the best time to recall something is right before you are about to forget it!) The simplest solution: study again after one hour, and a third time after 24 hours. The argument is that you will lose what you’ve learned quickly, so study it again within an hour. Also, after a full day passes you are likely to forget the information if you do not review it. While this is a broad-yet-effective solution for the recall problem, there is a better way.

SuperMemo.com houses a calculator that determines the best time to test your memory recall. Basically, a computer program figures out the moment that you’re about to forget something, and challenges you to recall it – precisely in that moment. Warning! The user interface is stuck in the nineties and the material may seem a little kooky. But I assure you, if you want to become a memory machine, this site has exactly what you need. (For more information, read this Wired article about the site’s creator, Piotr Wozniak.)

6. Take Breaks

Break up your learning, and give your body & mind time to relax. You should pepper twenty minute breaks throughout your study time, with a long break in the middle for a meal. Ideally, learning should be done on a cycle. Unfortunately everyone is different, so there is no magic number of minutes or hours that you should study. On average, an individual can remain focused on a task for about 45 minutes, so this is a good number to start with. For some, the length of your study time may be even longer. As you go through your process, pay attention to mental and physical cues to fine tune the length of your learning time (i.e. mind wandering, fidgeting, etc.). Adjust your study time accordingly.

7. Study Before Bed & After Waking

The best time to learn – or review information that you’ve learned – is just before you go to sleep and right when you wake up. Before you go to bed and right after you wake up, your brain secretes chemicals that are designed to make your memory more concrete. At other times of the day, the mind is continually refreshing the contents of your short-term memory (causing you to forget things). Also during the day, your mind is overloaded with constant information, so there is not much room for anything new.

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8. Scrutinize, Connect, and Elaborate

Learning is not a static activity. Your brain is trying to make connections between the information you are learning and what you already know. So look deeper at the processes and make connections. For example, if you are learning about airflow and Bernoulli’s principle, compare your existing knowledge of laminar flow in water to further cement the new info you are learning. Similarly, by examining the processes of a task, or the details of the information, you allow your brain to have a better grasp of what you learn. Again, don’t just look at the facts and figures. Develop a working knowledge of the details and the process, thereby providing your brain with a framework for your learning. Moreover, when you connect the information with that which you already know, then your mind will remember the particular similarities within the processes.

9. Teach What You’ve Learned

Teachers make mistakes. When they fail or make a mistake, they’ve got to learn how to correct the mistake. And mistakes are good. Research shows that when you make a mistake whilst teaching, you must go back and check your work, which familiarizes you further with the processes of the task. Furthermore, when learning is hard, you are performing at your peak, and you are more likely to recall the information at a later time. Because teaching takes a great deal of concentration, your brain kicks your memory absorption into high gear. So teach what you’ve learned.

10. Force Recall

Everyone will tell you that flash cards are the best way to remember something. And they’re just about right. By forcing your brain to bring back what you learned through recall, your brain has to concentrate to get that information into your consciousness. Any kind of trivia game can help with this, provided that you don’t look at the answers – or Google it! – before you give your ability to recall a good college try.

11. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Repeating an activity, process, or detail can help you to recall it. If you incorporate what you want to remember into an everyday activity, you are exponentially more likely to remember it. Consider this example: put your doctor’s phone number into your password to access your computer (e.g., DoctorMark5236798). Should an emergency arise where you need to recall the number, you won’t have to go searching through the phone book. Essentially, by performing a task daily you’ll have no problem conjuring the information right when you need it.

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12. Stay Healthy

Eat right and stay in shape – your mental health depends on it. Whenever you are famished or dehydrated, your mind can meander into Never Never Land, or else it can propel itself into panic-mode out of hunger. Therefore, maintain a steady diet. Avoid foods that are high in sugar as they will cause you to crash. Consuming too many calories can make you feel sluggish, so stay away from processed foods. Instead, eat plenty of produce and lean meats to keep your brain healthy. Exercise regularly as well. A good cardiovascular workout improves your blood flow and your immune system, which helps to restore your mental energy for more learning.

13. Reflect Upon What You’ve Learned

Spend just 15 minutes reflecting on what you learned at the end of the day. This will boost your confidence in your learning process as you are recalling the information. Your process will be further edified: you will be eager to get back into learning the next day, putting more effort into your activities and what you learn.

Memory is fallible, as I stated earlier. Do you recall what I asked you to remember at the start? Perhaps you do but maybe you forgot. Scrolling to the top to reread it is easy enough right now but you might not always have that luxury. If you incorporate these tricks into your learning habits, you will see a marked improvement in your ability to recall what you’ve learned.

Featured photo credit: By Cawpwoa (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons via commons.wikimedia.org

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Last Updated on May 20, 2019

How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

Time.

When you think of this construct, where do you see your time being spent?

As William Shakespeare famously wrote “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me…”

Have you used your time wisely? Are you where you want to be?

Or do you have unfinished goals to attain… places you want to be, things you still need to do?

The hard truth is, that time once passed cannot be replaced–which is why it is common to hear people say that one should not squander time doing nothing, or delay certain decisions for later. More often than not, the biggest blocker from reaching our goals is often inaction – which is essentially doing nothing, rather than doing something. 

There are many reasons why we may not do something. Most often it boils down to adequate time. We may feel we don’t have enough time, or that it’s never quite the right time to pursue our goals.

Maybe next month, or maybe next year…

And, before you know it, the time has passed and you’re still no where near achieving those goals you dream about. This inaction often leads to strong regret once we look at the situation through hindsight. So, take some time now to reflect on any goal(s) you may have in mind, or hidden at the back of your mind; and, think about how you can truly start working on them now, and not later.

So, how do you start?

Figure Out Your Purpose (Your Main Goal)


The first important step is to figure out your purpose, or your main goal.

What is it that you’re after in life? And, are there any barriers preventing you from reaching your goal? These are good questions to ask when it comes to figuring out how (and for what purpose) you are spending your time.

Your purpose will guide you, and it will ensure your time spent is within the bounds of what you actually want to accomplish.

A good amount of research has been done on how we as humans develop and embrace long-term and highly meaningful goals in our lives. So much so, that having a purpose has connections to reduced stroke, and heart attack. It turns out, our desire to accomplish goals actually has an evolutionary connection–especially goals with a greater purpose to them. This is because a greater purpose often helps both the individual, and our species as a whole, survive.

Knowing why it is you’re doing something is important; and, when you do, it will be easier to budget your time and effort into pursuing after those milestones or tasks that will lead to the accomplishment of your main goal.

Assess Your Current Time Spent

Next comes the actual time usage. Once you know what your main goal is, you’ll want to make the most of the time you have now. It’s good to know how you’re currently spending your time, so that you can start making improvements and easily assess what can stay and what can go in your day to day routine.

For just one day, ideally on a day when you’d like to be more productive, I encourage you to record a time journal, down to the quarter hour if you can manage. You may be quite surprised at how little things—such as checking social media, answering emails that could wait, or idling at the water cooler or office pantry —can add up to a lot of wasted time.

To get you started, I recommend you check out this quick self assessment to assess your current productivity: Want To Know How Much You’re Getting Done In A Day?

Tricks to Tackle Distractions

Once you’ve assessed how you’re currently spending your time, I hope you won’t be in for too big of a shock when you see just how big of an impact distractions and time wasters are in your life.

Every time your mind wanders from your work, it takes an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to get into focus again. That’s almost half an hour of precious time every time you entertain a distraction!

Which is why it’s important to learn how to focus, and tackle distractions effectively. Here’s how to do it:

1. Set Time Aside for Focusing

One way to stay focused is to set focused sessions for yourself. During a focused session, you should let people know that you won’t be responding unless it’s a real emergency.

Set your messaging apps and shared calendars as “busy” to reduce interruptions. Think of these sessions as one on one time with yourself so that you can truly focus on what’s important, without external distractions coming your way.

2. Beware of Emails

Emails may sound harmless, but they can come into our inbox continuously throughout the day, and it’s tempting to respond to them as we receive them. Especially if you’re one to check your notifications frequently.

Instead of checking them every time a new notification sounds, set a specific time to deal with your emails at one go. This will no doubt increase your productivity as you’re dealing with emails one after the other, rather than interrupting your focus on another project each time an email comes in.

Besides switching off your email notifications so as not to get distracted, you could also install a Chrome extension called Block Site that helps to stop Gmail notifications coming through at specific times, making it easier for you to manage these subtle daily distractions.

3. Let Technology Help

As much as we are getting increasingly distracted because of technology, we can’t deny it’s many advantages. So instead of feeling controlled by technology, why not make use of disabling options that the devices offer?

Turn off email alerts, app notifications, or set your phone to go straight to voicemail and even create auto-responses to incoming text messages. There are also apps like Forrest that help to increase your productivity by rewarding you each time you focus well, which encourages you to ignore your phone.

4. Schedule Time to Get Distracted

Just as important as scheduling focus time, is scheduling break times. Balance is always key, so when you start scheduling focused sessions, you should also intentionally pen down some break time slots for your mind to relax.

This is because the brain isn’t created to sustain long periods of focus and concentration. The average attention span for an adult is between 15 and 40 minutes. After this time, your likelihood of distractions get stronger and you’ll become less motivated.

So while taking a mental break might seem unproductive, in the long run it makes your brain work more efficiently, and you’ll end up getting more work done overall.

Time is in Your Hands

At the end of the day, we all have a certain amount of time to go all out to pursue our heart’s desires. Whatever your goals are, the time you have now, is in your hands to make them come true.

You simply need to start somewhere, instead of allowing inaction waste your time away, leaving you with regret later on. With a main goal or purpose in mind, you can be on the right track to attaining your desired outcomes.

Being aware of how you spend your time and learning how to tackle common distractions can help boost you forward in completing what’s necessary to reach your most desired goals.

So what are you waiting for? 

Featured photo credit: Aron Visuals via unsplash.com

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