We all use different strategies to remember ideas, concepts, facts and things we need to retain. Remembering is a critical part of our learning experience. Information process, storage and recall encourage purposeful learning.
But the brain doesn’t store everything we want or need for future use. It’s selective and tends to remember information that forms a memorable pattern.
Things you learned recently can be particularly difficult to remember — because they haven’t yet taken root in your mind.
This is why it’s imperative to have a fundamental understanding of how the brain stores and recalls useful information so that you can leverage the right techniques to help you remember almost everything you learn.
The brain has only so much storage space in your lifetime — it needs to make room for new, useful things every day. Think about how much unnecessary information you would have stored in your brain from birth if it didn’t get rid of the less important details.
“Forgetting allows us to prioritize. Anything irrelevant to our survival will take up wasteful cognitive space if we assign it the same priority as events critical to our survival”, writes John Medina in his book, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work.
In fact, forgetting follows a simple pattern — we forget much of what we read, watch, think, and encounter directly in the world.
Whilst the brain does everything it can to protect itself and age well, our lifestyle also affects its ability to store and recall. “A Harvard study showed that people who eat more saturated fat (found in meat and dairy products) do worse on memory tests than those who eat less,” reports WebMD.
Better food choices can protect our brains as well as regular exercise and sleep — which consolidates information and helps us remember better. You can improve your memory by deliberately re-exposing yourself to the information more elaborately.
How Do You Avoid Losing 90% Of What You’ve Learned? Repeat to Remember
Zig Ziglar once said:
“Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.”
Whilst aging affects our memory, there’s a lot we can still do to help us remember more when we choose to learn.
Repetition has been a memorization skill for ages. The right kind of repetition can do wonders for your memory. Not so long ago before smartphones became popular, when you wanted to remember a phone number, you’d repeat it to yourself several times until you got the whole number dialed.
People learn or remember better by repeating things or getting exposed to information multiple times. Others repeat particular steps or processes deliberately a number of times or even years to become better at certain skills. Repetition is critical to most types of learning.
If information is important and rehearsed or reviewed on a regular basis, but at gradually lengthening intervals, it moves to another part of the brain to be stored in the long-term memory. With time, it becomes permanent.
John Richards of Richards on the Brain, explains:
“The more the neural connections are activated by the stimulation that practice brings, the more dendrites grow to strengthen the connections between the neurons. When the brain perceives information repeated in multiple ways, there is a “priming” process that makes “encoding” of that information more efficient.”
Repeated exposure to ideas, processes, specific steps, and concepts in specifically timed intervals is one of the most effective ways to commit information to the brain.
Every time you learn something new and repeat the process, you are reinforcing the new skill or habit in your mind and making it easier to remember or retrieve it. Take your time. Don’t hurry the process.
When you hear or read something once, you don’t really learn it — at least not well enough to store the new information permanently. It may inspire you for a few hours, but then you forget it and move to the next one.
By rereading chapters of your favorite book or listening to a podcast you didn’t comprehend the first time, you’re cementing the new knowledge in your mind. It’s a process called spaced repetition — repeating intake of what you are trying to retain over a period of time.
Spaced repetition leverages the spacing effect, a memory phenomenon that describes how our brains learn better when we separate out information over time. To reinforce new information and ideas or make it easier to remember, make time to jot down what you remember.
Daniel Coyle explains in his book, The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills:
“….closing the book and writing a summary forces you to figure out the key points (one set of reaches), process and organize those ideas so they make sense (more reaches), and write them on the page (still more reaches, along with repetition). The equation is always the same: More reaching equals more learning.”
You don’t have to write a long summary to benefit from the process. You can use bullet points to remember the main points/arguments/take-aways. Once you are done, put the book down for a week, and when you pick it back up, reread all of your notes or highlights to consolidate the ideas even further.
An even better approach is to force yourself to jot something down when you are halfway through the content. Psychologists call it the “testing effect”. When you keep trying to remember a piece of information, you interrupt the forgetting process and help cement the information in your brain.
People learn by repeating things. Better learning is a repetition process. Every time we repetitively access something we already know, we increase the memory’s stored value. Forgetting allows us to prioritize what’s important — if you want to remember, remember to repeat.
This article originally appeared on Medium.