How many times has your mind been set ablaze by a profound insight from a book, podcast, or an article, only for the idea to fade before you could do anything with it?
When we hear or read something once, we don’t really learn it — at least not well enough for us to store the new information or allow it to change us. It may inspire us for a few hours, but then we forget it and return to our old habits.
In fact, forgetting follows a simple pattern — we forget much of what we read, watch, think, and encounter directly in the world.
Forgetting plays a positive role in the function of the brain. It can increase long-term retention, information retrieval and performance.
It’s human to forget.
Research shows that within just one hour if nothing is done with new information, most people will have forgotten about 50% of what they learned. After 24 hours, this amount increases to 70%, and if a week passes without that information being used, up to 90% of it could be lost.
To consolidate and commit ideas to your long-term memory, you have to do more than read a book every week or passively listen to an audiobook or podcast.
Use Spaced Repetition to Remember What You Read
By rereading chapters of your favourite 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.
When you read a book and really enjoy it, instead of putting it away, reread it again after a month, then again after three months, then again after six months, and then again after a year.
“If you’ve ever read a book a second time, you may have noticed that it’s an entirely different experience from the first time. It doesn’t feel redundant or repetitive. Instead, it feels like gaps are being filled in. Different details strike you as important. The points you do remember now have the benefit of context, and much of it seems entirely new,” argues David Cain of Raptitude.
Spaced repetition leverages the spacing effect, a memory phenomenon that describes how our brains learn better when we separate out information over time. Learning something new drives out old information if you don’t allow sufficient time for the new neural connection to solidify.
There are so many things competing for our attention every day. It’s only when you re-read something over and over that it manages to cut through the noise and your subconscious realizes “this is important.”
Given how many books you are likely to read in a given year, no matter how well you think you know the main ideas, there are always important details you will miss or forget. For many of my favorite books, I end up re-reading the most important chapters over and over again.
There are a number of different ways to go about this: You can read a book all the way through a second time, return to a book and just read a few chapters and passages or play an audiobook again to remind yourself of the powerful ideas you learned the first time.
Like listening to a song, the first time you read a book, you notice the general message. When you read it again, you appreciate it more. The more you engage with your favourite book, the more you take away from it. And you are more likely to take action on the information. ‘By doing it again, people get more out of it,’ says author Cristel Antonia Russell of American University.
Not every idea is truly important, but if it is, go back to it. Refresh your memory. Fill in the gaps. If it’s worth learning, it’s worth learning repeatedly.
Originally published on Medium.
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