How To Retain Information Quickly and Forget Less

By Ful Belin / December 17, 2020
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Forgetting is a crucial mechanism for our brains. It helps us heal from traumas, pains, and bad experiences. It helps us to move on. Likewise, forgetting is needed due to the storage capacity of our brain. We generally forget things so we can use the space effectively for more important information. It can be said that our memory is designed to be this way. Many scientists believe that the biological goal of our memory is not to preserve information but make decisions. Our brain needs to make a distinction between what is important and what is not and then act accordingly.

Even though forgetting is useful and very much needed, many times it obstructs our lives. We can’t recall the names of the people we met, the things we forget to buy in the supermarket or sometimes very important information for our careers. This confusion in our brains is the result of storing the information in short term memory instead of long term. 

We have quite limited short-term memory which can store information for about 30 seconds. Our working memory, however, actively stores information and holds on to it. Working memory holds information that has little or moderate pieces of importance. When we forget to buy things from the supermarket, it is the result of working memory’s decision. 

Lastly, the process of converting short-term memories into long-term ones is called memory consolidation. By the process of consolidation, our brain creates a neural map to retrieve memory when it is needed. But how can we tell our brains to specifically store what we want and be sure that it will retrieve it back? Well, there are some ways to move the information we learned from short-term memory to long-term.

Virtual Memory Palace

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Josh Foer is a journalist who used to forget things as many of us do. His memory was not bad, but also not spectacular. Therefore, his decision to attend the U.S.A Memory Championship was shocking, but the most striking part was he actually became the champion in 2006 and also set a new U.S.A record in the “speed cards” event by memorizing a deck of 52 cards in 1 minute and 40 seconds.

Constructing a memory palace was his key to taste the glory of remembering. A memory palace is a familiar place you create in your mind. Before you create, it is important that you should know this place at least enough to walk around. Then one by one you place things you have to remember in bizarre situations. For example, let’s say you have to buy things from the supermarket, some eggs, vegetables, soy sauce and the new issue of People magazine… it does not matter. 

Imagine yourself in front of the house and then suddenly you see eggs on your walls and windows. Some nasty kids threw them for fun. While swearing, you open the door and enter the living room. In the living room, there is Jennifer Aniston reading a People magazine. Then you walk into your kitchen and see a carrot spraying soy sauce on broccoli. The broccoli says it burns, but the corn is laughing so much that they spill to the floor.

This is an example I made in a short time, you can create very different scenarios in your head.

Mnemonics

Mnemonics are very good reminders you can use to remember pieces of information. It aids the retention of information in many ways. You can create songs based on your information, or remember chunks using their initials to create words.

I used to create songs to remember things such as the correct prefixes of words such as illicit, dissimilarity, nonresident, etc… It is great to use initials too, there are websites that create sentences using the initials of your information.

For remembering a name you can use mnemonics similar to their name. For example, if you want to remember the name Mark Comerford you can imagine a dog ‘bark’ing and for the surname, you can imagine an early comer to a party driving a ford. 

Connections and Associations Of Information

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Looking for connections to group information is facilitative as well. If you need baking soda, eggs, and chocolate chips just think of ingredients for a cookie. Linking can be utilized for learning concepts as well. In positive sciences, there are concepts both used in chemistry and physics. By making correlations between them you can consolidate the information.

Also, your pieces of information do not have to be linked meaningfully to each other. You just have to group them in a way that is meaningful to you.

Repeating Makes It Perfect

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Hermann Ebbinghaus studied the time of forgetting by testing himself for nonsense syllables such as “WID” and “ZOF” again and again on several time periods. After recording his results, he plotted them on a graph which is known as the forgetting curve.

One of his key conclusions from the graph was the importance of repetition. In 24 hours, we generally forget 80%of things we have learned. By re-evaluating the information in multiple time periods, we make it move to our long-term memory.

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Be an Active Reader

Asking questions while reading benefits the clarification of the subject and it engages us with the topic more. The technique SQ3R is easy to use. It has five strategies: survey, question, read, recite, and review. 

Survey: Read the headings, bolded texts, and charts before you read the whole text. Try to initialize the meaning of the topic and scan the pages a little.

Question: Generate questions about what you are going to read such as what is it about.

Read: Read and look for the answers to your questions. This will help you while focusing.

Recite: Make notes about your answers and recite or rehearse your conclusions.

Review: Review the text and turn back to the questions you have answered.

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Ful Belin

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