I have had the opportunity to interact with different students about learning, and if there is one complaint that I get regularly, it is the challenge of always forgetting what they read. You are not alone. Psychologists refer to this as the “forgetting curve.” It is the mathematical formula that describes the rate at which information is forgotten after it is initially learned. Research suggests humans forget approximately 50% of what they learn within an hour and an average of 70% within 24 hours.
Do you now see that it is normal? It is simply nature taking its due course. As Jim Kwik says, when you forget or fail to remember something, do not see it as you being a failure or having a problem, but rather, view it as a failure to make a connection between what you’ve learned and what you already know, and with how you will use it in life.
For example, if you feel that something you’ve learned is valuable at the moment, but that you’ll never use it again, you are unlikely to create a memory of it. Similarly, if you learn something but have no greater reasoning as to why it is important to you or how it applies to your life or work, then it is likely that your brain will not retain the information.
It is totally normal to have a memory lapse: we are humans, not robots. But what if we respond to this lapse in memory with the attitude that “I have a bad memory,” or “I’m not smart enough to remember this,” then we negatively affect our ability to learn and grow. In other words, the belief we might develop in response to forgetting does far more damage than the lapse in memory. This kind of self-talk reinforces a limiting belief, rather than acknowledging the mistake and reacquiring the information.
This brings me to the tip that will help you never forget what you read: Ask Questions. Yes, questions are the answer.
Questions are the Answer
Have you ever needed something? Maybe you needed to buy a Red Volkswagen, for example. You’ve made enquires and you are just making last preparations to finally get the car. Suddenly, you begin to see Red Volkswagen everywhere. You go to the shopping mall to get foodstuff and you see one parked just in front. You are strolling through the park and you notice another zoom past you. You get to your house and you realise a neighbour living close has a Red Volkswagen, you never knew that before.
The question is, where did the Red Volkswagen come from? Did they just magically appear? Of course not. They were always there. But in the flood of stimuli, you had never paid attention to them before and once it broke through your awareness that you need to buy a Volkswagen, you started seeing them all over the place.
Have you had an experience like this? Maybe it was a specific kind of bag or outfit that ‘magically’ appeared everywhere.
What is happening here is the work of a part of your brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS), which filters out unnecessary information so that the important stuff gets through. This is because every second, your senses gather up to 11 million bits of information from the world around you, and if you tried to interpret and decipher all of them at once, you would be immediately overwhelmed. That is why the brain is primarily a deletion device, designed to keep information out. The conscious mind typically processes only 50 bits per second.
This is where the RAS comes in to help the brain ignore meaningless and repetitive stimuli and therefore, remain sensitive to other inputs. The RAS is also responsible for a number of functions, including sleep and behaviour modification.
When we understand how the RAS works, then we can use it to our advantage. One of the ways to guide the RAS is the questions we ask ourselves. These tell that part of our brain what is important to us.
You can compare this with how the algorithm of social media platforms works. Social media platform starts showing you more posts based on past expressed interest. The site you are on knows this because of what you clicked, liked, or watched before. It shows you more of what you express interest in and it hides the things you don’t.
Sometimes the answers we want are there, but we are not asking the right questions to shine a spotlight on them. Questions help direct our focus, which is very important if we are going to remember things and stop forgetting so easily. Because people typically don’t ask enough when they read, they compromise their focus, understanding, and retention. If you prepare your mind with the right kinds of questions, before you read, you’ll see answers (Red Volkswagen) everywhere.
Some questions you can ask to turn the knowledge you get into power are as follows:
How can I use this?
Why must I use this?
When will I use this?
When you can connect the dots between what you are learning now and what you already know, it becomes harder to forget.
What are your thoughts on the forgetting curve? What do you think about the tip of asking questions?