At the end of the day, do you feel smarter? Yet how much time do you spend reading blog posts, scanning articles, and rushing through ebooks to get the highlights? It’s likely this time is wasted. Even if you take time to savor a well-written, hands-on book, probably the only thing you will remember is that you enjoyed what you read.
Force-feeding your brain information will not make you smarter, wiser or more productive. You can only stuff so many bits of knowledge into your short-term memory before other pieces start dropping out. Even if you choose a few morsels as worthy of recall, you have to take specific, conscious steps to transfer what you learn into long-term memory or they won’t stick.
First, know this – if the information is good for you to know but not surprising, funny, fascinating, beautifully visual, shocking, challenging, or even offensive you will not retain it. You are wasting your time, surfing pages for no sustainable reason.
There must be an emotional spark to stimulate the consolidation and transfer of data. Not enough brain parts are activated unless there is novelty; the brain can’t remember when it is bored. The words will go into your brain and bounce out as if on a trampoline within 48 hours or less, often much less.
As a child, you had to put rote and mind-numbing facts to music or into a jingle to make it fun enough to remember. You still need to entertain your brain to make it work effectively.
If you know what you are reading will be useful to remember, there are other ways to help integrate the information into your memory bank making you wiser over time. Here are a few techniques you can try:
- Visualize how you will use the information. Whenever you visualize an activity, the same brain areas light up as if you were performing live. If you read communication or relationship tips, see yourself using them in an upcoming interaction. If you read an article about how people behave in another country, see yourself traveling there and honoring their customs or trying them out for yourself. The movies you create in your brain will be easier to recall than words on a page.
- Transfer the key learning points into a story and tell it to others. It is likely that the information that caught your attention relates to something you have experienced in the past; most items that catch your eye either confirm or challenge what you know. Think of a time in your life where a lesson you learned, or should have learned, relates to the points you want to remember. Write the highlights of the experience into a story that includes 1) a brief setup, 2) the conflict or surprising event that led to the learning moment, and 3) a summary of the point you want to remember. Then tell the story to a number of willing friends.
- Teach a a skill or concept to others in an engaging, interactive way. A good way to learn a complex process, concept or skill is to plan and teach it to others. This activity uses many areas of your brain, consolidating and solidifying the material for permanent use in the future.
- Take full breaks and get a good night’s sleep. The brain needs processing time to transfer data from short- to long-term memory. Be sure you take real breaks during the day. Don’t just steal moments to check your email. Go for a walk and breathe in some fresh air. Find a friend to talk to about a movie you saw or share your plans for the weekend. Reflect on some pictures that make you smile. And most importantly, make sure you get a full night’s sleep. That’s when your brain does its best processing work.
The brain needs both stimulation and rest to create and strengthen neural connections. You can continue learning and growing smarter the rest of your life if you do more than just cram your brain with words.