Train Your Brain to Remember Anything You Learn With This Simple, 20-Minute Habit

Not too long ago, a colleague and I were lamenting the process of growing older and the inevitable increasing difficulty of remembering things we want to remember. That becomes particularly annoying when you attend a conference or a learning seminar and find yourself forgetting the entire session just days later.

But then my colleague told me about the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, a 100-year-old formula developed by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, who pioneered the experimental study of memory. The psychologist’s work has resurfaced and has been making its way around college campuses as a tool to help students remember lecture material. For example, the University of Waterloo explains the curve and how to use it on the Campus Wellness website.

I teach at Indiana University and a student mentioned it to me in class as a study aid he uses. Intrigued, I tried it out too–more on that in a moment. The Forgetting Curve describes how we retain or lose information that we take in, using a one-hour lecture as the basis of the model. The curve is at its highest point (the most information retained) right after the one-hour lecture. One day after the lecture, if you’ve done nothing with the material, you’ll have lost between 50 and 80 percent of it from your memory.

By day seven, that erodes to about 10 percent retained, and by day 30, the information is virtually gone (only 2-3 percent retained). After this, without any intervention, you’ll likely need to relearn the material from scratch. Sounds about right from my experience. But here comes the amazing part–how easily you can train your brain to reverse the curve.


With just 20 minutes of work, you’ll retain almost all of what you learned.

This is possible through the practice of what’s called spaced intervals, where you revisit and reprocess the same material, but in a very specific pattern. Doing so means it takes you less and less time to retrieve the information from your long-term memory when you need it. Here’s where the 20 minutes and very specifically spaced intervals come in.

Ebbinghaus’s formula calls for you to spend 10 minutes reviewing the material within 24 hours of having received it (that will raise the curve back up to almost 100 percent retained again). Seven days later, spend five minutes to “reactivate” the same material and raise the curve up again. By day 30, your brain needs only two to four minutes to completely “reactivate” the same material, again raising the curve back up.

Thus, a total of 20 minutes invested in review at specific intervals and, voila, a month later you have fantastic retention of that interesting seminar. After that, monthly brush-ups of just a few minutes will help you keep the material fresh.


Here’s what happened when I tried it.

I put the specific formula to the test. I keynoted at a conference and was also able to take in two other one-hour keynotes at the conference. For one of the keynotes, I took no notes, and sure enough, just shy of a month later I can barely remember any of it.

For the second keynote, I took copious notes and followed the spaced interval formula. A month later, by golly, I remember virtually all of the material. And in case if you’re wondering, both talks were equally interesting to me–the difference was the reversal of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve.

So the bottom line here is if you want to remember what you learned from an interesting seminar or session, don’t take a “cram for the exam” approach when you want to use the info. That might have worked in college (although Waterloo University specifically advises against cramming, encouraging students to follow the aforementioned approach). Instead, invest the 20 minutes (in spaced-out intervals), so that a month later it’s all still there in the old noggin. Now that approach is really using your head.

Science has proven that reading can enhance your cognitive function, develop your language skills, and increase your attention span. Plus, not only does the act of reading train your brain for success, but you’ll also learn new things! The founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, said, “Reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.”

By: Scott Mautz

Source: Pocket

.

Critics:

Dr. John N. Morris is the director of social and health policy research at the Harvard-affiliated Institute for Aging Research. He believes there are three main guidelines you should follow when training your mind:

  1. Do Something Challenging: Whatever you do to train your brain, it should be challenging and take you beyond your comfort zone.
  2. Choose Complex Activities: Good brain training exercises should require you to practice complex thought processes, such as creative thinking and problem-solving.
  3. Practice Consistently: You know the saying: practice makes perfect! Dr. Morris says, “You can’t improve memory if you don’t work at it. The more time you devote to engaging your brain, the more it benefits.”
  4. If you’re looking for reading material, check out our guides covering 40 must-read books and the best books for entrepreneurs.
  5. Practice self-awareness. Whenever you feel low, check-in with yourself and try to identify the negative thought-loop at play. Perhaps you’re thinking something like, “who cares,” “I’ll never get this right,” “this won’t work,” or “what’s the point?” 
  6. Science has shown that mindfulness meditation helps engage new neural pathways in the brain. These pathways can improve self-observational skills and mental flexibility – two attributes that are crucial for success. What’s more, another study found that “brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators.”
  7. Brain Age Concentration Training is a brain training and mental fitness system for the Nintendo 3DS system.
  8. Queendom has thousands of personality tests and surveys. It also has an extensive collection of “brain tools”—including logic, verbal, spatial, and math puzzles; trivia quizzes; and aptitude tests
  9. Claiming to have the world’s largest collection of brain teasers, Braingle’s free website provides more than 15,000 puzzles, games, and other brain teasers as well as an online community of enthusiasts.

 

Neuroscience and a Dose of Emotional Intelligence Reveal a Simple Trick to Learn More With Less Effort

Neuroscience and a Dose of Emotional Intelligence Reveal a Simple Trick to Learn More With Less Effort

A producer for a television business show called and asked if I was available. He described the theme of the segment and asked if I had any ideas. I offered some possibilities.

“That sounds great,” he said. “We’re live in 30 minutes. And I need you to say exactly what you just said.”

“Ugh,” I thought. I’m not great at repeating exactly what I just said. So I started rehearsing.

Ten minutes later, he called to talk about a series he was developing. I almost asked him if we could postpone that conversation so I could use the time to keep rehearsing, but I figured since I had already run through what I would say two times, I would be fine.

Unfortunately, I was right. I was fine. Not outstanding. Not exceptional. Just … fine. My transitions were weak. My conclusion was more like a whimper than a mic drop. And I totally forgot one of the major points I wanted to make.

Which, according to Hermann Ebbinghaus, the pioneer of quantitative memory research, should have come as no surprise.

Ebbinghaus is best known for two major findings: the forgetting curve and the learning curve.

The forgetting curve describes how new information fades away. Once you’ve “learned” something new, the fastest drop occurs in just 20 minutes; after a day, the curve levels off.

Wikimedia Commons inline image

Wikimedia Commons

Yep: Within minutes, nearly half of what you’ve “learned” has disappeared.

Or not.

According to Benedict Carey, author of How We Learn, what we learn doesn’t necessarily fade; it just becomes less accessible. In my case, I hadn’t forgotten a key point; otherwise I wouldn’t have realized, minutes after, that I left it out. I just didn’t access that information when I needed it.

Ebbinghaus would have agreed with Carey: He determined that even when we think we’ve forgotten something, some portion of what we learned is still filed away.

Which makes the process of relearning a lot more efficient.

Suppose that the poem is again learned by heart. It then becomes evident that, although to all appearances totally forgotten, it still in a certain sense exists and in a way to be effective. The second learning requires noticeably less time or a noticeably smaller number of repetitions than the first. It also requires less time or repetitions than would now be necessary to learn a similar poem of the same length.

That, in a nutshell, is the power of spaced repetition.

Courtesy curiosity.com inline image

Courtesy curiosity.com

The premise is simple. Learn something new, and within a short period of time you’ll forget much of it. Repeat a learning session a day later, and you’ll remember more.

Repeat a session two days after that, and you’ll remember even more. The key is to steadily increase the time intervals between relearning sessions.

And — and this is important — to make your emotions work for you, not against you, forgive yourself for forgetting. To accept that forgetting — to accept that feeling like you aren’t making much progress — is actually a key to the process.

Why?

  • Forgetting is an integral part of learning. Relearning reinforces earlier memories. Relearning creates different context and connections. According to Carey, “Some ‘breakdown’ must occur for us to strengthen learning when we revisit the material. Without a little forgetting, you get no benefit from further study. It is what allows learning to build, like an exercised muscle.”
  • The process of retrieving a memory — especially when you fail — reinforces access. That’s why the best way to study isn’t to reread; the best way to study is to quiz yourself. If you test yourself and answer incorrectly, not only are you more likely to remember the right answer after you look it up, you’ll also remember that you didn’t remember. (Getting something wrong is a great way to remember it the next time, especially if you tend to be hard on yourself.)
  • Forgetting, and therefore repeating information, makes your brain assign that information greater importance. Hey: Your brain isn’t stupid.

So what should I have done?

While I didn’t have days to prepare, still. I could have run through my remarks once, taken a five-minute break, and then done it again.

Even after five minutes, I would have forgotten some of what I planned to say. Forgetting and relearning would have reinforced my memory since, in effect, I would have quizzed myself.

Then I could have taken another five-minute break, repeated the process, and then reviewed my notes briefly before we went live.

And I should have asserted myself and asked the producer if we could talk about the series he was developing later.

Because where learning is concerned, time is everything. Not large blocks of time, though. Not hours-long study sessions. Not sitting for hours, endlessly reading and rereading or practicing and repracticing.

Nope: time to forget and then relearn. Time to lose, and then reinforce, access. Time to let memories and connections decay and become disorganized and then tidy them back up again. Because information is only power if it’s useful. And we can’t use what we don’t remember.

Source: Neuroscience and a Dose of Emotional Intelligence Reveal a Simple Trick to Learn More With Less Effort | Inc.com

.

Critics:

Learning is the process of acquiring new understanding, knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, attitudes, and preferences. The ability to learn is possessed by humans, animals, and some machines; there is also evidence for some kind of learning in certain plants. Some learning is immediate, induced by a single event (e.g. being burned by a hot stove), but much skill and knowledge accumulate from repeated experiences. The changes induced by learning often last a lifetime, and it is hard to distinguish learned material that seems to be “lost” from that which cannot be retrieved.

Human learning starts at birth (it might even start before) and continues until death as a consequence of ongoing interactions between people and their environment. The nature and processes involved in learning are studied in many fields, including educational psychology, neuropsychology, experimental psychology, and pedagogy. Research in such fields has led to the identification of various sorts of learning.

For example, learning may occur as a result of habituation, or classical conditioning, operant conditioning or as a result of more complex activities such as play, seen only in relatively intelligent animals. Learning may occur consciously or without conscious awareness. Learning that an aversive event can’t be avoided nor escaped may result in a condition called learned helplessness.

There is evidence for human behavioral learning prenatally, in which habituation has been observed as early as 32 weeks into gestation, indicating that the central nervous system is sufficiently developed and primed for learning and memory to occur very early on in development.

References