Remember cramming for a final exam? Reading and studying for hours trying to memorize the answers to the questions that you thought might appear on the next day’s final? Then the next day, as soon as you finished it, what you forced yourself to remember the night before would slowly start to float away like a light blown feather on a soft gentle breeze. Leaving only a vague memory of its existence.
For me personally, my ability for cramming and remembering the information contained within (at least until the next day) is what got me through school. I was very good at it! But like most of us who used this popular technique back then — in reality we weren’t really learning anything. Very little (if anything) was retained.
To focus on technique is like cramming your way through school. You sometimes get by, perhaps even get good grades, but if you don’t pay the price day in and day out, you’ll never achieve true mastery of the subjects you study or develop an educated mind. — Stephen Covey
So what is the right way to learn? How can we read and then process the information so it sticks with us long-term and are there proven tricks of the trade that will help us accomplish this? Well — I’m glad you asked!
RETAINING WHAT YOU READ (What Works For Me)
— Make sure what your learning is factually based!
The rise of social media has enabled anyone and everyone with access to give their personal opinions on — well, most everything. This has led to a plethora of incorrect, misinterpreted even intended falsification of information on the web. Checking your facts first should always be your first priority!
Read some different even contrasting opinions on the same subject before fully committing to the contents you’ve just read. Before mentally absorbing it and embedding it in your memory make sure what the author is saying is based on solid facts, on research, and current scientific know-how. Because…
If your Learning falsehoods, you might as well not be learning at all!
Yet, keep an open mind! Not everything you read will fit in nicely with your current belief system. However, this doesn’t automatically make them wrong. Embracing new ideas, theories and explanations are all part of growing intellectually as a human being and part of the reason to learn new things to begin with.
Sitting in front of a bright screen and trying to focus while the kids are running around tugging on your sleeve or your phone keeps interrupting you signaling messages is no way to learn something new. Chances of properly absorbing what you’ve just read is pretty much zero.
So goes for the times when you have other, perhaps more important things on your mind. Have you ever had to re-read a sentence or paragraph over again, maybe even a few times because you were thinking of something else at the time?
So yes — environment and the happenstance of your focus can play a big role in your ability to absorb what your reading.
Try and read (learn) in a quiet distraction free environment. Turn off your phone and be prepared to focus. To gain any sort of understanding there needs to be some state of mental focus and preparedness.
TEACHING YOURSELF TO FOCUS
Unlike cramming for an exam, most of us read for pleasure, entertainment or quick information. Online, we click on a catchy or interesting title and scroll through the contents quickly only stopping to read word for word what catches our interest. That done, we’re quickly off to another link and the process repeats itself. Obviously this is no-way to properly absorb what we’ve just read.
Teaching yourself to absorb the content of what your reading is a learned behavior. It comes with practice and repetition. To get you there, try reading what strikes you as interesting at first. The more interesting and relevant we find a read (book, or online article), the more likely we are to remember its contents in the future.
This will also help motive you to want to learn other things about that subject and generate a mood for reading in general. Yet reading what interests you is easy. Reading what does not, though as important, is much more challenging. In order to make this a repetitive habit, one must first make it an intention.
To help in achieving this, make it a point to leave what interests you during your reading session (or after) and choose reading about something you have less interest in. Try giving it the same focus as you did with your reads of interest. Then, choose something you have no interest in at all. Give the read a proper chance even if perhaps you initially find it boring. Again, like all the others, stay focused and read word for word the contents.
Once you become accustomed to slowing your reading down overall and avoiding rushing through it quickly, the more your focus and ability to absorb what you’ve read long-term will become enhanced. Now, at least you have a chance of remembering what you’ve just read.
But it doesn’t end there!
NOTE: The reading steps of things your less interested in, then have no interest in at all, is not just to get you to remain focused when reading in general. It’s also to help you increase your overall knowledge by introducing a wider variety of different informative subjects. To become more “well-rounded” if you will. — After all…
“If you only read what interests you — how will you learn anything new?”
Once you explore other topics, you will be surprised to find that your interests are not so narrow. This will then lead you to explore a wider variety of topics that you may of never given a second thought to before. Then not only will you be increasing your overall knowledge but may end up finding something new that intrigues you.
Once you become proficient in absorbing what you read by slowing down and focusing, you will find that over time, your reading speed will naturally begin to increase again. A Good Sign!
However, be aware of getting to the point where you’re starting to loose content memory and slow it back down again until you reach that optimum speed that is just right for you.
The more often you read, and the more variety of subjects, the better the benefits. Scientifically speaking — exercising your brain is as important as exercising your body. Cognitive stimulation such as reading, strengthens memory and improves overall focus and concentration.
After you’ve just read something (and before reading something new), stop and ask yourself if you really understand the concept of what you’ve just read. If not, read it again! Then when your reading session is done — try teaching or explaining what you’ve just read to somebody else. Your mate, a friend, a parent? If you can do this comprehensibly, your on your way to fully understanding and retaining what you’ve read.
The process of learning, also consists of reflection and feedback. Think about what you have just read and how it may reflect on your life or in life in general. If you read something and you don’t make time to think about it, it becomes less important to you and thus more easily discarded.
Most of us, when faced with a new or complicated looking word we’ve come upon while reading, pass right over it thinking we have a sense of its meaning and that’s good enough. But in reality, we’re just passing up another opportunity to learn something new.
MEANING AND DEFINITIONS — When online, I keep a separate tab open linked to a dictionary or even better a thesaurus. And every word I’m not sure about, I look it up. It only takes a few seconds and will not only improve your understanding of what your reading, but in time will improve your overall vocabulary as well.
MAKING NOTES — For years now, while reading a non-fiction book geared to my interest — I’ve made it a habit of making notes specific to its contents. This enables me to revisit the finer points of the book later without having to reread it again in its entirety.
Also (helpful Hint), science says writing a summary of what you’ve read, helps embed it in your memory and revisiting this information on occasion will help keep this connection strong and long lasting.
Personally, I use OneNote. And because I have the contents of the books I’ve read subtitled and categorized as per topic (ie, consciousness or evolution) I can later quickly scan for what I’m looking for on any specific topic. — Very Handy Dandy Indeed!
MEMORY AND EXERCISE — We’ve all experienced times when mentally we seem to be in a fog, our focus and concentration out of whack. Whether your struggling to come up with new ideas for your writing or are just experiencing trouble focusing while learning, a little exercise may be just what the doctor ordered.
According to science, exercise improves our cognitive functionality. Exercise (even a brisk 45 min. walk) triggers the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and epinephrine that are essential for memory formation. So reading after exercise will give your memory a natural boost. It’s also ideal for sparking new ideas when it comes to your writing.
EXERCISE AND WRITING — Whether your a blogger, an author or trying to put some words together for a presentation or wedding speech, ideas can sometimes be hard to come by. We’ve all experienced writers block at one time or another. In instances like these, I find that a quick jog or leisurely walk will most times get the creative juices flowing again. Sometimes, just a quick exercise break can do wonders to clear your mind.
It can also help spring new ideas, bridge what your trying to say into fresh new ways of saying it. Sometimes a little break and a quick walk outdoors is all that’s needed to get your creativity back on track.
Science says your brain needs to be engaged, to be constantly learning in order to keep functioning at its peak performance. Reading is a proven means of accomplishing this. Not the one and only means, but a proven way to keep your brain-neurons firing and making new connections.
Learning to focus while reading, will greatly enhance your chances of retaining what you’ve read and help embed what you’ve learned into your long-term memory. Revisiting this information on occasion will help keep this connection strong and long lasting.
Exercising your brain in this way, will not only improve your overall knowledge, but help keep your Brain young, up to date and firing on all cylinders.
Because “use it or lose it” — means exercising your Brain as well!
“Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” ― John Locke
“Think before you speak. Read before you think.” ― Fran Lebowitz,