Information comes into our brain, passing through sensory memory and short-term memory, and into working memory. Working memory lasts about 80 minutes. If we do not give our brain a good reason to integrate information into our long-term memory, it fades away with working memory.
To integrate new information into long-term memory, we have to think about it. Learning requires two things to be effective:
- New information is repeatedly used, and;
- New information is connected to previous knowledge
So, if you want to retain what you read, you need to stop every so often and think about what you read. Repeat it. Summarize it. Challenge it. Identify patterns. Search for relationships to ideas you already know. Yell it to the heavens. Give those neurons a reason to make those dendrites grow. Associate it with powerful memories. Associate it with emotions.
Those last two can be done in a few different ways. Emotions can be a good way to make a memory easier to recall. Quick, name all seven of your seventh grade teachers. You probably can’t. You’ll easily name three or four and then struggle. Why? Well, look at the ones you remember. You remember the ones whose classes made you happy. You remember the ones whose classes made you angry. You don’t remember the ones that you haven’t associated with emotional long-term memories. Music can be a good memory jogger. I tested this, many years ago, by always listening to Tori Amos’ album Cornflake Girl while reading Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Today, if I think of either, memories of the other start to flow out of long term memory into working memory.
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