A lot of people are taking the opportunity now to learn a new skill. However, given the hubbub of your everyday work and life responsibilities, you may let your new learnings slip through the cracks, wasting the time and effort you spent educating yourself. Making certain adjustments to your learning strategy will ensure that the new knowledge you’re acquiring sticks. Whether you’re studying a language, developing a new hobby, or taking a course here are seven tips for remembering what you’re learning.
1. Understand the science of memory
There are three steps that your brain conducts to achieve a better memory: encoding, storage, and recall.
Encoding is when your brain consciously perceives the sounds, images, physical feelings, and other sensory details when it processes a piece of information. If you attach factual knowledge or meaning to this piece of information, it’s called semantic encoding. When we attach meaning or factual information to a sensory input we’re better able to remember them.
In the storage stage, your neurons send signals and engage with each other to make either temporary or long-lasting connections. Short-term is when your brain temporarily stores information, and long-term memories are those that you hold on to for a few days or many years.
In the recall stage, your brain revisits the nerve pathways created when your memory was formed. Techniques like flashcards or reviewing notes are ways to recall information and strengthen connections and memories. Essentially, when you learn a new skill, associating meaning or fact and repeatedly recalling information are ways to make your new learnings stick in your mind.
2. Accommodate your personal learning style
Research shows that people have different learning styles: visual, auditory, read/write, and kinesthetic. You can find out your style through the VARK questionnaire. Visual learners work well with books, magazines, charts, graphs, and visual displays. Auditory learners process information the best when they can hear it spoken out loud. Read/write learners work best with traditional study methods like reading textbooks and taking extensive notes. Kinesthetic learners need movement and hands-on experiences with things like models to best retain information. Once you find out your learning style, you can tailor how you digest and retain information to the method that suits you best. For example, auditory learners can benefit from listening to podcasts or recording notes they read out loud. Kinesthetic learners might do better by creating movements to associate with new information.
3. Prioritize learning the newest information first, not the most important
Studies show that it can be more beneficial to commit information as soon as you learn it, rather than delaying it until after you learn something else. When you shift your focus from one piece of information to the next, you slow down your memory encoding for the first item you encountered. To build a stronger memory, a good question to ask yourself when you learn something new is “What can I do to remember this later?” Commit to each piece of information as it comes even if it’s just part of the journey towards your learning goal.
4. Organize your study space and block out specific time periods
Keep a space just for studying. It’s tempting to study on your bed, but when it’s also the place where you sleep and relax, your productivity can swiftly decline. Make sure the area is free from distractions like TV and games. To focus on studying smart, we recommend breaking up your learning times into smaller chunks of times, since your information retention abilities dwindle after 25-30 minutes. During break times, you can indulge in fun activities to reward yourself.
5. Have your cup of joe
Research shows that coffee can have a positive effect on memory consolidation and retention. In one study, participants ingested caffeine at different intervals and found that taking it after a learning task improved memory recall for up to 24 hours. Aside from just a morning cup, having a couple of coffees throughout the day can help you learn faster and retain more.
6. Stop skimping on sleep
You’re well aware that sleep is important, but it’s easy to de-prioritize it when you have a lot going on. However, when a lack of sleep makes you more forgetful and hinders your work performance it’s detrimental to your professional and personal life. Sleep is one of the most important elements for strong memory retention, and deprivation affects your ability to commit things to memory. Even a short nap can help improve memory recall, and napping is more feasible now that more employees are working from home. Napping pushes memories to the neocortex, which is more permanent storage, preventing them from being “overwritten.” Successful people end each day by preparing for the next day; we describe some evening rituals you can develop to wind-down and optimize your sleep periods.
7. Add “brain food” to your diet
Doctors recommend certain food types because research has suggested connections between diet and memory. The Mediterranean diet in particular has foods that are high in healthy unsaturated fats (olive oil, fish, and nuts), which have been linked to lower rates of dementia and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). This also means whole-grain bread and cereals, beans and nuts, limited red meat, and fruits and vegetables. Research has also indicated that consuming berries like strawberries and blueberries strengthen existing connections in the brain. Start incorporating berries and healthy fats and gauge how it improves your memory, concentration, and focus.
Gaining new abilities will not only impress your bosses and enhance your resume, but also boost your overall self-image. Adopting certain study and lifestyle habits will improve your ability to retain information. As you pursue new passions and proficiencies, optimizing your memory retention will be one of your most important keys to success.
Learn even more with our expert-led live and on-demand classes.