30 Oct 2018

By Morey Stettner

You read reports, review documents and peruse online posts. But moments later, you forget almost everything you just took in.

Learning a new fact is half the battle. You also have to find a way to remember it before it skips away forever.

When you’re busy or distracted, retaining what you read gets even harder. To boost your memory for critical information:

Stop and reflect.

If you’re rushing to read something, you may figure it’s better to keep going without interruption. So you aim to get through the whole document and finish it in one sitting.

That’s an admirable goal, but it’s misguided if you want to retain the content. Despite your best efforts to concentrate, you may lose your grasp of the material.

“When you’ve just read something that you want to remember, look away and reflect on it,” said Roddy Roediger, a professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis. “It’s more of an effort than just reading, but it really helps.”

Repeat, then repeat. 

Just as students do drills or exercises to memorize key facts before a test, you can increase your retention by repeating vital information. If you can wait awhile in between repetitions, that’s even better.P

“People drop things too quickly,” said Roediger, co-author of “Make It Stick.” He warns that even if you’ve repeated something once or twice in the hours after you’ve read it, you may not have captured it for good.

He recommends repeating it “over long-stage, spaced intervals” to keep the information fresh. Reinforcing it every week or two helps seal it in your brain.

Create a catchy word or phrase.

If you need to retain a series of items, devise a catchphrase or slogan that doubles as a mnemonic device. For example, some people remember the five elements of effective goal setting with “smart” (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound).

“Acronyms work great if you can make them up and remember them easily,” Roediger said.

Remove distractions.

Regardless of how well you try to focus, it’s harder to retain what you read if you’re surrounded by diversions. The ping of your phone can derail your concentration, and even soft background music or a photo on your desk might redirect your thoughts away from the content at hand.

“When I want to remember what I read, I put myself in a barren room,” Roediger said. “No computer. Nothing on the walls to distract.”

Make connections.

In isolation, it’s tough to retain stray facts. But if you can tie them to something memorable, they are more likely to stick.

“The more connections you’ve created, the better off you are remembering something,” said Danny Oppenheimer, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “Look for how you can make it personally relevant to you. Put it in context of what you already know.”

If you want to remember an event that occurred on a certain date, for instance, connect it to something else that happened on that date, such as your child’s birthday.

Prioritize what counts.

As you’re reading, keep asking yourself, “What’s the key thing I need to know?” Rivet your attention on the most valuable information you seek.

“Otherwise, seductive details can be really tempting,” Oppenheimer said. A juicy tidbit that has little to do with what you need to know can prove alluring, crowding out your ability to digest what’s truly important.

Read the full article here.
This content was originally published by Investors Business Daily. Original publishers retain all rights. It appears here for a limited time before automated archiving. By Investors Business Daily

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