How to Remember Anything You Want to Remember, Backed by Science

So what can you do if you need remember something important?

Adam Grant took a deep dive into memory research to found a simple answer. (Adam is an organizational psychologist, best-selling author, host of the superb podcast WorkLife, co-founder of Givitas, and nice enough to provide a blurb for my book.)

This is Adam’s three-step process to remember anything you really want to remember.

1. Quiz yourself.

“Don’t reread stuff, or highlight it, or do any of the things you probably did in college,” Adam says. “What you want to do is quiz yourself.”

Partly that’s due to the additional context you naturally create. If you quiz yourself and answer incorrectly, not only are you more likely to remember the right answer after you look it up, but you’ll also remember the fact 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.)

So don’t just reread or rehearse. Quiz yourself. If you’re learning a presentation, quiz yourself on what comes after your intro. Quiz yourself by listing the four main points you want to make. Quiz yourself on sales estimates, or key initiatives, or results from competitive analysis.

“What that forces you to do,” Adam says, “is practice retrieving the information, which makes it stickier and easier to find yourself.”

Quizzing yourself will help you gain confidence in how much you know. And will help you more quickly learn the things you don’t know — at least not yet.

2. Summarize and share with someone else.

At times maybe those who can’t do really do teach, but research shows it’s definitely true that those who teach learn faster and retain more. “Then,” Adam says, “you have this memory of actually discussing it. And you bring it to life.”

Even just thinking that you’ll need to teach someone can make you learn more effectively. According to the researchers, “When teachers prepare to teach, they tend to seek out key points and organize information into a coherent structure. Our results suggest that students also turn to these types of effective learning strategies when they expect to teach.”

The act of teaching also helps improve knowledge. Ask anyone who has trained someone else whether they also benefited from the experience.

They definitely did.

3. Connect what you just learned to experiences you previously had.

Associative learning is the process of relating something new to something you already know — not in a Pavlov’s dog kind of way, but by learning the relationship between seemingly unrelated things.

In simple terms, whenever you say, “Oh, that makes sense: This is basically like that,” you’re using associative learning. 

Need to learn something new? Try to associate it, at least in part, with something you already know. Then you have to learn only the differences or nuances. And you’ll be able to apply greater context — which will help with memory storage and retrieval — to the new information you learn.

All of which means you’ll need to learn a lot less.

And science says that will result in your being able to learn more quickly — and retain a lot more.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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