Almost all of us forget things from time to time. As we get older, it also often becomes harder to remember things. However, have you ever known someone who seemed to remember even the most boring information, as if their minds were like a sponge? If you ask them how they do it, chances are that they won’t be able to answer, because they’ve never given it much thought. There is a secret to it, but it comes naturally to some people. The rest of humanity struggles, until they learn the secret of remembering what they learn.
This works for any topic and I learned the technique during the last week of an advanced psychology class in college. It is actually simple, but our professor purposely waited until late in the term to explain it, because it had greater impact that way.
Let’s start by explaining a bit about memory, as Dr. Naseth did those many years ago. Whether you are aware of it on a conscious level or not, everything you see, hear, feel, smell and taste is put into short term memory, every waking minute of every day. It is as if your mind is a giant tape recorder, recording everything brought in through your fives senses. Naturally, the majority of the information is garbage. This is the sort of information that would just clutter your long term memory if it was committed to permanent memory.
Our memory capacity isn’t limitless, even though we only use a small portion of our brain. Put in a more practical way, it isn’t likely to make a difference if you forget what every single sip of coffee you drink during the day tastes like, how hot it is and so forth. That would just be clutter if you were to remember it. So your mind makes a ‘memory dump’, discarding the information that isn’t likely to make any difference.
What is considered important and what your mind decides is garbage is primarily subjective, because it is the subconscious that is responsible for the sorting. The subconscious is where our emotions reside, so the sorting is subjective and arbitrary. This is also why you aren’t aware that the sorting is taking place, because we are usually not aware of our subconscious except in dreams. It is also important to understand that the subconscious has nothing to do with logical or rational thought. This is actually a key to this technique.
Things that interest you stir an emotional response. While this can be mild or intense, the emotion is all subconscious. Likewise, things that boor you also cause an emotional response. Here is where it gets interesting, though.The subconscious mind can influence the conscious mind. This is why you might react without much thought to something that stirs strong emotions. It works the other way around, too. The conscious mind can influence the subconscious. Again, remember that the conscious is where logic and reason reside and the subconscious is were the emotions and imagination are.
When the subconscious is doing its filtering for a memory dump, it really has no way of determining what is truly important and what isn’t. It relies on cues from the conscious. You aren’t likely to forget when you are supposed to get a paycheck because your conscious determines that it is important. The subconscious transfers that to long term memory, though probably not permanent memory, because the conscious told it that the paycheck was important. There might be an emotional response, too, but it is the conscious that has determined the importance. The subconscious simply files anything that is important to the conscious into long term memory.
How does this help?
If you are learning something and want to remember it, tell yourself that it is interesting and important. It doesn’t need to actually be interesting or important, because the subconscious doesn’t think rationally. It believes what it is told. If you tell yourself over and over that something is interesting and important, it is many times more likely to be retained.
You can make it even more likely, too. Remember that the short term memory records everything experienced by all five senses. The more of these senses that are involved, the more likely the subconscious will see it as important, and so retain the information. This means that you should get as many of your senses involved as possible.
Here is a simple example of how well this works. Next time you go to the store for about ten items, write down a list of the items, then read through the list, reading each item out loud. Go to the store and see how many of the items you can get without consulting the list. You might be surprised to find that you remember most, if not all of the items on the list. The fact that you are trying this tells your subconscious that it is important. You are additionally using sight, touch and hearing when you write down the list and read it out loud. This reinforces the importance.
Basically, all you are doing is using the secret of remembering what you learn. You are using your conscious mind to tell your subconscious that the information is interesting and important. Again, it doesn’t really make any difference if it truthfully is or not. The subconscious can’t tell the difference.
I’ve often been accused of having a brain like a sponge, but it wasn’t until after the lesson from Dr. Naseth that I realized that what he was teaching was what I was already doing. I’d just never really thought about it, as it came naturally. However, the lesson definitely helped most of the people in the class to start remembering things that they normally would have forgotten. It’s amazing, isn’t it?