The Secret of Remembering What You Learn


Picture by AKuptsova

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?


  1. BrendaMarieFluhartyClapp

    Very interesting article Rex. I never thought about it before I read this but, before I go to the store I make a list. While getting ready to leave I will say to myself what I need. I usually, do remember most of the list without looking at it.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Now you know why it works. 🙂 The best part is that it works with anything you want to make sure you remember.

  2. Sandy KS

    I repeat myself and make lists often. As I find it helps me remember. Like when paying bills online. I write on the outside of the paper bills the amount paid, date, and confirm number. I also write the same info in yearly planner on the date I paid them.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      I’m a person who could easily forget a list, and I have, but if I write it down and recite it to myself, I nearly always remember what was on the list. I’ve explained all of this to my wife, but she still wonders how I can write two dozen things on a grocery list, leave the list at home, and still manage to get most of the stuff on the list. It is especially helpful because my memory isn’t what it was 20 years ago, despite taking ginkgo.

    2. Sandy KS

      I use to be able to that. Now I need to write it down and take it with me. As I wanted to get three things at Walmart the other day. I got two. As I couldn’t remember I wanted to buy a rotating fan.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      I even catch myself rereading some interesting fact or another and repeating it to myself…basically talking to myself…and I usually remember the fact. I do wish I’d known this before I finally went to college. I was in my 30s when I went to college and if I’d known about this sooner, things would have been far easier, even though I often used it without thinking about it.

  3. Gil Camporazo

    I remember one of the inspiring captions that were posted on the top of the blackboard in our science room. It is similar to this, “if you see, you know. If you see and hear, you remember. If you see, hear and do them, you learn.” Well, my technique in studying in college, I listen to music and I find it cheerfully, and happy. And I could remember things naturally. I also apply mnemonics like taking the beginning of letters or phrases for enumerating to be memorized and it works. When I experience a mental block, I close my eyes for a moment and have mind relax and my memory starts working all over again.

    If I find it difficult to recall, I associate it with something and it goes out perfectly. By the way, every weekend I go to the old public comfort room of my elementary school and do the routine of memorizing things. And it also works.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Indeed it does. What you were doing with the music was also psychological. Listening to the bright, happy music told your subconscious that what you were doing was enjoyable and thus important. The subconscious LOVES pleasureable things.

  4. Donna

    I make a list and much of the time I do remember the list in case I cannot remember the items but once in a while I will forget the list

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Try reading the list over out loud, before you go shopping. You might be surprised at how well you remember the things that are on the list. 🙂

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Be sure to let me know what results you experience, please. I enjoy knowing that it has helped someone.

  5. Gina M. Menorca

    I admit that as I aged I have a tendency to be forgetful so I try this app on google which is brain exercise. it works too. Now, I will try yours, thank you.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Let me know how well it works for you. Being more forgetful as we age is natural. I take ginkgo biloba to help with the memory, but the steps for remembering things still help, regardless of our age.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Ginkgo does work, but you need to take it daily for about a week before you notice much of a difference. Ginseng can also help.

  6. John

    Mother always gives me a list of what to buy before going to a supermarket. I read them mentally not just to memorize it, but I make it sure I know what I’m buying. I’d say, the subconscious is like superman it will come to you in no time even if you don’t force yourself to remember everything!

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Yes, and unlike the conscious, it is constantly at work, night and day. We’re only really aware of our conscious, but our subconscious is constantly active. Come to think of it, that is why “sleep learning” works. Hearing a recording while asleep is a direct communication with the subconscious.

    2. John

      The wonderful world of subconscious… I remember Emmet (The Lego movie) with his subconscious working out that he can do everything in an instant and even WildStyle can comprehend his weird mind and at the end the move his subconscious works for him with staggering power! ! Whoa! I’ve watched the movie more than a dozen times lol…

  7. Olivia Morris

    My problem is remembering names. The faces are no problem, I know I met them and I can remember the circumstances of the meeting, but for the life on me the name just doesn’t seem to come to me at all. Most of the time when this happens I don’t have a pen and paper to make the notes….it’s difficult and embarrassing.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      I heard a trick about that one, too. The idea is to associate the name with something that is easy to remember. It doesn’t even need to be something that makes sense and can be most helpful if it doesn’t. For instance, if you and I met, I might make the association Olivia Newton-John (one of my favorite singers) and Morris the Cat, the gold tiger stripe cat that was on many purina commercials years ago. It might seem like that would make it harder to remember rather than easier, but it really doesn’t. I loved listening to Olivia and actually enjoyed the Purina commercials with Morris, plus the fact that the singer had nothing to do with the cat and the name would more likely stick in my mind.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      I don’t know about you, but as I get older, I need all the help I can get, so I like sharing things like this on the assumption that other people do as well. 🙂

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      It is my sincere hope that it will. In fact, that is one reason I not only explained how to do it but also why it works.

  8. Deb Jones

    I’ve long used this tip without knowing the explanation behind it, likely because I am an emotionally-driven person. I’d have to say that I use it perhaps best in reverse, that is dismissing unimportant information. This seems to help me from collecting “mind clutter.”

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      We all do that, too. Worriers tend to be least apt to dismiss unimportant information, but it would be helpful if they did more often. Still, knowing why it works can be very useful information, wouldn’t you say?

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      LOL…remembering names was something I struggled with through most of my life, so I use every trick I come across. (If I remember to do so. haha)

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Yes, and the more times you write it and read it out loud, the less likely you will be to forget it.

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