Since my youth, I’ve always been fascinated by ways to improve learning and retention.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of reading, studying, and focus involved in becoming a doctor, maintaining a practice, communicating with patients (and their loved ones), exploring alternative modalities that work better or in tandem with conventional medicine, and growing a business like the one I’m truly blessed to have.
Continued learning is critical to brain health into your oldest years. I can’t stress this enough. Also, it’s those who continually learn and grow – expanding their boundaries – who best adapt to our ever-changing world.
I have a saying which covers this: “We are what we know”. If you KNOW how to be a good lover, you’ll be popular with the ladies; if not, you are nobody’s “ideal man” (and vice versa, these days).
Learning is the path is another motto I have. Not “learning is the path to…[something]”. Learning itself and knowledge is what we are here for. Be aware also that INFORMATION IS NOT KNOWLEDGE. It’s just… information! What you do with it turns it into knowledge and wisdom. I feel very sorry and aggrieved that for many people that lively curiosity and willingness to expand through knowledge is drummed out of kids at school.
Becoming a “learner” is one of the best things you can do for your mental, emotional, and physical health now and into the distant future.
Naturally, it’s more than just reading a bunch of books or watching documentaries. To improve learning and retention means taking in the new information and holding on to it for use as you find that you need it.
Knowledge is power and (at its heart) a science.
If you have an open mind and a desire to learn, no one is exempt from the ability to attain knowledge. No matter the subject, no matter your age, no matter your educational level right now…if you want to learn, there are no limits.
I’ve discussed this topic in-depth before but I’m going to give you some “quick tips” to really upping your ability to grasp new information and keep it forever.
8 Tips to Improve Learning and Retention
- Break new things into “bite-sized” pieces. Taking on a large project, book, or topic you want to learn can be overwhelming. By breaking the material into manageable pieces, you are able to see each piece more clearly. Use simple tools such as highlighting things or keeping a notebook to write down thoughts you find important. This doesn’t mean transcribing an entire book or highlighting 90% of the material – that will defeat the purpose of that information standing out and becoming “concrete” in your brain.
- Don’t pass over words, phrases, or topics you don’t understand. If you come across something you don’t understand, it is critical that you pause at that moment and dig deeper. If you don’t comprehend one small part and don’t educate yourself on it then, you make it harder for yourself to understand the overall concept. This is the fastest way to fail at learning something new.
- Question your comprehension regularly. Doing “progress checks” as you proceed will show you what information you need to reexamine. In the case of a book, I find it best to pause at the end of a chapter and review what I’ve read mentally before I continue reading. This isn’t about memorization – something that is the primary focus of American schools and doing young people a great disservice. This is about comprehension. The two are quite different.
- Test yourself periodically on the data. This a two-point process. First, can you “sum up” what you’ve learned in your own words? Second, does what you’ve taken away from the material make sense? The human mind is a fascinating computer. Being able to condense the data, and even explain it to someone else while it’s fresh in your mind, will further help to cement it for you. By explaining the concept, you can then determine if you’re truly grasping it logically. If you summarize what you’ve learned and it doesn’t seem to make sense, you’ll have to go back and see where you might have missed critical information.
- Find examples within your existing framework of knowledge. This is one of the best ways to improve learning and retention with new or difficult concepts. It’s a fantastic tool that teachers and professors use with their students. This is when you use a common experience in daily life to help someone visualize or reinforce the new data. Your own experiences or those of others (even books or movies you’ve enjoyed) can help you find correlations between what you’re learning and how it applies to “normal” life.
- Be willing to disagree (even disprove) what you’re learning. While knowledge is power, not all knowledge is actually factual. One mustn’t fall into the trap of learning and retaining incorrect information. An example of this is the prevalence of “fake news” everyone is talking about now. Simply because information comes from a supposedly “reputable” source does not make it a fact. Therefore, if you’re reading, listening to, or watching something and your mind says, “I question this information…” then you must do further research to assure you’re not filling your mind with wrong information. It doesn’t matter who the source of the information is – if something doesn’t make sense, it’s your responsibility to feed your brain the facts.
- Make the material your own. As you ingest new things, your mind will gradually form an “opinion” of its own. This is when your brain takes the information, interprets it, and makes it part of what you now know and comprehend. You have full control over this. Question everything always (including what you’re reading here). Acquiring knowledge is not about simply absorbing what other people say or believe and spewing it back out! True knowledge is found in educating yourself about something that interests you, discovering the facts surrounding that topic, and solidifying that new information within your own mind so that it is now part of your mental landscape.
- Question everything always (including what you’re reading here). Acquiring knowledge is not about simply absorbing what other people say or believe and spewing it back out! True knowledge is found in educating yourself about something that interests you, discovering the facts surrounding that topic, and solidifying that new information within your own mind so that it is now part of your mental landscape.
If you get to the end of the new material and find that you “go blank” about certain concepts, lost interest part of the way through, are confused about several pieces, disagree or reject parts without researching further on your own, experience fatigue with the material, or quit before you’re done…the chances are high that you truly didn’t understand much of what you read, heard, or watched.
In order to improve learning and retention, you must be honest about this development. Either go back and try again or ask yourself if you really wish to learn it at all.
There is much to be said for learning, for expanding your mind. Again, it is a science. You must commit yourself to the attainment of knowledge and overcome your personal biases (we all have them) if you wish to push the boundaries of what you already know.
If you found this article interesting, I think you’d greatly enjoy my book “Life and Living Toolbook” which contains many such mind-expanding concepts.
There are no limits to what you can learn! It’s a personal passion of mine!