A common refrain heard nowadays is “who needs to remember anything, when we have Google now”. However, in the book “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains“, Nicholas Carr cites current research showing that using our long term memories significantly strengthens brain functioning. If we rely on the Google crutch, we prevent our brain from keeping strong and functioning optimally.
On a practical level, much of the information we process needs to be retrievable to be useful. If we’ve read a book about improving relationships like Crucial Conversations, but we don’t remember how to remedy the fight-or-flight confrontation discussed in the book, we’ve failed to reap the fruits from that great read. So while Google is great for research and fine-to-forget facts, it won’t help us when we need to access important knowledge in real life scenarios.
Getting Information Into Long Term Memory
Because there’s no need for us to maintain the flood of information that we’re confronted with on a daily basis, the brain in some sense discourages long-term memory transfer. Information is more likely to end up in long-term memory by repeated usage, and by mentally connecting it to related information that is already stored in our long-term memory.
Here are are three important principles to increase long term memory transfer:
1) Focus on the key concepts
2) Create a graphical picture
3) Break the information into small chunks
Focus on the Key Concepts
By focusing on the important concepts and eliminating distracting non-critical information we reduce the amount that needs to be transferred. In addition, concepts provide the bigger ideas which form the foundational knowledge of a subject, whereas details are more limited in their scope and application.
Create a Graphical Picture
A graphical picture organizes the concepts into a compact structure, and graphics are easier to transfer into long term memory. Once the graphical picture is in long term memory, the concepts become easier to remember because they’re associated with the picture.
Break the Information into Small Chunks
Learning the information in small chunks make it more digestible. Focusing on the concepts one at a time gives the brain the opportunity to absorb, transfer and rest between chunks.
In summary, to benefit most from the wealth of information available, it makes sense to make the effort to transfer the information into long term memory using some of the techniques highlighted above.