Find out how enhancing your memory can lead to better learning skills.
Why do you learn? For me I think it is exciting, it gets my brain thinking, exploring, and firing off new thoughts and ideas. I love that experience. It is a very intrinsic motivation. Then there is the hustle. Lurking in the background is a desire to gain an edge in this hurly burly world. This keeps me eternally searching for that piece of knowledge that will set me apart.
What ends up happening is I read book after book to satisfy my thirst for new knowledge. What also ends up happening is that I don’t sit with new knowledge for as long as I should. I do my best job to distill the books that I have read down to their core components and carry those with me as my takeaways. This is a craft that I have refined over many years.
Recently I realised that I had spent six months reading a book. It was dense. It was well outside of my comfort zone. It was also luckily, enthralling. I had painstakingly laboured through it, making sure to make copious notes along the way. I had even tried to summarise my notes into those critical takeaways, but what I found is that as the weeks passed by, I couldn’t remember the first thing about the book. I had spent a large amount of time and effort, but had very little to show for it. Basically, the ideas had slipped out of my memory.
I then remembered the idea from Learn Better, the idea of revision cards. The idea is that you look to embed the insights you gained by revisiting them on a regular basis, and they don’t fade away as your focus shifts elsewhere. The sooner and more regularly you revisit your insights, the more entrenched they become.
This would typically hold zero appeal for me. Where were the new ideas that would get my creative juices flowing, or the techniques that would expand my toolset. The prospect of losing six months worth of blood sweat and tears was a sufficient crisis to get me to try out the revision cards.
The sooner and more regularly you revisit your insights, the more entrenched they become.
How To Use Revision Cards to Improve Memory For Learning
So I built my own so that I could improve my memory and understanding. You don’t need to, there are tools that you can use off the shelf like Anki. I created my own so that I could play with different ideas of how it would work. This part might be a little off putting for the non-technical, but really you could do this in excel just as easily. I personally used a postgres database and a python script, as I am the most comfortable with that. Each day I sit down and randomly choose five cards from the books that I have stored in the database.
To my surprise, I found it was really value adding.
First off I was engaging with the detail in a way that I hadn’t before. Engaging with the detail gives me a much stronger feel for each idea. I am not dealing in caricatures, but rather fully formed characters. This greater richness and the random nature of the cards means that I am making more connections between parts of the book that I wouldn’t have previously. The big surprise for me was the spark of excitement I got from reapproaching a concept I had forgotten. The ‘rush’ of understanding was still there, even though it was ground that I had trodden before.
The process of rewriting each card meant that I put it into my own words with every revision. This moves it more and more from being a received idea, to one that I have really made my own. I feel a pressure while I am mid-book to keep pushing forward, as there will typically be a lot of ground to cover, and while knowledge is power, the process of obtaining it can also be a pain in the butt. There isn't this pressure to push on while I am looking at a single card. I take my time with each thought. I flesh out points that I feel are worth a mini-deepdive. I can also add in my own meta-analysis which again helps me riff off the original concepts.
So I save the note back into the database and will do it all over tomorrow again. Right now I only have two books in my database, but I look forward to adding many more. I went hiking across a volcanic island for many days with a good friend. He says he prefers to slowly hike a location rather than to do a whistle-stop tour of all the attractions these days. He feels a greater connection to the place that way. In many ways sitting with the books that we have read, helps us to form that more enduring relationship with them.
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