Whether it's Facebook content, Bill Gates' favorite book, or the latest critical business report, most of us enjoy reading or have to do quite a bit of it through the day. But in the rush to do everything in less time, you might be missing a crazily simple way to commit more content to memory:
Just go back and give yourself a little time to reflect on what you just read.
Now, when I say "reflect," I don't mean sit there pondering for an hour. I mean sitting just long enough to
- Mentally identify the main points or concepts
- Jot down some notes (you can't write everything, so this forces your brain to choose what's most important)
- Consider the ramifications or implications of the content
- Think about how the content connects to your personal preferences, personality, and experiences
Why it works.
As Allison Preston, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Texas at Austin, explains in this 2014 research study release,
We think replaying memories during rest makes those earlier memories stronger, not just impacting the original content, but impacting the memories to come. [...] Nothing happens in isolation. When you are learning something new, you bring to mind all of the things you know that are related to that information. In doing so, you embed the new information into your existing knowledge.
With this in mind, when you give yourself a few minutes to rest and think about what you just ingested from the page, you're allowing your brain to better connect the new information to what you've already done or understand. And because the brain is wired to respond to emotions quickly and efficiently, connecting them to memory formation and the interpretation of facts and rational thought, if you can allow yourself to really acknowledge and respond to what you feel during your reading reflections, you stand a better chance of the new memories being more powerful and easier to retrieve.
The myth of lost time.
I can hear you protesting from here.
"I barely have time to use the restroom! How am I supposed to take time to reflect on what I read?"
I get it. But when you can remember information from your content better, you actually can end up saving time. You don't have to go back and look up as many facts or ideas, and whether it's rubbing elbows with some big shots at a conference or explaining your rationale for a new process to your team, you can apply the information on the fly better. From this standpoint, reading reflection is an efficiency booster and worth the few brief minutes it takes.
More ways to level up.
To really get the most out of your reading and reading reflection, there are a few other add-on tricks you can try. You might want to
- Read some of the content aloud or draw images for the main ideas. The brain doesn't process the different types of sensory information in isolation from each other, so honing in on auditory or visual information might help you process the content.
- Read when you are more rested. Fatigue can negatively influence your ability to focus, so pick a reading time where you feel energized.
- Eliminate distractions. While turning off phone alerts or shutting your door are obvious distraction points, don't forget about other factors, such as room temperature, hunger, and your position in your chair.
- Be clear about your goal. Knowing the purpose behind what you're reading can make it easier to feel motivated and engaged with the content.
- Go for a hard copy. Researchers from the University of Oregon found that online content is harder to recall. One theory is that the disappear-reappear nature of online content is distracting, but the loss of tactile information, such as the feeling of the page, might contribute, too.
No matter how long your reflection time might happen to last, just read. Read anything. It's by far one of the easiest things you can do to boost your intelligence and stay on top of your game.