Have you ever run into someone that you know in a store or out in public and while you know their face, you struggle to remember their name? Everyone has had this experience from time to time. We finesse our way through the conversation, hoping that we are not asked to introduce this person to anyone else, and as soon as we walk away, either aloud or silently, we ask ourselves, “What was their name?” Typically, within a few hours, the name will come to us, as if it were a slice of toast popping up from the toaster. This is because the name was in our brain all the time, but it was poorly filed, and so temporarily lost to us. However, when you asked the question, “Who was that?” your brain became an eager student and started the process of searching its “files” for the answer. The reason that it took awhile to find the answer has to do with how you managed the information initially.
Let’s look at another example, but one with a hidden method that we can recreate. Think of the last time that you were away from your desk but remembered that you needed something. When you called a colleague to have them find it for you, you probably said something like, “Look in the drawer to the left, under the phone. See the yellow highlighter? Next to that is a green sticky-note pad. There’s a phone number written in black ink with a circle around it on the top sheet.” You may have used mental images when you were picturing your desk and these mental images were like pictures, snapshots of information that could easily be translated to the other person. Visual images such as mental pictures are very powerful in the brain’s filing system for data management, and something that we can readily apply to new information when we learn it.
The primary tool at use here is knowing your purpose when you read or encounter new information, and organizing that information in a meaningful way. If you know why you will need the information, then you can better manage it. Also, by using questions, emotions, and images when we encounter information, we can allow our brain to be actively involved in storing the information. But how can you always know your purpose in advance? One helpful tool in determining your purpose when reading or reviewing new information is previewing the material before you read it.
One method, Inspectional Reading, helps you to pull out relevant key words and phrases that your brain can “hang” the information on when reading. Then you can ask yourself, “What will I gain by knowing this?” or “What will be different if I understand this?” or “How will I feel if I can use this?” Once you have previewed the material, engaged your brain with meaningful questions, and then begun to look for information snapshots and mental pictures while reading, your subconscious mind will be busy at work answering those questions for you, but also sorting the information according to the purpose that you have assigned the reading.
The habit of learning to read for purpose, connecting visual pictures, and answering meaningful questions can take time to develop, but the process is an extremely significant tool that can increase your learning power and information retention no matter what the content of material you are studying or reading.
One final step in learning to manage information more efficiently is to write a short summary of the information, no more than a paragraph in length, when you have completed the other steps. This can be hand-written or typed, but using the hands to write out and capture the essence of the material, and then the eyes to see your summary, creating another visual image, creates a content loop that reinforces the information you have just reviewed. So, take notes – what have you learned from this article?
By Camille Rodriquez