It’s frustrating to immediately forget what we read or hear. Especially if it was really good. Here are a few tips:

  1. First, I highly recommend note taking. I’ve read that note takers have better retention–and handwritten note taking is actually superior to typing. The theory is that you have to listen differently–your brain is working to prioritize the speaker’s ideas because you can’t write down everything they say. I buy quality notebooks, pens that I enjoy, and try to discipline myself to write while I listen. For books, I buy my own copies (instead of borrowing) and write like crazy in the margins.
  2. Second, if there’s an opportunity to discuss the content with a friend, your retention will improve even more. As you talk about what you liked, disliked, agreed with, disagreed with you are again prioritizing and reprioritizing the content–this is powerful repetition, and great for your memory.
  • Bonus: Teach. If you really want to master something, going through the challenge of breaking it down to explain to someone else is the most powerful way to go about it. It’s also the most difficult, time-consuming, and subject to the problem of having an audience. The audience problem can be alleviated (somewhat) by writing. Which is why the time-tested discipline of journaling continues to be recommended.

Finally, while striving for the above, we must not become anxious about our lack of retention. Total recall is impossible–and must not be set as the goal. We must be content with photo albums of rich memories–not full length movies of our entire lives.