We all know the benefits of reading; and no, I’m not talking about First Aid or that fat anatomy book. I’m talking about that self-development book about how to become a more effective person or that fictional book about a post-apocalyptic world. Whatever the book is, extracurricular reading is great for building your imagination and making you a more creative person in any field of study or work.
But how do we remember what we read a month ago? A year ago? 5 years ago? I used to read and reap the benefits of what I’d just read a week or a month ago, then I’d slowly but surely forget everything I’d read. Angered, I decided to research how to take steps towards remembering what I had read and APPLYING it to my everyday life.
During this article, let’s discuss why we read in the first place, how to read more effectively, and then a few tips to help us overcome this read-forget-repeat cycle.
Benefits of Reading
Reading can do so much more than we would imagine. It can be a great stress-reliever; unwinding after a long day of work, putting your feet up, and engrossing yourself in that utopia. Reading can be a form of mental stimulation keeping your brain active, just like any other muscle in your body. The more you use it, the more it grows (the more neural connections are made). That brings us to building your knowledge bank: The more you read the more information you know. Simple one plus one is two.
Diving into a new fiction book means a whole new set of characters and adventures, although we don’t realize this, remembering all these details strengthens our memories. I told you reading was going to make it much easier to memorize those lysosomal storage diseases, didn’t I? But reading also improves concentration and focus and improves your critical thinking.
Scientifically speaking, reading has been shown to decrease the likelihood of developing age-related cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s disease. This study concluded that reading and doing math improved cognitive function over the long term.
Active vs Passive Reading
There are two types of reading; active and passive. Active reading includes a deeper engagement with the text before, during, and after reading. This includes asking yourself questions while reading, reflecting on the deeper meanings of the text, and forming connections between the various topics discussed. Passive reading on the other hand involves reading the text without thinking too much, simply reading words without putting in any extra work.
Passive vs. Active reading encompasses the urge to finish reading vs. the urge to want to learn something by the end of the text.
If you end the reading session able to explain what you’ve learned to a friend or colleague, you have engaged in active reading. On the other hand, if you end the reading session not knowing or remembering what you have just read, you have engaged in passive reading. You know that feeling where you are reading a paragraph in a book over and over again as you travel to la-la land in the middle a million times? Yeah, we don’t want that.
WHAT DID I JUST READ?! ( https://i.imgflip.com/eo62r.jpg )
Simply knowing what active reading is, isn’t going to take us the distance. We must include active reading in our approach to remembering everything we read. Here are a few points I’ll discuss on our journey.
- Stay focused (and stop when you get bored)
- Make mental links
- Use an app
- Jot down your own summary of the book or text
- Apply what you’ve learned (Feynman technique)
Stay focused (and stop when you get bored)
This one is quite straightforward, stay focused and use all that active reading glory while reading. One of the ways you can do that is by taking notes on the content you are reading. Jot down a few words encompassing your thoughts and understanding of what you have just read.
And, of course, stop when you get bored. When you feel yourself spiraling into the passive reading hole, close that book and put it away. Don’t fool yourself by thinking you’ll get engrossed in reading once you get a few pages in. Drop it, and walk away. It will probably not happen.
Make mental links
Reading words and thinking of them as the text isn’t going to be easy to store in that corner of your brain. Forming mental images and thinking up scenarios is what will be easily stored there instead. This is why authors like to put things into perspective for you. For example, the other day I was reading Make It Stick by Brown et al. and this passage made me ponder:
“People who extract the key ideas from new material and organize them into a mental model and connect that model to prior knowledge show an advantage in learning complex mastery.”
In simpler terms, imagining the ideas in the text and dressing them up in these vivid colors and scenarios will make them easier to retrieve and link to other ideas in your little world. Once you learn them and successfully link previous ideas, this layering makes you a master of learning complex ideas.
Vividly imagining scenes play out in fiction books can also be of great value. Your imagination is improved ten-fold and your critical thinking is also boosted. It allows you to navigate future events much more smoothly and form much clearer pathways to finding solutions in your head.
Use an App
A lot of apps and websites out there will send you your highlights from previous books you’ve read as either emails or notifications on your device.
- Readwise is a website designed to send you email highlights from books/articles/texts you have read. Some of those highlights you can pick on your own and others are automatically generated according to the chosen book. Their website is user-friendly and they even have a chrome extension to make the highlighting game even easier.
- Highlighted is an app on IOS that allows you to save highlights to come back to at any time. What is amazing about their app is that you can scan a section from the book you are currently reading using your camera and it will be automatically added to your highlights!! Highlight on Android is also an app similar to highlighted.
- LINER is a chrome extension that allows you to highlight text online and on a PDF. It also allows you to make comments and jot down the thoughts you are having about that highlight at that time. It also allows you to then categorize your highlights however you wish.
Jot down your own summary of the book or text
This can be on paper, on a google docs document, or on notion using a template. Writing down what you have gained from that self-development book and critiquing it can be one of the most useful ways of reviewing and condensing the knowledge you wish to maintain from it. It allows you to write what you’ve gained from it and dive into a whole new realm of critical thinking.
Another method to ensure that you have understood and absorbed as much as possible out of the text you are reading is to use the eminent Feynman technique. The Feynman technique includes choosing a topic and gaining as much knowledge about it. Then you take the knowledge you gained and try to explain the topic to a younger person (or a child as Feynman recommends). This helps you identify any gaps,which allows you to come to the last step, review and simplify.
The Feynman Technique (https://images.app.goo.gl/mTviWetVAeL7LjQj8)
Apply what you have learned
Learning new methods for time management and not applying them is like trying to fill a sieve with water. Once you have understood and summarized the text, you can now implement it into your everyday life. Start by including it in your daily activities, change your bad habits and replace them with better ones, simply apply the knowledge you have gained.
Write the things you want to change down and leave them somewhere you can see repeatedly throughout the day. Let your friends and family know about the changes you have learned and are trying to implement, spreading knowledge is better than keeping it to oneself.
This can also be used to solidify fiction and medical texts. Reading fiction is known to increase one’s ability to be more empathetic. The scenarios and characters in the book become an almost-reality that allows us to feel for the characters in the situation they are put in. It also increases our vocabulary, which we can then use in real life to sound more nerdy. In regards to medical texts, reading articles and journals can increase your diagnostic skills and widen your knowledge horizons. Hence making you a better doctor when that patient walks in.
Sometimes reading something once doesn’t allow you to fully grasp everything in it. Reading something again allows you to catch up on things you didn’t see the first time (God knows how many times I’ve gone through that with First Aid). You can reread the whole thing or just the sections you feel like you haven’t caught up on everything it has to offer. But this last tip only works sometimes; not every book is worth reading again. This is where your judgment comes in: did you gain enough knowledge the first time around that you feel like you need to give it another run-through? Or are you simply wasting time you could be spending on reading another book that explains that topic better?
Reading is as fruitful as our parents used to say when we were younger, when we were forced to read books instead of watch TV. Not only will it increase productivity, improve our memories, and improve our critical thinking. Books and articles have such a vast amount of knowledge just waiting to be learned! You can improve your time-management skills, build better habits, learn how to study more effectively, you can learn anything and everything. It’s all out there!
So get out there, crack open that book. You’ll thank me later.
“Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary.” – Jim Rohn