Why do we forget 70% of everything we read?

Synapses firing in the brain

It is 11:30 a.m on a Tuesday. You have forgotten the tasks you outlined in your head to accomplish during the week or even the next task for Tuesday. You are stressed and look stressed. As the minutes turn into hours, and as the day rolls by, you deal with the feeling of an unproductive day.

How you feel when you forget

It is called forgetting, and all humans forget various things at intervals.

In 1885, a famous psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus, published a shocking report that humans forget about 50% of the information in the first twenty minutes of learning it. Today, the report is known as the Hermann Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve.

Hermann Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve

Source: senseandsensation.com

He continued in the report by saying that we would have forgotten 70% of everything we planned in our heads in one day as humans. That is 70% of everything you read and 70% of everything you learnt in a course.

These statistics vary for different people, but it gives perspective to the rate we forget things.

Why do we forget?

Two schools of thought put forward their theories to understand and explain why our brain forgets.

A school of thought pioneered by Brown posits that “forgetting is based on memory traces that lose activation, or decay, over time.” This means that our thoughts, just like a word written into the sand at the beach, wash (decay) away over a short period.

The second school of thought is credited to John A. Bergström. He proposed a theory that interference in the brain causes our brain to forget information and memories.

This means that your memories stored in your brain’s long-term memory are lost and cannot be recalled into short-term memory because one memory interferes with or hinders the other.

The beauty of these theories is that we need to accept that the theories intertwine and are not in contrast in understanding why we forget. Information in our brains is lost by both decay and interference.

Techniques to boost your memory for longer

Train your brain to not forget

We take up a lot of information every day. It can be embarrassing when we need to recollect a memory but are unable to. Since we already know why we often forget information, here are simple tips to help you remember for longer:

1. Learn only the most important things
The brain protects you from overloading it with unimportant information by forgetting. It is beautiful to know a little about everything but worse if you cannot remember any of them. Learn only the most essential information.

2. Understand what you learn
When you understand a piece of information, your brain stands a chance to retain it for longer. So, seek to understand a piece of information and not cram your brain full.

3. Spaced repetition and memory consolidation
Your short-term memory can be strengthened to a long-term memory using spaced repetition. Using the Hermann Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve, this technique uses an extended memorization period to remember for longer.

Repetition curve

Repeat what you have learnt immediately after learning. Repeat it after 20 minutes, 24 hours, two days, one week, two weeks, etc.

4. Learn different things at intervals
The interference theory explains that learning a piece of information repeatedly can lead to an over-familiarization of the information in the brain. When that happens, the brain mixes up the memories. Switch the information you take in at intervals to a different thing entirely.

5. Create a memory palace

Memory palace technique to not forget
This is a common technique we all hear about, especially in the Sherlock films. Imagine your brain as a house, a street, or a city you are familiar with. The memory palace technique links pieces of information you want to remember with places or things you are familiar with.

By associating information you want to remember with actual physical space, your brain quickly remembers essential things.

6. Write and visualize
Writing causes your brain to analyze information in a more detailed manner; this aids the successful retention of that information. Writing down information by hand utilizes your motor skills and visual perception. In addition, it helps your brain’s hippocampus process and stores information in long-term memory.

Final word 

Naturally, our brain forgets information not to overload itself or writes over an old memory leading to a distortion in both memories. However, it is possible to train your brain to retain information for longer with these scientific and psychological techniques. Now that you know these techniques, you can be more intelligent than most people by getting your brain not to forget 70% of everything you learn.



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