When we learn new information, not only do we have to repeat and review it in order to remember it better, as we have seen in Tip #6 on improving memory, but we also have to understand that information for the most part, which reinforces the initial learning, embedding it in the brain.
Let’s take a simple example: if you have never studied macroeconomics before, and upon entering university you decide to take on an advanced macroeconomics class, chances are you will not understand much of it. By not understanding much of what you are taught, your brain’s memorization capacity will be much lower than if you did understand the material well enough to make sense of it.This is all quite intuitive, but it’s still a useful concept to understand and put into practice, especially if you’re learning a foreign language. While I think listening to just about any material in a foreign language can be good to get used to the pronunciation and intonation of the language, it’s not the best tactic to learn and to actually remember new words. If you are speaking the language in real life with real people (as opposed to listening passively), listening to something which is beyond your current capacity of understanding might still work because you will be surrounded by context and emotions, and you will have no choice but to try and interact with people.
When it comes to passive learning, however, things are a bit different; you do not have the context, feelings, emotions, and human interaction that real-life situations bring. Taking it step by step, in such cases, is vital for absorbing information effectively, and thus for memorization.
Past exposure is therefore undoubtedly important when progressively building up a skill or absorbing new knowledge, and especially when delving into increasingly more complicated stuff. If you’ve already done a lot of math, physics won’t seem so hard, and you’ll remember what you’re learning with much more ease than somebody with no math background. If you’re a chess grandmaster and you’ve played thousands of games and are familiar with openings, middlegames, and endgames, chances are you will remember new positions with much less effort than a person who has not had that kind of prior exposure. It’s not that the chess player who has 20 years of experience playing the game has a better memory than you. If such a person were asked to remember the names and faces of 20 people, my bet is that they wouldn’t fare better or worse than any average person. Clearly, it has to do with past exposure.
In other words, then, it takes knowledge to gain knowledge, and it takes knowledge to remember new knowledge much more effectively. For our next tip on how to drastically improve your memory, we’ll have a look at this concept a bit more in detail, and examine how we can use past exposure to make associations and analogies.
This is Memory Tip #7 out of 12. To access additional tips in this series, click on any of the following links: Tip #1, Tip #2, Tip #3, Tip# 4, Tip #5, Tip #6, Tip #8, Tip #9, Tip #10, Tip #11, Tip #12