How to Remember What You Read


[Reading time: 2 min 10 secs]

Have you ever read something and then had no idea what you read? This happens all the time when I read:

  • News articles
  • Blog posts
  • Printed information

It makes me feel frustrated and annoyed and if I'm honest... stupid.

Why is it so hard to remember what we read?

It's because we are:

  • Not giving the thing our attention. We're distracted.
    Perhaps our emotional brain is in high gear?
  • We have inadvertently trained our brains to get used to skipping around.
    The media is all over this and has spent billions trying to keep our attention.
  • We might have ADHD or a learning-challenged brain.

remember the password that you just read


What's my brain's problem?

Our ability to hold information in the short term is connected to the brain skill of working memory. Neuroscience tells us that most adults can hold somewhere between four and seven chunks of information before the first one disappears.

Since MY working memory holds about three, there must be some lucky individual out there with a working memory of about ten. :)

Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist said, "Neurons that fire together, wire together". This means that the more we think about something, the more our neurons are wiring with each other.

This is why we might repeat someone's phone number a few times or repeat back driving directions.

Every time we revisit a thought, memory, or experience, we are strengthening the real estate in our brains around that information.

(Btw, this is why you don't want to dwell on the negative.)


Remembering what you read is about:

  1. Consciously giving your attention to what is in front of you.
  2. Supporting your working memory.


  1. Give your attention to what's in front of you

A study at Harvard found that we are lost in thought 47% of the time. If your brain is busy, busy, busy, take control of your ability to focus by doing a mini-reset. This will make it easier for you to give your full attention to what you are about to read.

Here's an easy way to do that:
Before you start reading, pause for 10 seconds and laser-focus your attention on your breath. Just watch it. Bring all your attention and awareness to the sensation of the air going in and out of your chest.

Breathing has a natural, s-l-o-w rhythm and turning your awareness inside even for such a brief slice of time has the remarkable side effect of getting you out of your head.

Our thoughts literally run a million miles a minute. When you consciously and deliberately focus your mind on a physical sensation like the breath, it can act like a mini-reset to the mind.

This mini-reset helps increase your ability to pay attention.

  1. Support your working memory

If neurons that fire together, wire together, then every time you read something, build the neuron connections around what you just read by repeating it to yourself. At the end of each paragraph, ask yourself "What did I just read?". Come up with a synopsis of the information.

Last winter I was walking on the beach on a particularly cold day and found myself wondering why the seagulls weren't freezing. When I got home, I did a little seagull research. I found five or six interesting and funny facts which I thought would be fun to share with our beach guests.

Each time I found a new fact I wanted to remember, I looked away from my computer and repeated it to myself. When I did that, I repeated all the other facts at the same time.

Here's the crazy thing: it's been three months and I still remember all of them!

The solutions in a nutshell:

If you are challenged remembering details from something you just read, here's how you can support your brain:

  1. Pause for 10 seconds by moving your attention away from the thoughts in your head and focusing on your breath.
  2. Take the time to repeat and review what you read.

Some brains don't remember immediate details as well as others. If that's you: don't force your brain to do what it can't. Support your brain where it needs it and you'll be able to remember all kinds of things!


What is Working Memory?

Working Memory is about our brain's ability to remember things. How many chunks of information can your brain hold before that first item gets forgotten?

When we read, our brains can feel overloaded by the sheer volume of the content we're taking in. If our Working Memory isn't strong, we're going to have a difficult time retaining very much.

Support your brain where it needs support and you'll stay on top of the things that are important to you.

GoBrainGo: Our brain-based videos put you in the driver's seat of your life.

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