How do We Remember?

Retention is crucial to our success in life. Knowing what to do with a good idea after you’ve heard it, is as critical as having the creativity to generate the idea itself. The latest studies on the concept of retention highlight how the average person remembers:

• 37% of what they see.
• 22% of what they hear.
• 10% of what they read.

These percentages also change depending on if the person has a medical condition, like dementia or has a photographic memory. Further information also highlighted how 56% of what we remember is what we both see and hear, and 86% is what we see, hear, and do.

What this reveals is if you have an idea you have a low chance of remembering it. This probability shoots up significantly if you put it into practice, though. Jeffrey Pheffer and Robert L. Sutton wrote the book The Knowing-Doing Gap in which they target this concept and reveal how it applies to the modern world.

In the book, they reveal some startling statistics. These include 1,700 new books on improving business appear on the market each year. A massive $60 billion goes towards the training of employees, and an additional $43 billion on consultants. There’s also a huge number of graduates leaving college with MBAs each year; 80,000 at the last estimate. Most of this is wasted revenue which companies could spend on other things. The crux of the matter, though, is most organizations still behave in the same way as they did a decade ago.

Knowledge without acting on said knowledge means very little. Only knowing about something means you’re missing out on a lot of your potential. It’s why the government and education authorities encourage teachers to take a more practical approach to highlight a theory. Studies have demonstrated how practicing what you preach in the workplace leads to more productivity and a more adept workforce.

But it’s about applying it straight away. Edgar Dale created the Cone of Learning model which highlights how 90% of what people tell us sticks in the mind if it’s applied soon afterwards.

The Five Study and Retention Steps

Note down the definitions of both learning and retention as they’re easy to confuse. Learning is the acquisition of new information; in other words, the delivery. Retention is the brain’s ability to hold the information and recall it when necessary.

1. Impact

The impact is the receiving of the idea or concept. This applies to all delivery methods as the mind doesn’t change depending on actual and visual experiences. The only way to tell the difference is in the way your emotions react.

It’s simple to illustrate this point. Try sitting in a chair with feet flat on the floor and hands sitting on your lap. Take a deep breath and relax. Calm your mind and attempt to visualize something simple, such as a chair. Think of its shape, texture, and color. Attempt to reach out and touch it. Due to the information in your mind, you can probably imagine what it feels like. Repeat this with any object you like and the outcome remains the same. These are your emotions combining with your memory to create something which isn’t actually there.

2. Repetition

To put it simply, if you remember something more, there’s a higher chance of retaining it. A university study conducted with students demonstrated how 66% of the knowledge imparted disappears within 24 hours. If it remains for 8 days up to 90% of it could remain in the mind. But it’s important to space learning effectively or it won’t have any effect.

Dr. Wolfram Schroers created what he calls The Forgetting Curve where he compares the strength of memory with time. He claims: “If repetition takes place too early (early on in the curve when the memory is still strong) it will not lead to any significant improvement.” You can test this yourself. Read through a manual and attempt to remember it. Most people won’t remember a great deal on the first attempt. Now try it again straight away and the results remain relatively the same. Yet if you attempt it 12 hours later you’ll see a significant improvement.

3. Utilization

This is where your mind actually does something. The neuromuscular pathways, which the mind uses each time it remembers something, begin to appear. It’s a form of muscle memory within the mind. Obviously, if the mind concentrates on an action through practical application, it’s going to grow faster and stronger than if you had just sat down to read a book.

The reasons why the neuromuscular pathways become stronger is because the muscle memory of an action relates to both what the body does physically and what the mind does to recall the action. Another reason is you are increasing the number of ways in which you present an idea. If you read something in a book you have seen it. Hear it from a lecturer or teacher and it’s another way of remembering it. Actually doing it presents yet another way. According to the statistics presented above, you now have an 86% chance of recalling the idea.

4. Internalization

This is where you take the next step to ensure the idea becomes a part of you. It works differently for everybody as it must match your personality and style. Make it yours by adapting it to something you know. It’s the reason why mnemonics works so well as a powerful memory tool.

Dr. Richard C. Mohs’s article entitled How Human Memory Works mentioned how people with average memories tend to remember things which have a direct connection with their lives. The things they can recall connect with what’s already in the long-term memory. It's why, in his words: “… someone who has an average memory may be able to remember a greater depth of information about one particular subject.”

If you can associate each new idea with something you already know well, you are more likely to be able to recall the idea at a later date.

5. Reinforcement

Once you have reached the final step you probably feel quite comfortable with the idea in question. Now it’s time to commit it to your long-term memory as you might not come back to the idea for years to come. Support the idea and learn to believe it vehemently, and you’re more likely to remember it.

But how does all this apply to the complex world of business? The answer is it helps you to develop your company or department in the best possible way. If you are working in a business environment, ideas will fly at you day after day. Some of them you will have heard before and others completely new.

It even saves on simply writing and filing the idea. If you write an idea down, you’re going to spend minutes, and perhaps even hours, searching for what you originally wrote. Don’t waste precious time going through ideas you’ve heard before but just don’t remember. Develop your mind to recall it instantaneously. It’s empowering and it helps by retaining more knowledge you can use to build for the future.

Action is Crucial

The first action you can commit to memory is an open mind. Retaining information, and even just being able to listen, relies on an open mind. If you’re naturally prejudiced against a certain way of thinking or you’re ‘set in your ways’, it’s unlikely you’ll remember anything which contradicts your way of thinking. There’s nothing you can do to control this without completely opening your mind.

A simple example is politics. If someone leans towards conservatism, it’s tough for them to listen to a liberal. But even if they’re being educated on something which makes more sense than their current point of view, they won’t hear or remember it because of personal prejudices. Someone who opens their mind, takes into account this new point of view and weighs it against their current viewpoint. If it’s superior, they adapt and change.

Attempt to get out of the habit of casting aside things too quickly. Learn to question yourself.

If you think you’ve heard something before, ask yourself why you didn’t remember it. And even if you did remember it, ask yourself why you aren’t using it. If you are using it, ask yourself how effectively you’re using it. Going through the motions in this manner can help you discover new positions and ways to improve yourself and your business.

Every time you learn something new, ask yourself what you will do with the result. Answer it and attempt to implement it as soon as possible. It keeps you interested in the subject and new ideas fresh and alive. Putting into action these ideas reveals results you never thought of, and profits you never thought you could make.

This advice focuses on techniques which can help you learn. Anyone can install them in their lives with the utmost ease. The knowledge contained here is only a start, however. It’s up to you to tailor it to your personality and style. You have to take positive action.