Putting information into diagrams, flow charts, and PowerPoint slides can help you remember the information for a presentation, because “when you symbolize, you’re conveying its meaning in a more effective way,” she says.
To Paiva, symbolizing means putting information in the simplest terms possible. “You have to imagine you’re explaining the concept to a five-year-old,” he says. “How do you explain nuclear physics to a five-year-old? If you’re not able to do it, you don’t really understand it.”
Google employees use these techniques, when they have a programming problem, they go to the board and break it down in the simplest terms possible,” he says.
Step 2: Categorize
Now, think about the larger implications of information and how it applies to our daily lives.
“What is this telling me?” and “How does this resonate with me?” are the questions we should be asking, Willis says.
For instance, thinking about how today’s work tasks affect the schedule for the rest of the week can help us remember details better.
Step 3: Synthesize
When given a list of unfamiliar terms, sort them into groups based on similarity — that assists the brain in making big-picture connections. As the learning process continues, shaping these categories accordingly will allow enduring memories to form.
Deep linking, or associating new information with old memories, has a similar effect. “When you come across something new, ask yourself, how does this information relate with something I already know?” Paiva says.
How long-term memories are formed
The neuroplasticity of our brains — the changes in our neural pathways and synapses — is shaped by how often we activate our memories through processes such as symbolizing, categorizing, and synthesizing. Practicing a language or a skill, for instance, strengthens the neural network and can cause memories to stick.
“The more our memories are activated, used, and applied throughout life, the brain will form more and more dendrites,” Willis says. “This circuit becomes so strong that it becomes permanent or automatic.”
So the adage “practice makes perfect” absolutely applies. “You want to be aggressive about learning and form good habits,” Paiva says. “Good habits lead to very productive work.”
Here are a few simple routines for learning to weave into your day-to-day routine:
1. Sleep more and meditate. Apps such as Sleep Cycle Alarm can help you log a full night’s rest — it uses the accelerometer in your smartphone to monitor your movements and determine which sleep phase you are in. The alarm will sound when you’re in your lightest sleep, which will make you feel the most rested that morning. Mediation has also been shown to improve memory and learning, and there are plenty of online resources that can show you how to do that.
2. Get your blood flowing. Exercise, even if it’s just getting outside the office for a five-minute walk around the block, can help you concentrate and will strengthen your ability to recall information.
3. Eat well. Numerous studies have shown the positive effects that eating breakfast has on the brain. What you eat after that first meal is important as well. A light lunch will help you feel less sluggish in the afternoon. Healthy snacks throughout the day keep your metabolism going and also keep you alert, which is good for your memory.
4. Tune in. Studies have shown that listening to music can help you recall key information. Some researchers say if you’ve learned something new while listening to a song, you can recall it by “playing” the tune in your head.
5. Write stuff. Not only does writing with a pen or pencil stimulate ideas, it also massages acupuncture points in the hand, which in turn triggers further ideas.