7 Brain hacks to better remember what you’ve read

Ever read an interesting, inspiring, or informative nonfiction book, then just a few weeks later find that you’ve forgotten most of it? Unless you’ve got an eidetic memory like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, then it’s likely that you’ll forget the finer parts of what you read in books. However, there are some quick and easy ways to remember what you’ve read. Today, I’ll be sharing my top tips on how to remember those amazing book insights (or anything, in fact).

#1 Make notes on it 

Multiple studies have shown that writing something in your own words can help to cement the information in your mind. You could go old school and write notes in the book’s margins and highlight key passages in neon yellow, but the problem is you need to keep the book to hand to refer back, and in the age of e-books (or if you’ve borrowed it), you can’t always write in the margins. So, you might find it useful to write in a notebook, maybe even a special one for your book wisdom. You could write in the Notes app on your phone, but studies show that physically writing something helps us to remember better than typing as we make different movements with our hands.

#2 Read it aloud 

Reading aloud can also help information stick in your brain better. A University of Waterloo study found that this happens because of the “production effect,” which is the double action of speaking something and hearing yourself say it. In essence, it’s because of the way our brains process information. It also helps that when we read aloud, we force ourselves to slow down and not skim-read. (Note, probably don’t do this if you’re on a train.)

#3 Draw it 

A University of Waterloo study also found that drawing led to better retention of information than writing, visualizing, or photographing. This is because drawing engages our spatial, visual, and motor skills, while other techniques use only one. So, if you come across a particularly useful point, you could draw your own representation of the image. If you don’t enjoy drawing, try a mix of writing, photographing and visualising to engage different skills.

#4 Reflect on it 

A neuroscience study found that reflecting can have a big impact on our retention of information. This doesn’t mean spending ages mulling things over, but take a few minutes after each chapter to reflect on how the content relates to your previous experiences and knowledge. Doing so creates connections in your brain to what you already understand and links to memories of what you’ve experienced. As emotions play a big role in memory, linking content to memories hacks your brain.

#5 Tell someone about it 

When you’ve finished reading a book, you could tell a friend or family member what you’ve learned in your own words (or alternatively, write a blog about it to share your wisdom with more people). This concept works in the same way as #1, but it also helps by creating discussion around what you’ve learned, which you may be more likely to remember than the book itself. You might forget a book’s detail but remember the engaging debate you had with a friend on the topic.

#6 Implement it 

Considering #4, a great way to retain information is to actively engage with it. This means using the information in your life. If you read a self-help book, you could write a list of three changes you’re going to make, then form them into habits that you practice regularly. If you actually do what the book suggests, you’re far more likely to remember it than if you just put it back on the bookshelf.

#7 Read it again 

Another hack to remember information based on #4 is to read or remind yourself of it again. Studies call this “the spacing effect”. Essentially, the more you read and learn information over time, the more it sticks in your brain, particularly if the repetitions are in different settings and at different times. So read a book on the train, then look at your notes a month later in the park, and so on.

Have any of these hacks worked for you in the past? Let us know!

Stay tuned to The Book Shelf for more top tips on writing, nonfiction books, and publishing.