Which is Your Knowledge Savings Rate?
How many times have you read a book and end up remembering only a sentence? War and Peace? Sure, it’s about war. Reading a book just for fun is ok, but if you really want to absorb knowledge you should do something else with what you are reading. If not, it’s like pouring water into a jar full of holes.
You may have heard this quote:
“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
I would say that Ralph Waldo could have absorbed more ideas from his readings if he had used what we know today in the science of neurology and learning.
It’s not a given that if you read a lot you will start accumulating and compounding knowledge. Reading without doing anything else is like sand falling between your fingers, you are not accumulating much.
You have to keep your gains, you have impregnate new knowledge on your wetware. But how would you do that? Well, let’s dive into it.
Saving new ideas into your wetware
It is better to have 50 good and solid ideas in your brain than to have 1.000 ideas that are not related to anything else and were simply memorized. When you connect new ideas with your existing network you increase the chances of that idea or concept to pop up when you really need it.
Of course connecting and really absorbing ideas, mental models and concepts is more work than just memorize some new piece of information. But, believe me, it’s worth it.
Let’s see how to do this.
Connecting new ideas with old ones
If you could incorporate this practice as habit you are going to improve your usable information acquisition rate by an order of magnitude. That’s how powerful this is.
“You have to connect and re-connect every new idea or piece of information that you come across with some other concept or idea you already know”.
That’s it. You can do this in several ways, but the best approach I found is the Zettelkasen technique.
When you absorb new idea you have to hang it from something that is already in your wetware. This way it connects to the network.
If you connect new knowledge with old ideas, you increase the value of the network of thoughts that you have in your brain.
Every new idea that you read or absorb should be connected to an existing idea. This way the knowledge compounds, new ideas should be connected to more than one idea.
Do like Shaggy, connect the web of thoughts and ideas inside your head.
Expanding and bullet proofing your knowledge network
Now that you have the habit of relating every new idea to your existing network of thought, try to go deeper.
Does this new idea contradicts, expands or confirm what you already believed in that field?
Think about the broader implications of the new information that you are acquiring. Don’t just memorize of take new information from granted.
Be inquisitive, think, compare and contrast new data. Search for the truth in what you are learning.
Increase the neurological contact with what you are learning
The language of the brain is not a language of abstractions. The language of the brain is a language of images, and sounds, and scents and feelings.
You will remember more of something if you increase the neurological contact with what you are trying to learn.
If you are learning history, imagine how the people involved in the historic event might have felt.
If you are learning biology, imagine the sounds, textures and smells of the animals or plants that are the subject of your study.
If you are learning math, visualize the shapes and interactions of the concepts you are learning.
Leveraging spaced repetition
By the end of the XIX century, Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered that humans tend to forget in a predictable way.
Doing lot’s of experiments memorizing meaningless syllables, he arrived to the conclusion that every human has a forgetting curve for new information that goes more a less like this:
Yes, drawing charts is not my stronger suit.
Nothing surprising so far, right? The more time passes the more you forget of what you’ve learned.
But Ebbinghaus didn’t stop there, he kept pushing to find out how to hack human memory. What he discovered gave birth to the spaced repetition technique. Probably one of the best ways of augmenting long-term memory and human cognition.
Ebbinghaus noticed that if he made periodic reviews of the syllables he was trying to memorize he would retain a higher percentage of them.
Not only that but also the intervals at which he was reviewing each syllable could be longer and longer.
The forgetting curve after spaced repetition of reviews looked something like this:
You can see how the final retention percentage drop less after a couple of spaced repetitions of the data. This was the genius of Ebbinghaus.
Increasing long term memory can also improve human cognition.
It makes sense: to reason you need to hold different premises and arguments in your mind. If you can hold more of this chunks or pieces of information in your mind at the same time, you will be able to create more complex reasonings that if you only can remember a few of them.
If you want to improve your reasoning capacity and remember more summarize the gist of what you are tying to learn and practice spaced repetition with it.
Which is the best way to do it? There are several apps in the market but the most advanced and the most practical is Anki.
Putting what you learned to use
So far we have reviewed ways of not only improving the way you remember things but also how to increase human cognition.
Now, you have to use it. The best way of imprint in your wetware all this new knowledge you are acquiring is to apply it to something.
If you are learning to code, write an app.
If you are learning history, white an essay.
If you are learning finance, elaborate an investment thesis about a company.
Creative activity is the mortar that bonds and solidifies the knowledge and ideas we acquire.
Do this and you will be in the 0.001% of the population that uses more of the brain, learn faster and creates value for society. This decade will be owned by creators.
Use these techniques and go, create.