People actually remember whatever they're paying attention to pretty well. So when you're studying, you'll remember what you were focused on. The challenge for most people is that our attention and minds wander... a lot. The best way to study is to be aware of that wandering and bring our attention gently back to the study. Over and over again. Just be here now.
Most people have a lot of chatter in their minds. Sometimes they aren't aware of the babble, but it's common. “I'm hungry”, “it's almost 11 already”, “I could play that new game I got”, “the rent is due next week”, for example, on and on in what for most people is a nonstop stream. Plus everything a person might worry about plus whatever past regrets and grudges they're carrying around. People have written a lot about this chatter (and the bigger issues of anxiety, resentment, and stress). Some of it is really practical advice, some spiritual, and some mystical, sometimes all in the same book... maybe more about that later.
For now, though, there are two key insights. First, this chatter is rarely useful. Planning for the future or making a note in the calendar to pay the rent, for example, can be helpful. Remembering the past to learn from it can be helpful. But the vast majority is just the mind spinning its wheels. At best. At worst, people's negative self-talk and worry decreases their ability to function and succeed. Also, it makes them miserable.
The second insight is that we can redirect our attention to something more helpful, like what we're trying to learn right now. How do people redirect their attention? The simple part is that just by trying, people refocus. No magic, no advanced technique here. Just bring your attention back what you're studying. The part that takes more practice is being aware that our attention has wandered away in the first place. It will wander. It happens. How many times have you gotten to the bottom of the page and realized you don't know what you read? For me, many times. My memory was fine. My focus was not on what I was reading.
The way to focus better is to just be aware of what you're thinking about. When your attention wanders, and it will, just gently return your attention to the biology terms, history dates, or whatever you're trying to learn. Don't waste energy blaming yourself or judging yourself. Don't feel guilty for thinking of something else. Don't listen to any negative self-talk about it's hopeless or giving up. Just refocus your attention on what you're studying. Just be here now. Just do this one thing.
This definitely gets better with practice, too. At first, I thought I was mostly focused. Then I realized I was constantly distracted and blamed myself for it. Then I stopped wasting energy blaming myself (or anything else). Now I return my attention to the facts or steps I'm trying to learn, often, but without much stress or blame. My studying effectiveness has improved a lot. No extra memory, no super powers. More of my focus is on the studying and less on what's for dinner or when the rent's due. The same can work you.
At first, it may feel like you spend more time refocusing than actually studying. But just by trying, you're already focusing more on what you're trying to learn, and you will remember it better. A lovely bonus is that you may also find it easier to notice beauty in the world, like the flowers under the tree, instead of rushing past.
Gregory Hanks has taught community college for upwards of 17 years. He's helped thousands of students achieve more of their potential, write better, and earn their degrees. In 2017, he left a traditional teaching role to help more people like you get better results, faster.
Copyright 2019 G. Hunter Hanks Media L.L.C.