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By Jess Gromada
Editor, MindEdge Learning
Have you ever spent countless hours learning a new skill, only to forget it shortly afterwards?
Maybe you watched crocheting tutorials on YouTube, or perhaps you memorized vocabulary flashcards to become fluent in another language. You’d think that the time and energy you spent learning and perfecting your new skill would help you stay proficient in the future, right?
Actually, wrong. The truth is, after stepping away for only a few days, you may notice yourself starting to forget important details or pieces of information that you once knew so well.
What is the reason behind your sudden loss of memory?
Lack of consistency.
Consistency is key, no matter what skill you’re trying to learn. Absorbing information is only the first step of the learning process; retaining that knowledge calls for actively relearning information on a regular basis. Consistent relearning of material is a challenging and time-consuming feat that requires planning, dedication, and loads of repetition.
But is it really necessary?
In most cases, yes. Whether you’re learning out of necessity or desire, incorporating a new skill or knowledge into your daily life is essential to maintaining a high level of proficiency.
German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus hypothesized that our ability to remember information declines drastically over time. Ebbinghaus illustrated this idea with a chart he called the “Forgetting Curve,” which depicts the rate of memory loss over different time periods. According to the “Forgetting Curve,” the fastest rate of memory loss occurs only a few days after learning a new skill. As time goes on, the rate of memory loss slows down—but by then, the bulk of your learned memories may have already been forgotten.
Several outside factors can influence how likely you are to retain specific information. For example, if the information or skill you’ve learned is particularly meaningful to you, you’re more likely to retain it over longer periods of time. That’s because meaningful information tends to resonate with an individual, whereas uninteresting or unengaging information is easy to forget.
Your mental and physical well-being can also have a drastic effect on how much information you’re able to retain at a given moment. Studies suggest that lack of sleep, for instance, makes it more difficult for your brain to function properly and store information, which may increase the rate of memory loss.
Although many factors that affect memory retention are outside of your control, implementing certain strategies will increase your ability to remember new information over longer periods of time. In addition to consistency, try incorporating a few of the ideas below into your learning process:
- Get enough sleep. How well-rested you are has a major impact on your ability to retain information. Lack of sleep can lead to a quicker rate of memory loss after learning new information.
- Create a schedule. Incorporating consistent practice and relearning into your busy life can be challenging, but creating a schedule can help you intentionally set aside time for practicing or relearning your new skill.
- Avoid distractions. Some distractions are unavoidable, but when you are learning something new you should try to keep distractions to a minimum. For example, setting aside a quiet area within your living space as a dedicated “learning space” may help minimize social or technological distractions.
- Be in a learning mindset. Learning something new is more likely to resonate with you if you’re in the right frame of mind. If you’re not interested or engaged in learning, you will have a difficult time remembering the new information or skill.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. Learning something new is challenging, and you may not remember it on the first go. Be patient and allow yourself ample room for mistakes and improvement.