Reading for Pleasure or to learn and retain?

I had a Eureka moment recently. I am an avid reader, reading many books in a year. But when asked about the content of a book I often lacked the words to explain it. I realised I was focussing on quantity and not content. Ultimately, most of of my reading was for mere entertainment. It was Schopenhauer who stated in the 1850s, “When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process.” So to learn, we need to think by ourselves. A person who reads without pausing to think and reflect won’t remember nor apply anything they read. Luckily, there’s a way out of it. We can indeed learn from what we read.

The Feynman Technique is one method to make us remember what we read by using elaboration and association concepts. It’s a tool for remembering what you read by explaining it in plain, simple language. Not only is the Feynman Technique a wonderful recipe for learning, but it’s also a window into a different way of thinking that allows you to tear ideas apart and reconstruct them from the ground up. What I love about this concept is that the approach intuitively believes that intelligence is a process of growth, which dovetails nicely with the work of Carol Dweck, about fixed and growth mindsets.

The 4 Steps You Need To Take 1. Choose the book you want to remember After you’ve finished a book worth remembering, take out a blank sheet. Title it with the book’s name. Then, mentally recall all principles and main points you want to keep in mind. Retrieve the concepts and ideas from your own memory, not the contents page. Yes, this requires your brainpower. But by thinking about the concepts, you’re creating an effective learning experience. While writing your key points, try to use the simplest language you can. Often, we use complicated jargon to mask our unknowingness. Big words and fluffy “expert words” stop us from getting to the point. As Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” 2. Pretend you are explaining the content to a child This sounds simpler than it is. In fact, explaining a concept as plain as possible requires deep understanding and forces you to simplify relationships and connections between concepts. . 3. Identify your knowledge gaps and reread Explaining a book’s key points helps you find out what you didn’t understand. There will be passages you’re crystal clear about. At other points, you will struggle. These are the valuable hints to dig deeper. Only when you find knowledge gaps — where you omit an important aspect, search for words, or have trouble linking ideas to each other — can you really start learning. When you know where you’re stuck go back to your book and re-read the passage until you can explain it in your own simple language. Filling your knowledge gaps is the extra step required to really remember what you read and skipping it leads to an illusion of knowledge.

4. Simplify Your Explanation Depending on a book’s complexity, you might be able to explain and remember the ideas after the previous. If you feel unsure, however, you can add an additional simplification layer. Read your notes out loud and organize them into the simplest narrative possible. Once the explanation sounds simple, it’s a great indicator that you’ve done the proper work. It’s only when you can explain in plain language what you read that you’ll know you truly understood the content.

We all know from our own experiences that knowledge is useless unless applied. But by forgetting what we read, there’s no way to apply it to our lives. The Feynman Technique is an excellent way to make the wisdom from books your own. It’s a way to tear ideas apart and rebuild them from the ground up. Here are the four steps you want to remember:

  • choose a book, get a blank page and title it

  • teach it to a child in plain, simple language

  • identify knowledge gaps and reread what you forgot

  • review and simplify your explanation (optional)

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