In this month's newsletter: Seven ways to sharpen your memory, why we learn best through stories, and the month's most popular columns—from the value of feeling frustrated to why talking to yourself isn't crazy.
Welcome back! I'm Annie Murphy Paul, a book author, magazine journalist, consultant and speaker who specializes in explaining scientific research on how we learn and how we can do it better. My book Brilliant: The New Science of Smart will be published by Crown in 2014, but in the meantime I've been doing a lot of other writing on the subject, highlighted here—along with content you won't find anywhere else.

I hope you've learned a lot this month—I know I have. Many insights into learning come to me from conversations with researchers and readers, and one of the most common questions I hear is this: How can I improve my memory? With all the information we encounter every day, it seems that more and more of us are struggling to hang on to what's important. The good news is that the science of learning has a lot of evidence-based advice on how to improve your recall and "flatten the forgetting curve" (one of my favorite phrases from the literature). You'll find that counsel below, along with the month's most popular columns and blog posts.

Comments or questions? I'd love to hear from you. Email me at And if you'd like to read even more about learning, you can visit my website, follow me on Twitter, and join the conversation on Facebook.

Be brilliant!

7 ways to Sharpen your memory1. Be conscious of the limits of your working memory—the mental holding area that contains the facts and concepts you're thinking about at any one time. We can hang onto only about four facts or ideas at a time in working memory, but we can pack more information into those four slots by engaging in chunking: linking multiple pieces of information into a few meaningful groups.
2. We all remember from school that cramming the night before a test doesn't work too well, but many of us use the same approach in our working lives, hurriedly reviewing what we need to know on the way to a meeting or presentation. It's much more effective to expose yourself to the information in brief sessions spaced out over time. One easy way to do this is to use your email program to send yourself a weekly or biweekly message containing the material you need to review.
3. Despite its many proponents, there's little scientific evidence to support the idea that we have distinctive learning styles (visual, auditory, etc.). However, we do all learn and remember best when information is presented in multiple modalities—when we hear it, see it, act it out, and so on. If there's something you need to remember, try to absorb it through several senses: read the material out loud, watch a video lecture on YouTube.
4. Sleep is key to memory: it's during slumber that we consolidate and make permanent the knowledge we've gathered during the day. After you've been exposed to a lot of information (for example, when you've spent the day at a conference), make sure you get a good night's sleep. You can also try reviewing important information just before you go to bed at night—or following a study session with a daytime nap!
5. We often conceive of memory as something like a storage tank, and a test as a kind of dipstick that measures how much information we’ve put in there. But that’s not actually how the brain works. Every time we pull up a memory, we make it stronger and more lasting—so quizzing yourself doesn’t just measure what you know, it changes what you know. Put away your notes and try to recall the material from memory.
6. We remember new knowledge better when it connects to what we already know. Before heading into a situation in which you'll be absorbing a lot of new information, "activate" your prior knowledge by reflecting on what you currently understand of the topic, maybe jotting down a few notes. You'll be priming your mind to grab and hold onto the new material.
7. The "generation effect" is the term psychologists use to describe the following phenomenon: we remember material better when we've generated it ourselves. Rather than reading or repeating someone else's formulation, put the information to be learned into your own words: explain it to yourself, or talk about it to someone else. Research also shows that teaching someone else helps the teacher to remember the material better.

this month's most-read blog postsLearning Through Stories. This is a new feature I introduced on the Brilliant Blog this month, and I've been so gratified by the response it has evoked. It starts with the fact that lot of scientific research—and our own experience—demonstrates that we understand and remember material best when it’s presented to us as a narrative, or when we tell our own story about it. So, once a week, I've been inviting readers to to share their stories of where and when and how they learned something in particular. Take a look at the stories readers shared—and contribute your own!—on these topics:
How Did You Learn To Ride A Bike?
How Did You Learn To Cook?
Who Was Your Most Inspiring Teacher?

this month's most popular ColumnsTalking To Yourself: Not So Crazy After All, from
What Do Emotions Have To Do With Learning?, from MindShift
How To Increase Your Powers of Observation, from
Want To Prevent Aging? Learn A New Language, from
Surprising Tips That Help Kids Learn To Read, from MindShift

All my best,

This Month's Brilliant Quote "People do differ in intelligence, talent, and ability. And yet research is converging on the conclusion that great accomplishment, and even what we call genius, is typically the result of years of passion and dedication and not something that flows naturally from a gift. Mozart, Edison, Curie, Darwin and Cézanne were not simply born with talent; they cultivated it through tremendous and sustained effort. Even geniuses work hard."—Carol Dweck, professor at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Copyright © 2012 Anne Paul, All rights reserved.

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