Distraction is one of the defining themes of our time. Between text messages, intrusive ads, emails, pop-ups, and push notifications, our attention is a highly valued commodity being sought by friends, family, and corporations alike. Our attempt to juggle and multitask between the many things competing for our attention often means that tasks take longer to complete, and the quality suffers. To make matters worse, this constant distraction not only degrades our performance at work, it can also severely impact our long-term memory.
A lack of memory may seem like a more worldly or pedestrian problem, one beneath the higher aspirations of the spiritually-minded. On the contrary, storing knowledge is one of the biggest challenges an aspiring yogi must overcome as spiritual study requires a great deal of abstract and intellectual reading in addition to meditation. If in the course of your spiritual pursuits you find yourself spending a lot of time learning but failing to remember what you study, it can feel as though you aren’t making any real progress.
If we are to pursue all aspects of spiritual knowledge, we must improve our ability to retain this wisdom. To hold wisdom requires the special condition that you learn and retain the learning, not just in the deeper resources of your mind and in your heart, but also in a place where it can be accessed easily. To dig deeper into why your memory falters, let’s start by pinpointing the problem.
This article is based on the teachings of Nanette V. Hucknall, the founder of Higher Self Yoga. To learn more about holding on to spiritual wisdom and other fundamental teachings, pick up a copy of Higher Self Yoga: Book 1 from Amazon today!
Why We Struggle to Remember Things
Determining the unique reasons why you have difficulty remembering what you’re taught is essential for overcoming the problem. Start by reflecting on and assessing your own abilities to store knowledge by asking yourself the following questions:
- When you read a novel, can you remember any details about it a month later?
- When you study a subject that interests you, can you recall the main things you read a month later?
- When you study, do you always prepare by making certain you have no distractions?
- When you talk about something you read a while ago, can you remember the gist of the material?
If you answered “no” to any of the above, then you probably don’t have excellent retention. This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t remember anything – sometimes a person with generally poor retention can have total memory about a specific book because it is so well written. But the inconsistency here illustrates an important point: it’s not an issue of memory, but of how engaged you are with the material.
There are a number of reasons we struggle to retain information. Some of us simply have weak memories, while others may be experiencing a declining memory loss due to illness or age, which can also be improved with proper exercises. More commonly, however, our struggles are derived from scattered, chaotic thinking and the inability to focus on a task, whether it be for internal or external reasons. Here are some of the most common reasons:
- Being preoccupied with other tasks you want to do.
- Lacking good study habits resulting in poor exam scores.
- Feeling too tired all the time.
- Having noisy neighbors and not having the time to go elsewhere to a quiet place.
- Having family around you that needs constant attention.
- Feeling duty-bound to study because your teacher has told you to, but lacking enthusiasm.
- Feeling it a duty to read material that you find too difficult.
As you read through this list, ask yourself which of these reasons are most responsible for your poor retention. Feel free to add to this list your own particular distractions. For each item that sounds like a likely culprit, ask yourself the following question about poor study habits and each distraction:
- When I act out this way, is there anything that precedes it and lays the groundwork for failure?
- When I am feeling the pull of this distraction, what do I need to do to change the feeling?
- Do I have any old beliefs that are underlying this habit? Is there any childhood conditioning involved in this habit?
- Can I replace this negative habit with a new one that is positive?
- In looking at the habit, does anything come to mind that is new to my understanding?
Meditate on each of these questions, one at a time. Repeat the exercise and write down any thoughts that came to mind.
8 Tips for Improving Your Retention
The previous exercises should have shed some light on why you may struggle to retain information. While we all have different reasons for a less than optimal memory (and therefore, require different solutions), the following changes to your learning habits are a great place to start:
- Dedicate and Prepare a Physical Space for Learning: Prepare the place you will use to read and study. It should be comfortable, in a quiet place in the house. Ideally, it ought to be located where there is beauty, such as paintings or a view of outdoor beauty or the beauty of fresh flowers. Take time to notice the beauty and breathe it in.
- Do a Short Meditation Before Studying: During the meditation, ask your Higher Self to be with you and help you to understand the material and to remember it.
- Highlight and Vocalize: if there is something you want to remember, highlight it and read it out loud. Seeing words and reading them aloud at the same time always helps you remember the content.
- Reread: Before beginning a new section, reread your previous highlights or the typed or written notes you made. Then begin the process again with the new material.
- Make it Social: If you have a friend who is studying the same material, meet and quiz each other and, in general, talk about what interested you in the reading.
- Finish with a Reward: When you have finished your studies, reward yourself with a fun activity. This is very important for balance.
- Internalize Your Learning: Meditate on the new knowledge and notice what comes up. Perhaps a new and exciting understanding?
- Change Your Perspective: The next time you study, try to look forward to it. Make it an interesting experience by viewing the material as meaningful, stimulating, and exciting.
Applying Wisdom to Your Daily Life
Holding on to wisdom means more than simply remembering what you have learned. While memorization is important, to truly grasp wisdom we must take this knowledge and apply it to your everyday life. If you’re studying, think of some ways you can try to apply the teachings the following day. Utilizing what you’ve learned in day-to-day life will not only help you remember it, but will also breathe life into the teachings as you share them with your friends, family, and co-workers. And in a wonderful feedback loop, applying what you’ve learned in your daily life and seeing the joy it can bring will further motivate you to study more.
This article is based on the teachings of Nanette V. Hucknall, the founder of Higher Self Yoga. To learn more about holding on to spiritual wisdom and other fundamental spiritual teachings, pick up a copy of Higher Self Yoga: Book 1 from Amazon today!
What techniques have you used to help boost your memory?
Tell us in the comments below!