Business

Want to Learn Faster and Retain More Information? A Leading Brain Expert Says Just Ask Yourself These 3 Questions

When I read books, like many people I occasionally scribble a note or bookmark particularly interesting passages I want to remember or refer to later.

Unlike many people, I rarely go back and refer to them later. So I did a little experiment and went back to Adam Grant’s book, Think Again, to see what I had bookmarked. Right away I found something I had forgotten.

Research into how forecasters form their opinions in areas like politics, technology, and the economy shows that accurate forecasting is based more on how you think than what you know. Sure, intelligence matters.

But what matters most is how often people update their beliefs: How often they look for new information. How often they revise their predictions. How willing they are to change their minds when they uncover new facts or discover new information.

In short, you have to be willing to be wrong — a lot — in order to eventually be right.

Because, as Jim Kwik says, I didn’t ask myself three questions:

  1. “How can I use this?”
  2. “Why must I use this?”
  3. “When will I use this?”

According to Kwik, the author of the bestselling book Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life, knowledge isn’t power. Like experience, knowledge is only useful when actually used.

Using new information requires framing. How could I use what I learned about making better predictions? At the moment, I didn’t consider a use. I just thought it was a cool premise.

I could have thought, “Hmm. The next time I take a position, I should first take a step back and see if I can find information that disproves my belief, and whether I’m emotionally invested in my perspective.” (I never liked being supervised, so I’m quick to see greater employee latitude and responsibility as a good thing.)

That’s the how. As for why must I use it? Easy: My goal is to provide useful, actionable, beneficial information — not just spout some half-assed opinion. That’s a simple, yet powerful, “must.”

As for when must I use it? That’s also easy. Whenever I think, without thinking, that I’m right. (Which happens all the time.)

Or better yet, the next time I sit down to write. That way my “when” won’t be fuzzy or indeterminate, which is the kiss of death for good intentions.

Had I asked myself those three questions, I would have remembered — because my new knowledge would have have had a purpose, a motivation, and a time frame.

It would have been useful, meaningful, and actionable — which means it would have become a process, and not just a cool perspective.

Try it. The next time you learn something — better yet, the next time you want to learn something — ask yourself the three questions. Determine how. Determine why. Decide when.

And then actually follow through.

Because, as Kwik says, nothing you read works… unless you work.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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