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Why Do We Forget Most Of The Things We Read?

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
I read daily for a fairly enough amount of time. Along with reading about my field of study, I read about anything. Anything includes anything except fiction. I have a queue of books, each waiting for its turn to get outside of the shelf. I am a regular reader of Medium. I get daily and weekly newsletters from top websites. I spend 3-5 hours of my daily life in reading and I have been following this routine for years. This is a good amount of time I think I have invested in reading and I still enjoy it. It is one of the things that I am proud of doing it. I am obsessed with it. I mark the day as an unproductive day when I read for less than an hour.

Reading has its own charm. The first sign that you may have fallen for the charm is that you will start loving the smell of books. I remember the days during my graduation when I couldn’t sleep without keeping my books so near to me that I can feel its smell.

But I remember hardly 10% of the things that I have read. At the end of the day, I don’t even remember titles of all my readings of that day. I find it frustrating and I feel there is something wrong with my memory. I started thinking, am I getting older than I should be at this age? Am I suffering from a hidden neural disorder? Do I need to see a doctor? I finally started thinking about it each night before going to sleep and I found that:

There is nothing wrong with me but there is something terribly wrong with the way I read.

Our brain is made of billions of neurons that connect with each other using synapsis to form the most complex network that could exist on earth. Synapsis is a small gap filled with a chemical called neurotransmitter where the dendroid of one neuron connects with the axon of other neurons. These synapses are believed to be the key to our memory. When we sense something through our senses, it flows like water through neurological pathways in the form of electric current. Every new thing that flows to our mind makes its own unique pathway in our brain. The things that we already know follow old pathways already created by similar information.

You can easily visualize this by a simple experiment that you might have already done. Pour some water on a surface that does not absorb water and keeps the water still. You will see that water struggles a little to spread through the surface. Now dip your finger or something in the water and draw a line through the surface. You will see the water will follow that line. Now pour some more water on the same spot and you will observe that it is easier for water now to follow the line you have drawn.

The same is the case with our brain. When a piece of new information comes in, it tries to make a neurological pathway for itself. For the first few times, it hardly leaves small marks in our brains. Every time we push the same information to our brain, it makes the existing path stronger. The stronger a neurological pathway is, for longer, we remember the information that flows through it.
It seems black and white but it is not. There is always some noise, random thoughts floating in our brain. It keeps the information we want to remember from making a neural pathway for itself.
To make reading effective, we should empty our brains first. There is a Chinese saying: you cannot fill a cup that is already filled.

Empty the cup first. Try to focus on what you read as much as you can.

Focusing is an art and it could be achieved by meditation and practice. It seems that sitting in a quiet place can help in focusing but that’s not true. There might be no external noise but it does not guarantee the non-existence of internal noise in your head. In contrast, one can empty his head even if he is sitting in a place full of distractions and noise.

In the absence of external noise, I find my brain full of random thoughts. It is harder for me to ignore internal noise than to ignore external noise and requires more effort. The reason I think this is that we are born and living in a world full of noise. We have already learned how to ignore distractions if we want to focus on something. This feature is so well developed that we don’t even notice any struggle from our side. However, all of us know how much we suffer when we fight against that noise-making monkey in our head.

To be honest, I don’t like my head when it is empty. So I always try to keep it busy with the noise I love to deal with to avoid the shitty one. There are two types of distractions, the one we love or the beautiful noise and the one we do not love or the ugly noise. Music and any other natural noise are beautiful for me. Everything else that is not music or not natural is ugly.
So, most of the time I wear my headphones and listen to music whenever I don’t like the internet or external noise.

It is quite easy to ignore the beautiful noise than the other. It is just a matter of experience for you to know which noise is beautiful noise and which one is ugly. In order to make your reading effective, replace ugly noise with the beautiful noise.

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