Self-improvement and forgetting
June 30, 2014 6:40 AM   Subscribe

How do I incorporate the things I learn from self-improvement reading into my life? This is more than just a question about remembering what I learn from self-improvement books. I am looking for ways of making that knowledge stick, so that I can make good use of it later when I need it.

Let me give an example. Last year I read Richard Wiseman's 59 Seconds and loved the practical implications of the research he described. Knowing that you can trick your body into feeling happy when you're not by putting a pencil between your teeth is very handy. But there are countless other tips and tricks in that book and others I have read in the past that I simply don't remember now, or don't use. Often I find that I start using the tip, then forget about it because I don't need to use it for a while.

Some of the things I learn are easy to incorporate because they can be translated into habits I can develop (like not using electronics before bed), but for others it's not so easy. This year I had been saying "and so" instead of "but" for a month or so, and that has stopped. Tips for relationships are also very difficult for me to assimilate if I'm not in a relationship for example.

So, to the questions:

1. Beyond the obvious answer of "form habits", what are some practical ways I can keep things I learn from my self-improvement reading "present" or "visible" in my daily routines, to the extent that I start to assimilate that information? (I'm thinking something a little more sophisticated than "write all the tips on sticky notes and plaster your apartment").

2. What would be a good way of collating all the the tips and tricks (like the pencil between teeth one) so that I have an easy way of reviewing them periodically?

3. If you have done self-improvement reading before and tried to assimilate what you learned, what approaches or techniques worked for you? I'm thinking specifically about things that can't be made into habits in this question, so please try to target your answers accordingly.
posted by Juso No Thankyou to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I keep a 'book notebook' where I scribble down the main points of awesome books I've read or seminars I've been to. I try to distill a book down to its essence.

You could leave this as your 'toilet book' or just somewhere you'll see it and can flip through it regularly.

I pick 1 habit to form and repeat it daily for 1-2 weeks until it becomes, well, a habit. Then I move on to the next one.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:47 AM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ugh! I always type too quickly.

If it's not a habit, then what do you mean? Like a way of thinking? A way of responding? I still think they are habits.

If I'm facing a situation where I typically do X but I want to do Y, then I do a lot of visualization and rehearsal prior to facing the situation.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:48 AM on June 30, 2014

Create affirmations, and repeat them to yourself. Put them in places you might see (like the medicine cabinet) every day.
posted by xingcat at 6:59 AM on June 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Evernote or equivalent and flip through when flying or using public transportation. Use tags like "sleep" or "in case of sadness" for easy reference.

What's more important though is "Is this knowledge/hack/trick something I need?"

By that - is it something that is going to be really useful to me?

I find reading "self help" is best done in a targeted way. There is some habit or pattern in my life I need to change so I seek out that information. Spend quality time developing those specific habits. Then live life until the next thing needs addressing.

Sleep for example. If I read up on healthy sleeping, then make a list a the 4 or 5 new habits I will try to incorporate, and then spend 30 or 60 days on sleep I develop or learn that skill.

When I have that in place I move onto diet, etc....

Tracking knowledge I don't really need today, for practical use, isn't useful for me. I have a library of books and ebooks that I keep organized enough that the information is there when I think I need it. Notebooks, bookmarks and digital notes capture web and magazine reading.

Taking time to organize them means I don't have to remember every little thing.

I read a quote, & forgot by who, that said something like "a wise man doesn't have an answer for everything, he knows where to look for the answers".
posted by jeffe at 8:32 AM on June 30, 2014

Don't use affirmations. Go read The Antidote for why.

Four principles, from Ebbinghaus and the memory people. The best book for an exegesis on the methodology and why these things work is Make It Stick, unrelated to the many other books titled that.

1. Rereading doesn't work. You might as well treat it as if it doesn't exist. Go do recall instead. Hard recall, meaning free recall of long facts. It will seem like as if rereading is more effective, but this is an illusion.

2. Massed repetition doesn't work. Meaning, you can't get all the studying done in ten hours on a weekend and be done with it. Astronomically better to do it in ten one-hour chunks, which is spaced repetition. It will seem as if the ten-hour session is more effective. This is an illusion.

3. Focused studying doesn't work. Better to variegate your studying. One kind of geometry problem is not as good as being confused by ten kinds of geometry problems at once. Once again, it will seem as if the focused studying works better. This is also an illusion.

4. Difficult is better than easy. This is why I don't use Anki anymore, because the spaced repetitions are a bit too easy for me once you learn the keyboard shortcuts. I write down hard questions in plain text, and don't write down the answers anywhere close.

Self-help is a domain full of illusions. I think that it would be best to look hard always at the scientific methodology of the people who write it (most have none, some have none but have been validated by the science).
posted by curuinor at 8:43 AM on June 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Tie your self improvement and insight habit to something else you already do frequently, ideally daily. For example you may make coffee first thing every morning. Or you may go to work and check your e-mails, except on week-ends when you check them at home. Or maybe you walk the dog.

Use that time to review your self help program, or to look for new ideas, or to practice self-affirmation. When one part of the self help program seems a bit underwhelming switch to a different self-help exercise done at the same time and place. So for three weeks you could practice being mindful, and then for a week you could go over strategies in a new self-help book, and then for another week you could review the ideas from 59 Seconds, and then you could try another program that you remember.

This is where, on a daily basis you remind yourself what you are trying to do. You are much more likely to remember to say "...and so" when you made a resolution to switch to "...and so" from "but" that very morning than you are when you made the resolution two weeks ago. This is also the time where you go over what you did the day before and try to remember times that you said "but" and then reframe them as "...and so" statements. It's okay to fix your thinking retro-actively and sometimes it is more effective than trying to do it from scratch, the same way you often remember things better if you recall as much as possible about the subject before you review, rather than first reviewing and then recalling.

Keep a self help file. It could be a blog that you keep on line while you drink your first thing in the morning coffee, or a file folder full of ideas you print out, or a nice hardbound journal that you keep next to the dog's leash and review for two minutes before you go out with the dog. If all your self-improvement stuff is in one place you can review the older material periodically, maybe every three months. Take notes from books and write them in your file. Ideally you will make this an aesthetically pleasing file so that you are glad to interact with it because you like the way it feels or it looks. With luck and a bit of planning you can turn this into a solacing object.

In addition to the daily few moments, it would be ideal if you also spend and hour or an hour and a half weekly, always at the same time and date, to do a more in-depth review. I hesitate to use the example of church, but when done correctly, a weekly hour and a half long session working on your intended improvements can be a good basis.

Consider including other people. Share methods with your spouse or significant other. "Today I used the word but when I was trying to figure out why I never get out of work on time. I said to myself that I'd leave at five but people always dump work on my desk at the last minute. That made me feel mad. I wonder how I could re-frame the statement as an "...and so" statement." If the techniques are useful your partner can use them too. If they are worthwhile you will maybe be able to explain how and why they work. Teaching someone else is a good way of getting a really good grasp on an idea.

If you and your SO spend five minutes decompressing in the evening and going over these mental habit improvement techniques it will be good reinforcement.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:51 PM on June 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

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