10 Ways to Get Smarter By Keeping an Art Journal
by Yvonne Hanson
These journal prompts are designed to help you employ common memory devices to learn new things and keep track of information. Most of these techniques are taken from the books “Moonwalking With Einstein” by Joshua Foer, and “How to Develop, Train, and Use Memory” by William Walter Atkinson. These prompts emphasize the value of making connections, visualizing information, and decontextualizing key details to improve memory recall.
1. Plan your learning: Brainstorm a list of topics you want to learn about. When you feel left out of a conversation because you don’t know anything about the topic, take a note and add it to the list.
2. Take Non-School Related Notes : Pick one of your listed topics and search for a simplified explanation of it on Youtube. Dedicate a page in your journal to take notes on that video. Define key terms, write in point form, and connect what you learn to things you already know by circling the point and writing in what it reminds you of.
3. Learn About Current Events: Cut an interesting article out of a newspaper or magazine and paste it in your journal. Highlight key passages and take notes on the implications of the part you’ve highlighted. Beside the article, write your thoughts, opinions, and concerns regarding the article.
4. Mix School with Your Personal Life: Dedicate at least a two page spread to taking notes on something related to sch If you’re not in school, take notes on something you remember learning but have forgotten all about. Use lines to connect your point form notes with elements from your personal life that are relevant to the topic. Example: If you’re learning about water pollution, you might connect a bit of information to your own experiences swimming in polluted water. Connecting school to your personal life helps makes studying seem like something you want to do, not something you have to do.
5. Recall Insignificant Details: Cut the title page out of the book you are currently reading (optional, as I know a lot of people have a visceral objection to cutting books). Give a point form summary of everything that has happened in the book so far, without going back to remind yourself. Forcing yourself to recall small details will strengthen your ability to remember details in the future.
6. Answer Your Own Questions: Draw a line down the page to divide it into two columns. In one column, brainstorm questions that you don’t know the whole answer to. Example: how does photosynthesis work? What is nuclear fusion? What trees grow in my area? Google each question and write the answers in the second column. If you find an answer that is particularly interesting, take detailed notes on the opposite page.
7. Learn to Use Mnemonic Devices: If you are studying difficult vocabulary or something else that requires wrote-memorization, keep an ongoing list in your journal of terms and concepts you need to remember. For each one, break the word down into syllables and assign a picture or word that the syllable reminds you of. Then, put those words/pictures together in a way that is relevant to the word’s definition. Example: the word “Zooxanthellae” (a kind of algae) can be broken into ‘zoo’ ‘zan’ ‘tell’ ‘eh’. You could think of an algae hiding in a zoo, telling a woman named Suzan about Canada, eh. Describe this situation in your journal. This is a highly effective memorization tool called a ‘mnemonic’.
8. Kill Boredom With Memory Recall: Brainstorm lists of the books you’ve read in the past year, the things you bought at the grocery store last, the things you’ve eaten in the past two days, the characters in your old favourite tv shows, and anything else that requires detailed, accurate memory recall. Fill a page in your journal with these lists.
9. Record Your Life: Write at least a small point-form journal entry every day describing what you did, who you saw, what you bought, and what you ate. Recalling these details strengthens your memory of them, and recording them creates memory-bridges that can be used to retrieve your memories of each day, even after you’ve completely forgotten them. In a few years, re-read your journal entries: you’ll likely be able to recall something from almost every day you took the time to record.
10. Record and Perfect Your Thoughts, Opinions, and Ideas: Write a list of topics that you either spend a lot of time thinking about or that you have strong opinions on. When you feel like writing for a while, review this list and dedicate a page to recording your thoughts about each item. I like to title these pages “Thought practice”. Recording your thoughts will help you sort out inconsistencies and develop thought-out ideas that you can express more clearly in conversation (since you’ve already written out what to say :P) Make sure to ask questions and point out flaws in your own writing. Keep track of areas where you might be missing information.
Bonus: There are many more useful memory tips and tricks that I haven’t written about in these prompts. I’ve included a few below, but be sure to check out the books I referenced at the top if you’re interested in learning more. Both books can be found as audiobooks on Youtube.
• Sorting information using different coloured pens or different fonts/ writing styles forces your brain to concentrate just a little bit harder, making memory bridges just a little bit stronger.
• Connect new information to something emotional, funny, or sexual to make it stand out in your mind.
• Practice creating mnemonic devices in your head when you have some time to kill (at the bus stop, in line at the store, etc.)
• Study the same information in many different places, especially standing or moving around.
• Teach others about what you have learnt whenever possible. Teaching reinforces memories and will also help you express your knowledge in a logical, linear way.
YVONNE HANSON is a creative living, learning and loving in the Lower Mainland, British Columbia. Yvonne’s articles can be found on her Tumblr – click here