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5 reasons learning and memory are not about intelligence

Posted Mar 06 2013 5:00am

Average people remember things that supposed smart people forget

Improving memory

Happy Memories

Our educations system and a lot of parent’s efforts to help their children learn are misguided. Somewhere along the line we got the impression that to be a good learner you needed to be really smart and that if you scored low on an I.Q. test then you would never be able to learn. That is just not so. Being smart helps, but it is not the whole story. There are things anyone can do to improve their memory and learning.

1 Learning is emotional not intellectual.

If you truly enjoy something it is easy to learn a lot about that subject. If you don’t care about something it is next to impossible to remember. If you have ever had to take a class in school because it was required, but it was nothing you will ever care about after the class is over, you know what I mean.

Excitement fuels learning. Anything that gets you excited about a subject leads to better, learning, memory and retention of that subject. Practicing memory games can make learning more fun and goes a long way towards improving your memory.

2. Learning is cumulative

We find learning about something very difficult when we don’t have the foundation to understand the subject. Knowledge is cumulative. If you don’t have the basics down the advanced material becomes more difficult.

Begin with something simple, something that interests you and as you learn more about that subject ask yourself what else you want to know about. Follow those trails wherever they go and you will find yourself become more knowledgeable about many things.

3. Learning and memory require will power

To learn some things requires will power. I wrote a while back about how many people have difficulties with will power. One reason will power is so elusive is our tendency to confuse will power and won’t power. Another cause of poor will power is the natural human tendency to enjoy today and forget tomorrow.

The hardest form of will power is the ability to do something unpleasant today because it will produce future gains.

4. Learning is about how many words you know.

Memories for most people are saved as stories. The more words you know the less effort it takes to convert this expertise, real or imagined, into a story that will be easy to remember. 

Movies and book are hard to remember if you don’t have the vocabulary to store and retell the events that made this story important.

Reading anything can improve your vocabulary. The more you read the more you learn and the more able to learn and remember you become.

5. You can’t rely on only one sense to store information into memory.

Having multiple anchors in your memory from multiple senses helps you to store and retrieve that memory.

When there is someone or something that you want to remember try associating that memory with all your senses. What did it smell like? What were the good smells and the bad orders? Did it touch you internally as well as externally?

Paying attention to the sound of the person’s voice, their facial expressions and the way you experience their presence will help you in remembering that person.

Most of us have tried to improve memory by becoming better at memorizing words rather than by learning to engage all our senses and fully experience the event.

In future posts we will talk about some ways to improve your acuity and mental efficiency using senses other than verbal memories as ways to improve your ability to remember.

Go out there and practice mental efficiency, memory improvement and the other skills you will need to create the success you want.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page . For information about my other writing work beyond this blog there is also a Facebook authors page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at

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