The Spacing Effect: How to Improve Learning and Maximize Retention - Farnam Street


Hatched by Glasp

Aug 06, 2023

4 min read


The Spacing Effect: How to Improve Learning and Maximize Retention - Farnam Street

We are not taught how to learn in school, we are taught how to pass tests. Learning how to learn is a part of a “work smarter, not harder” approach to life. Rote memorization is tedious and ineffective. Instead, we should focus on learning through spaced repetition. Research by Hermann Ebbinghaus, a pioneer of memory research, has shown that we are better able to recall information and concepts if we learn them in multiple, spread-out sessions. The key is the number of times we retrieve the information.

Our brains are designed to think and automatically hold onto what's important. Gabriel Wyner, author of "Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language and Never Forget It," argues that there is no such thing as memorization. When we experience something, our brains remember it for us. Memories are not located in any one part of the brain but are formed through a process involving the entire brain. Memories are constructed from disparate components, creating a logical whole. Retrieving memories changes the way they are later encoded, making it easier to recall them in the future.

The intensity of emotion and attention also play a role in memory retention. The more emotionally invested we are in something, the more likely we are to remember it. Our brains assign greater importance to repeated information, and semantic priming, the associations we form between words, makes them easier to recall. However, it's important to note that massed learning, or cramming, is inefficient compared to spaced repetition.

Implementing spaced repetition requires forward planning and a small investment of time to set up a system. Breaking up with cramming and focusing on spaced repetition can lead to more effective learning. To track progress and gain a sense of progression and improvement, we can use systems like Glasp. By consistently practicing spaced repetition, we can improve our learning and maximize retention.

How to Be Useless | Psyche Guides

In the ancient Daoist masterpiece "Zhuangzi," the concept of being useless is explored as a way to reclaim our lives and find happiness and fulfillment. Society often pressures us to be useful and serve a purpose, but Zhuangzi argues that usefulness should not be life's bottom line. Instead, we should reject the idea of use altogether.

Zhuangzi uses the metaphor of a gnarly tree to illustrate this point. The tree simply exists in all its grandeur, not reducing itself to its usefulness. Disabled bodies in the Zhuangzi challenge the utilitarian calculus of contemporary existence. Trying to be useful can actually be harmful to ourselves, as it traps us in a mindset that sees ourselves and others as a means to an end.

Zhuangzi suggests a life of wandering or "play," free from the pressure of usefulness. Being useless allows us to live in a free and easy way, not caring about praise or condemnation. It is a rejection of the idea that we always have to serve a greater good. Zhuangzi envisions a world where people live true to what gives them energy and vitality, celebrating diversity and difference.

In contrast to Zhuangzi's idea, welfarism values things and people based on whether they benefit others. Zhuangzi argues that it is fine to simply be. We are not mere tools in building a larger project but glorious parts of the greater Universe. When we become one with the ceaseless energy of the Dao, we become our true selves.

To apply these concepts to our own lives, we should reassess what we want and not dismiss life-changing events as crises. Embracing a mindset of being useless allows us to live authentically and find true fulfillment. Society should celebrate diversity and different ways of living well, rather than promoting strict social hierarchies.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Embrace spaced repetition: Instead of relying on rote memorization, practice spaced repetition to improve learning and maximize retention. Create a system or use tools like Glasp to track progress and reinforce previously learned information.
  • 2. Let go of the pressure to be useful: Reject the idea that usefulness should be the bottom line in evaluating your life choices. Embrace a mindset of being useless and focus on living authentically and finding true fulfillment.
  • 3. Celebrate diversity and difference: Instead of valuing people and things based on their usefulness, celebrate diversity and different ways of living well. Embrace a world where everyone can live true to what gives them energy and vitality, free from the pressure to serve a greater good.

In conclusion, learning how to learn effectively through spaced repetition can improve retention and recall. Embracing a mindset of being useless allows us to live authentically and find true fulfillment. By rejecting the pressure to be useful and celebrating diversity, we can create a world where everyone can live in harmony with themselves and the greater Universe.

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