One of the best tips that I’ve ever heard was rather a simple one.
The opposite of forgetting is not remembering - it’s writing down.
It's one of those tips that when you first hear being said out loud makes a lot of sense, but in a trivial way. "It’s a dumb advice to give”, one might think to themself. “Of course writing things down is better! I don’t need to read anyone’s blog post to know that!”.
And while you’d be right, you’d be missing the point. Because this isn’t a life hack, meant to show you a cheat code to life that will solve your problems - rather, it’s a plain truth, and one that will make wonders for you once it’s been cemented in your brain.
Before we go over the non trivial side effects of writing things down, let’s take a look at why remembering isn’t the negation of forgetting.
We suck at remembering
Simply put - we, humans, are not well programmed for remembering information which isn’t crucial to our everyday life and survival. It has been proven in numerous studies that without repeatedly going over the information, we are very likely to forget it in a very short span of time.
Further more, this fact was shown in a famous study by the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus. In his studies, he showed that information might be forgotten within a few minutes of being first learned when it’s not a piece of crucial information.
All of this is to say - unless the pieces of information you need to remember are life changing - odds are you’ll be forgetting them soon after deciding that they are worth remembering. Which sucks. And that is why the opposite of forgetting - is writing things down.
The perks of being a written thought
By writing down, you achieve four (!) different goals, all of which with much higher chance of achieving than by trying to memorize information.
- You remember things - the most obvious goal of the bunch. By writing down things you’d want to address later, you relieve yourself of the need to keep a mental state on the topic and reduce the problem space to “I need to look at my notes at the end of the day”. Assuming you stick to the habit, this is much easier to do (since you only need to remember to look once, regardless of how many things you wrote down).
- You remember the things you care about - by going through an additional stage of thought processing, you allow yourself an additional chance to decide what you’d like to take care of. This also allows you to prioritize, since the thoughts are organized rather than floating in your head.
- You don’t forget the details - while you might remember you’ve meant to call your colleague, writing this intention down will allow you to specify what is the purpose of the call. This information is much more easily recorded while it’s written down, since (as I’ve previously said) it does not require your brain to maintain a state for everything you are up to.
- You can reflect - writing things down allows you to reflect upon the things you wrote down, which is much easier when they are all laid out in front of you. The obvious example is a TODO list, but this is also effective in other occasions.
These are all gains that you get for free when you write things down. And the cost is minimal - whether physical or digitized, just have a place where you can quickly and easily jot down ideas, tasks, call for actions and so on and so on - and you’ll immediately feel the benefits.
I applied this too to my life a few months ago, and I am much more productive ever since. I have a paperback notebook and a pen on my working desk at all times, and they are filled with all the thoughts, tasks, and ideas that I once had to cram inside my head.
Fun fact - One of the bullets I’ve had there for a few weeks now? “Write a blog post about the value of writing things down”.
Would you look at that.