YOU WANT to make lasting changes
in your life. Youre tired of trying to make a change only
to revert back to your old ways. Youve come to the right
place. I will share a secret with you: When you can learn
really learn something youll be able to make
serious changes, and make them last.
A lot of research has been done to discover
the fastest, most efficient and longest-lasting way to learn
something (at the end of the article youll find links to
the research), and the key is spaced repetition. If you
want to make lasting changes in your life, you need to understand
how spaced repetition works.
When you first learn something either
a personal insight or something you read, or you hear someone
say something and you think, If I could remember that,
it would change my life if you were never exposed
to that insight or piece of information again and never recalled
it, it would disappear from your memory (or be so difficult to
remember it might as well have disappeared). This is the source
of our failure to make lasting changes.
For you to integrate an insight into your
life, you have to remember it long enough and often
enough to make it stick. But if youve ever tried to make
lasting changes with conventional methods like posting something
on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror, you know it doesnt
work. The question is, Why?
The answer is simple: Once youve
seen something several times and your mind knows what it is,
you stop noticing it. So it stops reminding you. So you forget
it, and if you forget an insight, it has no possibility of helping
you make any lasting changes.
You must be exposed to your insights in
a way that makes you notice them repeatedly. Im
going to describe five tools I have used to do just that. These
are the power tools for making lasting changes: postables, a
timeline, audio recordings, Resnooze, and real life. Lets
take them one at a time:
This is a system my wife and I have developed over a period of
25 years. We didnt mean to develop it; it developed almost
by itself, driven by our desire to make lasting changes and our
frustration at having to get insights repeatedly.
You know what I mean? You get an insight,
you know its going to change your life, and then a year
later, you get an insight and realize youve had it before
and nothing ever came of it.
Out of this frustration, we put a corkboard
in the bathroom and began posting our insights on it. It is an
excellent place because we do several things in the bathroom
that require no attention. Brushing our teeth, for example. Having
useful insights to read made it less boring and didnt take
up any time. We were there brushing our teeth or toweling off
after a shower anyway.
But of course, after a very short time,
we stopped seeing what was on the corkboard. The mind gets used
to something within a few days and then it might as well be a
We solved this problem by rotating
the insights. I started a file I eventually came to call postables
and we began to put each insight on a standard sized piece of
paper, and then put it in the postables file. Then every day
or so, I would pull a couple from the front of the file and post
them, and take the two on the board and put them at the back
of the file.
In our quest to make lasting changes, this
was a breakthrough. It worked so well, we started using it a
lot, and the file grew to be enormous, which meant the distance
between our exposure to any particular insight began to expand.
And it expanded too much by the time we saw an insight
for the second time, we had already forgotten it.
We had discovered by simple practical application
what the pioneers in learning research also discovered: There
is an ideal distance between exposures. If youre exposed
too often, your mind goes numb and you dont learn. Your
mind knows it just read that yesterday, and it gives the insight
But if youre not exposed often enough,
you have forgotten the insight and basically have to learn it
all over again.
The analogy I have used that seems to really
capture the problem is to imagine making a path across a grass-covered
meadow. You walk across the meadow on the first day, tramping
down the grass slightly. If you looked back immediately after
you walked across, you would be able to see your path. But just
If you came back the next day, you wouldn't
be able to see your path any more. The grass you tramped down
has popped back up.
But lets say on the first day you
went back over your new path several times while it was still
visible. The next day you can still see the path a little, and
if you do it a few more times, you can probably skip a day and
come back and still see the path, and so on. The time
in between repetitions can keep increasing with each repetition.
This is analogous to how learning occurs
in our minds. Lasting changes can come about IF you can learn
and remember your insights. And you remember them best if you
employ spaced repetition.
So I changed the way I used our postables
file. When I took a new insight off the corkboard, instead
of putting it at the back of the file, I put it where
it would be posted again only a day or so later. The next time
I filed that insight, I put it a little deeper in the stack.
And as it became familiar, I put it even deeper, etc.
I didnt know until recently that
scientists had discovered a very precise algorithm for optimal
learning, and it looks just like what we figured out from trial
and error. You need to space your exposure to an insight closely
at first, and farther and farther apart the more exposure you
Of the five methods, using spaced repetition
with postables is the most powerful (read more about it here). But the other four
should not be discounted. They have their uses, and some are
easier and might suit you better.
If you go to an office supply store, you will find file dividers
for the days of the month, the months of the year, and future
years. You can use a set of these to help you make lasting changes
in your life by devoting a file drawer to it. Put the days toward
in front, months after that, and years in the back, up to five
years in the future.
Once youve got it set up, the factor
that makes it work is forming the habit of looking at that days
folder whatever day it is every single day without
fail. Do this by putting a reminder somewhere in your way
so youll always see it first thing in the morning.
I always check my email first thing in
the morning, so I put my reminder right over the button that
turns on my computer. As soon as I push the button, I check my
timeline. Today is the 7th, so this morning I pulled out the
folder for the 7th, emptied its contents, and put the 7th at
the back of the numbers, so the next one in line, right up front,
is tomorrow, the 8th.
You can use the timeline to remember personal
insights in the same way you can use postables, but with a timeline
you can be very precise with your spacing. A new insight youve
only seen once might go into tomorrows file after you read
it. Tomorrow, you can decide whether it should go into the next
day, or skip a day. You decide by how familiar it feels or by
how consistently youre using the insight in your life.
3. Audio recordings. This is one of my favorite ways to learn. I get
bored easily, so I dont like to drive or wash dishes or
stretch (or anything else mindless or repetitive) without listening
to something. I record my insights onto a digital recorder and
put them on my iPod. I also buy audio books.
People have often commented, How
do you remember that stuff? We might be talking about something
and I will tell them about a study, and Ill explain it
with very specific details numbers, dates, names, etc.
When it happens once, nobody really notices. But when someone
has known me for awhile, they will almost always remark that
it seems impossible that I remember things so well.
But my memory is not remarkable. Its
just that I have heard that particular piece of information maybe
ten times. Without even trying, the information has become very
well-established in my memory. Read more about this method here.
This is a recent online service totally free that
sends you messages that you write to yourself, and sends
them as often as you wish to your email inbox.
Go to Resnooze.com
and type in an insight. Click the option on Resnooze to send
it to you, say, once a day. Thats it. Thats all you
have to do. Resnooze will now automatically email you that message
There are several buttons at the bottom
of each email message they send you. One of them is edit.
Click on that button and it goes to Resnooze, where you can change
the frequency from every day to every other day, every three
days, every week, once a month, whatever you want.
With a new insight, I usually set it up
to remind me every day at first. After a little while, I make
it every other day, and then once a week, etc.
5. Real life. Another
way to remember an insight is to arrange your environment so
it forces you to use or express the insight.
For example, you decide you dont
want to eat sugar any more, so you go through your house and
throw away all the stuff with sugar in it. When you go to eat
something and you reach for something sweet, you come up empty-handed.
Youve just used real life as a tool to remember.
Thats five tools for making lasting
changes in your life. These tools, combined with the principle
of gradually increasing the time between exposures to any particular
insight or piece of information, can make your insights really
stick, and prevent them from fading away.
In all the research I mentioned earlier
about learning, this was shown to be one of the few laws of learning:
Short spaces between exposures at first increasing the
time gradually between exposures causes the most learning,
the greatest retention, and is the most efficient and permanent
way to learn something.
Use this knowledge to make lasting changes
in your life. Employ one or more of the five tools and you will
notice a dramatic improvement in your ability to learn.
In the past you may have had ten insights
for every one that actually had an impact on the way you lived
your life. Not any more. Youll go ten for ten every time.
You have just gotten some new ideas. Will
they make any difference to you? Will they change your life?
Or will you go on and forget all about it? It depends on how
soon you expose yourself to them again. The power is in your
Learn more about the science behind spaced
repetition: Spaced repetition in the practice of learning.
And this article has a great graph of the
learning principle: Want to Remember Everything Youll Ever
Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm.
Check out Resnooze.