How to be 70% Smarter


I heard a statistic recently that is totally changing the way I learn. Let’s say you hear something interesting—either from a friend, on the radio or on a podcast—and you think, “I need to remember this!” Well, if listening is all you do, you are likely to retain just 5% of what you learned. “What was that thing I heard once?” BUT if you go on to discuss that information with another person (or even your dog orhouseplant?!), retention goes up to 50%! Not bad, right? I’ll do you one better. If you go on to practice what you’ve learned, you’ll retain 70%! Consider this: We are exposed to over 5,000 ads a day. Given how much information goes into our brains, it’s impossible to retain even a fraction of that info day to day.

Our brains are valuable real estate and we have to be ruthless in our decisions about what stays and what goes.

(Because if we don’t our brains will latch onto that catchy commercial jingle but forget that thing that could change our life.) Here’s a great example of this from my own life. I discovered this book called Money: A Love Story as I was looking for a way to grow my financial literacy and deal with some of my money blocks. I bought the book, put it on my nightstand, and there it stayed, unopened, for months. I knew myself well enough to know that if I started it right away, no matter how well intentioned I may be, I wouldn’t finish it. And this was one book I wanted to not only read but use. I was explaining my dilemma to my friend Lindsey, and it turned out she wanted to change her relationship with money too. So we set a goal together: We’d read a chapter each week, get together every Thursday and talk about what we were discovering about our own money stories. And because I really wanted to learn this stuff, I decided that I would take action on the most significant things I was learning before we met. And you know what? There have been some significant changes in my life as a result of engaging with this book in this way. Let’s look at this from the lens of the afore mentioned statistics… Simply reading Money: A Love Story allowed me to retain the bottom 5% of the information (meh). Meeting and talking it through with Lindsey raised the learning to 50% retention (better). But taking action each week based on what I learned from the book took me to 70% retention (hooray!). This means my return on investment increased by a factor of 14 times. That’s what I call a good R.O.I.! The way I see it, each piece of information we choose to engage with is an investment. If I invest less energy by opting for a low-level engagement (just reading versus discussing or implementing), I get less of a return for the effort I put in.

I could buy a car for $700, but will it get me where I need to go?

Like a car, I need the info I learn to do something for me and add real value to my life.

Take Action

As you consider your mental real estate and the return on your mental and emotional investments, consider these ‘next steps’ in your own life:

  • The next time you come across a piece of information that you want to really learn,tell someone about it or journal, and make sure to put an action item in your schedule to follow up on.

  • Read a book with someone! It’s way more fun to learn together anyway.

  • At conferences and classes, participate in the discussion. When asked a question, respond. This might feel risky or vulnerable, but you’ll get more value by sharing in the experience, and it will grow your capacity to learn and retain.

  • And while you're at it, consider the day after the conference as part of the conference to sort through what information you want to keep and act on when you return home. Otherwise you’ve lost the transformational potential and investment and have gained only a memory.

P.S. Did you learn something useful in this article? Make sure you share and DISCUSS with a friend!

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