Have you ever started to learn something only to realize that you don’t know why you’re doing it? How will knowing this help you in the future? Conversely, have you ever been so energized about learning something because you knew exactly how it would help you achieve your goals? Both reflection (about the material) and self-reflection (about how what you’re learning will influence your life) are important aspects of making learning stick. 

The research

Researchers at Harvard Business School argue that self-reflection is crucial to memory and learning. It turns out that connecting new ideas and information to thoughts about oneself helps encode the new information into our brain. 

In much simpler terms, we learn when we reflect on how what we’re learning will affect us. 

Our brain is not a clean slate. At the time we’re learning something, the brain is already storing facts and memories. Connecting new content with ideas about yourself creates links between the new information and the existing neural system. You’ll recall it better and you’ll be able to apply it easier when the right context arises.   

The added bonus is that self-reflection also helps to boost your confidence in your ability to achieve a goal. This, in turn, translates into higher rates of learning. 

Also, thinking about how the material will apply to you, and what will it mean for you, is crucial for better learning. 

Apply it!

End each learning session with these questions: How does learning this relate to my daily life and how I see myself? How will I apply what I’m learning? And how will that change me?

For example, I’m learning about negotiation strategies for my business management class. How can I apply the new information to my day-to-day life? Will that change how I see myself? In what way?

Your turn

What are some self-reflection questions that you could ask yourself before you start studying and after you’re done for the day?