Summary of “Use Your Head”: This book does not simply show you how to read faster, memorize better and work more efficiently, it explains by means of clear and well-founded arguments why the methods presented are the most suitable for how your brain works to harness its full potential.
By Tony Buzan, 2004 (1st French edition: 1984), 186 pages.
Note: This is a guest post written by Hélène WEBER from the Give Meaning to Your Studies (“Donnez du Sens à vos Études”) blog.
Review and Summary of “Use Your Head”:
At the start of his university studies, Tony Buzan went to the library in search of some books. He asked the librarian, who was present that day to guide the students, if it were possible to point out books to him that could explain how to use his brain in the most efficient way. The librarian, with a puzzled face, directed him to medical textbooks.
But that was not what Tony Buzan was looking for.
He wondered how “to learn to learn?” And how could the current state of research on the functioning of the brain help him to consider the most effective methods of work?
Tony Buzan has written or co-authored more than 80 books to date on the brain and the learning process. This book, the review of which I am offering you, has sold over a million copies all over the world. In the book, he explains:
- What is the intellectual potential of all of us
- How to read faster and more efficiently
- How memory works
- What are the most effective mnemonics for memorizing
- How an educational tool called “Mind map ” can help us understand, reflect and memorize more efficiently
- And which working method to apply in order to learn more effectively
An ambitious project? Yes, but thanks to the book Use Your Head, a realistic and accessible goal.
Almost all the chapters offer concrete exercises to practice while reading. These have two key benefits: they lead the reader to ascertain both the interest and the relevance of the hypotheses presented, while getting him/her engaged (and therefore interested) throughout the book.
It is by agreeing to play the game of this process that this book will change your relationship to learning and help you improve your efficiency at work in a decisive way.
1 – The Impossible Dream of Edward Hughes
In 1982, Edward Hughes had just obtained his diploma. And while he was considered an average student in all subjects, his father introduced him to Use Your Head. Reading this book gave him courage, and it was with new motivation that he continued his studies with the intention of attending Cambridge University.
All his teachers without exception discouraged him, thinking that he did not have the potential to enroll at such a prestigious school. This in no way diminished the will of Edward Hughes, who continued on with his plan.
Then came the university admission interviews. Again, his teachers thought his chances of success were very low.
Edward, however, had built a learning program based on the methods presented in the book Use Your Head. He summarized his lessons in the form of Mind Maps, going through his notes to get an overview and regularly revising his flashcards, in order to understand them and memorize them as much as possible. At the same time, he played sports and felt fit, confident, and relaxed.
At the end of the year, Edward took four college entrance exams. He got the best results from his class in all four.
While as a student, he set himself a program identical to the one he had taken for his Cambridge entrance exam. And once again, his results were excellent.
Here is the conclusion that Edward Hughes himself gives to his testimony: “I used to only get C’s and B’s because I didn’t yet know how to ‘get a good grade’. I learned how to. Anyone can do the same.“
Are you up for it?
2 – Your Intellectual Capacities Are Greater than You Think
What brain research is giving us now is the certainty that thinking is infinitely more complex than had been thought and that people gifted with what have come to be called “normal intellectual capacities” have infinitely greater skill and potential than was once thought.
It is possible to cite a thousand examples of brain performance. Whether they result in extraordinary memory or superhuman physical capabilities defying the laws of science, these performances are now the subject of research. They are taken seriously and give rise to practical applications. It is these practical applications that this book attempts to make explicit, in order that everyone can make use of them and thus increase their capacity to learn.
In our time, the tool we all know that “measures intelligence” is called the IQ (or Intelligence Quotient) test. However, multiple critical studies of this test show that:
- With training, it is possible to improve “your IQ”. In other words, it does not absolutely determine “our intelligence” in an irrevocable and permanent way.
- IQ does not measure our ability to think and act on our own.
- The test does not highlight our intellectual potential and therefore our possibilities for progress.
We will see that it is indeed possible to improve your intellectual performance by following the techniques and methods presented in Use Your Head.
3 – How the Human Brain Has Been Constrained
Why, however, is our performance not meeting our potential?
This is a question that must be put forward. But then the following questions should also be answered: Have you ever been told how your brain works or how your memory works? Have you been shown how the eye operates as you read and how the brain records, stores and reuses information? Have you ever been taught mnemonics to improve your memorization skills – a working method that would improve your ability to concentrate – or techniques to read faster and more efficiently?
Use Your Head is your brain’s first “how-to” manual, intended to help you develop the extraordinary potential of your mental faculties.
4 – Read Faster and More Efficiently
Why is reading a problem?
It is not because we know how to read that we are not confronted with the following problems: speed reading, concentration over time, amount of information to remember, recall of information afterwards, selection, rejection, etc.
First of all, it should be noted that reading is not a linear process. The eye jumps from one word, or group of words, to another on which it stops for a more or less long time.
How to read faster?
- By eliminating backtracking
- By reducing break times
- And by widening the eye’s perception with each jump
The advantage of speed reading is that it brings relief to the eye concerning the physical effort exerted on each page, and that it also enables (despite popular belief) to soak up the text more easily.
Misconceptions about reading are our main obstacles to improving ourselves in this area. For example, it is wrong to think that we should only read one word at a time, because we are looking for the meaning of a text in its entirety and not that of each word taken separately.
Here are the 4 techniques presented by the author to help us read faster:
1) Use a visual guide: Guiding the eye helps it focus on the most important.
2) Expand the field of what is perceived by the eye: Using the visual guide, help your eye to make fewer jumps on the same line, then on the same paragraph, then on the same page.
3) Practice perceiving a text “ultra-quickly”: Turn the pages as quickly as possible to get your eyes used to picking up as many words as possible.
4) Use a metronome: The rhythm of the metronome will help you move faster from one group of words to another.
In order to be effective, these techniques must be practiced. Evaluate the time it takes to read a number of words and then pages in a given time will give you additional motivation to progress. Try out a few of these techniques and you will quickly see encouraging results.
5 – Memory
How does memory work? And how can this understanding help us improve our memorization skills?
Begin by performing in a serious manner the following exercise:
It involves drawing two graphs:
- A first graph representing the proportion of what is retained by memory during the learning period. On the x-axis: the time passing. On the y-axis: the percentage of information stored. When you “learn” for two straight hours without a break, what percentage of information do you think you retain?
- A second graph representing the proportion of what is retained in memory after a learning period, without recall of the content. On the x-axis: the time passing. On the y-axis: the percentage of information you remember after 24 hours, a week, a month, etc.
How does memory work during the learning period?
It decreases regularly as time passes if break times are not provided.
However, we remember better: elements at the beginning and end of the learning period, elements associated by repetition, meaning or rhyme, and striking or unique elements.
It is imperative to be aware that memory and comprehension do not work at the same rate. You can still understand without memorizing what you are working on. It is therefore absolutely necessary to take short breaks (5 minutes every 45 minutes approximately), in order to maintain your level of memorization at a high level.
How does memory work after a learning period?
The brain continues to assimilate information after the learning period (going from about 70% memorized content to over 90%). On the other hand, more than 80% of information is lost beyond 24 hours if it is not recalled. However, there is always some stored information, especially when specific mnemonics have been used to learn.
Therefore, to ingrain content into long-term memory, it is essential to recall it regularly:
- 5 minutes after a period of one to two hours of learning
- 2 to 4 minutes after 24 hours
- 2 to 4 minutes after a week
- and 2 minutes after a month
That said, it is not enough to reread one’s notes. One must make a real effort of recalling information, before comparing “what remains in memory” with the original content. However, it is obvious that to be effective, this recall time cannot involve all the content that will have been worked on (an entire book, the entirety of a course chapter in the form of notes, etc.). It will first be necessary to have synthesized the key concepts. The next chapter devoted to Mind maps will present a method that meets these different criteria.
But how can you spend apparently so little time recalling content to remember and keep it efficient?
Tony Buzan first presents the results of the research he carried out with “memory geniuses” and which allowed him to categorize the most effective mnemonic means for remembering a large amount of information.
He created an acronym for himself: The Smashin’ Scope.
Sensuality: We remember information better that is linked to multiple sensory information (taste, smell, sight, touch, hearing, etc.).
Movement: This is the so-called “kinesthetic” memory. We also keep the memory of the actions we perform.
Association: Memory works by links and associations. The more information we have stored in memory, the more possibilities we have to make links with new information and therefore to increase our memory capacity.
Sexuality: A subject that we particularly remember.
Humor: We tend to remember information better with humor.
Imagination: When we use imagination, we appropriate information in a way that allows us to leverage our personality, which aids memorization.
Numbers: Associating information with a number increases the degree of memorization of the information.
Symbolism: Replacing information with a symbol also aids the memorization process.
Color: The colors associated with the information catch the eye and allow the prioritization of the data to remember.
Order: It is a question of ordering information according to a certain logic.
Positive Images: We tend to remember better things that are pleasant.
Exaggeration: Exaggerating information makes us remember it better.
A Mind map is a working tool invented by Tony Buzan which has different uses, but which allows, among other things, to mobilize all the mnemonic means which have just been presented. It is therefore a very special means of learning and memorization.
6 – Mind Maps – Introduction to the Nature of Words and Thoughts
The chapter begins with a practical exercise aimed at realizing the power of key words and concepts. It is indeed a question of spotting that the memory functions by successive associations and that a single word can have the power to recall a significant amount of information.
On the other hand, it is necessary to differentiate between the “recall” key words, which reactivate the appropriate images and words, and the “dynamic” key words, which are evocative without eliciting specific images.
Understanding that memory functions by association of key concepts and not by a literal word-for-word process leads to the conclusion that notes taken in a linear fashion are completely unsuitable for the purpose of memorizing their contents effectively. Effectively:
- 90% of the words identified play no role in memorization
- 90% of the time is wasted rereading these unnecessary words
- We waste time looking for key words in our notes
- The words which separate two key words weaken their connection. The space and the time spent weaken the associative link.
How will Mind maps enable us to overcome these various difficulties?
7 – Mind Maps – Natural Laws
The mind is perfectly capable of assimilating non-linear information. It does this all the time when it is confronted with a photograph, a drawing, a painting, or a film.
The basic idea of Mind mapping is to establish a positive relationship between the brain and information. It is a question of structuring the information for an optimized insertion (central idea + ramifications) because the brain does nothing but link and integrate key concepts related to each other.
What are the rules of Mind mapping?
- Start with a central image (or key word) in color
- Use images/key words throughout the Mind map
- Write the key words in capital letters
- Words are on connected lines
- One word per line
- Colors everywhere
Out of curiosity, enter the words “mind map” in a search engine, you will instantly obtain thousands of examples of the result that this can give.
What are the advantages of Mind mapping?
- The main idea is clear
- The relative importance of ideas is identified
- The links between the concepts are immediate
- Rapid recall for efficient memorization
- The introduction of new information is facilitated
- Mind maps are personalized and original, which allows more efficient memorization
- It is about being creative: New associations are therefore facilitated
8 – Mind Maps – Techniques and Applications
The Mind map tool can be adapted to multiple uses: note taking, speeches, preparing for a meeting, preparing articles or presentations, etc.
9- The Functional Learning Method
Lastly, Tony Buzan presents a working method aiming to overcome the difficulties that many of us encounter when it comes to “getting to work”: laziness, difficulty staying focused, resisting distractions, etc.
His proposal is divided into two phases, each comprising four successive stages. In order to illustrate the benefits of the Mind map approach, I suggest one below which resumes the approach presented in the functional learning method.
The preparation phase aims to put you in the best conditions to address the content you want to work on. Take the example of a person who would like to read a book, but with the objective of remembering it as well as possible and for as long as possible.
1) Browse the book: Look at the summary, the main parts, the back cover to get an overview.
2) Define the scope of the work and how long you want to devote to it: We tend to want to finish what we ourselves have planned.
3) Gathering the information: You carry out a first Mind map with the aim of examining from all sides what you already know on the subject dealt with in the book. This leads you to focus and adopt a research attitude as you develop your curiosity for what Use Your Head can possibly do for you.
4) Questions and objectives: You carefully define what you are looking for in reading a book, and you set yourself a goal, a gimmick, and questions that this book will likely allow you to answer.
1) Overview: You flip through the book analytically, paying special attention to its overall structure. You then build a Mind map which will formalize the overall architecture of the work.
2) First approach: You deepen your reading by making a Mind map by chapter.
3) In-depth look: You go into more and more detail, without taking too much time to dwell on a possible difficulty. The tension that can result will decrease your comprehension capacities. In addition, it is very often with reference to the global context and by successive links and associations that the concept will clarify itself. You come back to it later…
4) Revisions: You have gradually built a Mind map of the whole book, using key words, key concepts, and images. These tools will allow you to recall content efficiently when necessary.
10 – What Future for Man?
Chances are, if we understand, if we listen and if we use our intellectual resources as they should be, Edward Hughes’ adventure will become everyone’s adventure.
Conclusion of “Use Your Head”
Tony Buzan constructed his book Use Your Head by following all the advice he lists in its content. The introduction states how to approach each of the chapters; the book is interspersed with practical exercises that put the reader in the position of an active participant. The body includes many concrete examples, as well as drawings, Mind maps and diagrams designed to illustrate the concept (note of Olivier: you can download Freedmind by clicking here, it is a free mindmap software).
I discovered Use Your Head just a few months ago; when I had finished my university studies after over eight years. I admit that I regret not having discovered it earlier; even if the ways in which I can make use of it today are countless. As, I have found software that allows you to make Mind maps online, which I now use every time I tackle a new book. Afterwards, this enables me to have an immediate global view of its content, as well as the logical articulation of the arguments presented in the book.
Every day, I have the impression that my ability to think through and link the information I integrate is improving.
If you want to read faster and more efficiently, memorize more of what you read and work more effectively; the Use Your Head book is the ideal tool.
- A Fun and accessible style of writing, with concrete and entertaining exercises that make you think.
- A clearly written book with precise arguments and supported by multiple research results.
- Very effective techniques and methods.
- A pleasant and smooth writing style, thanks to the summaries and the color drawings sprinkled throughout all the content; as well as the many concrete examples.
- Honestly, I have a hard time finding any…
- Perhaps this is still an approach that can put many of us in difficulty, insofar as it goes against the learning habits that are anchored in us since our early days at school. How to go about it otherwise after so many years of conditioning? That is the challenge before us.
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