The # 1 Best Way to Learn, Remember, & Imagine

Written by 
Nick Milo
Idea Emergence


Nick Milo

Nick Milo has spent the last 15 years harnessing the power of digital notes to achieve remarkable feats. He's used digital notes as a tool to calm his thoughts and gain a clearer understanding of the world around him.

In the last chapter, we talked about the two biggest sticking points in all knowledge efforts and how to unstick yourself when you feel them. In this chapter, we explore the best way to learn, remember, and imagine.

How come we forget the stuff we want to remember? Think about the last time you thought to yourself:

"I want to remember this."

Putting aside jokes about "not remembering when that was", it's our modern day condition to lose the stuff we want to remember.

From the last article, we learned that the most common place you and I get stuck with our knowledge efforts is going from "collecting" something to connecting something. With a single word we can bridge that gap from "spark to remark". We learned that the best way to collect is to connect, and we left with the shockingly simple way to do exactly that: just say "because".

It turns out connecting isn't just the best way to get unstuck and keep the Knowledge Cycle rolling, it's also the best way to learn.


We are social creatures. It doesn't matter if we are introverts or not, we need some form of social interaction. As much as I'd like to think solitary confinement would be a vacation for me, the truth is, my brain would atrophy from the lack of human interaction.

We biologically need to relate to each other. We crave connection. The same is true of our ideas. We need to relate them. We crave connecting them.

When we connect two ideas, we form a relationship. Think about it. This whole thing that we're doing—managing knowledge or "Knowledging"—it is just about making relationships—not between people, but between ideas.

Knowledge is about making relationships—not between people, but ideas.

That's why efforts like rote memorization and highlighting alone are so limited. In fact, these forms of learning are so distinct in their lack of connective thinking, they've created their own Anti-Idea Rule:

The worst way to learn is to connect the new to nothing.

These forms of learning are not effective at relating the new to the known. That's why saying "because" (and other key prompts) is so effective: it prompts us to connect.

When we do, larger swaths of our brain activate compared to rote memorization and highlighting. Making connections between ideas activates more of an emotional response within us. Our emotional engagement is a key factor in deepening the impact that new material makes upon our minds. Most material shouldn't bring us to tears, but it should "stir" something inside of us, however slight.

The best way to learn isn't to highlight stuff. It's to connect stuff. This brings us to our next Idea Rule:

The best way to learn is to connect the new to the known.


There are four ways we organize everything. It doesn't matter if it's a new idea, an old memory, or your Bilbo Baggins action figure.

  • The first is by space: The physical or virtual place where something can be found.
  • The second is by time: The chronological sequence in which a thing exists and by which it can be remembered.
  • The third is importance: The emotional gravity any particular idea or memory activates or weighs on the mind.
  • The fourth is relatedness: How any thought, idea, or memory is contextually connected to various other bits of knowledge in your mind—both in obvious and oftentimes indecipherable ways.

These four ways that we use to organize everything are dependent on each other. Space doesn't exist without Time, nor does Importance exist without Relatedness.

It's the unique signature of an idea—in your mind—at any given time—that governs whether or not you will remember a thing.

As you look at the images for STIR, it prompts some good questions. How can I improve at each of these four way? Where am I doing the best? The worst? What's the single easiest way to improve my ability to remember?

My opinion is that the best, most robust way to remember something as intangible as an idea, is to maximize how your organize by Relatedness. This is because it taps into our desire to have and understand relationships. Focusing on Relatedness doesn't neglect the other ways of organizing, it enhances them. Relationships—between both people and ideas—are the thing that get us emotionally involved. This increases Importance. If something is more important, you're more likely to remember when in Time you had this encounter. As you remember the Time, you can't help but remember the place—the Space—where it happened (even if it's partial a virtual space). And that helps you connect even more details to the memory, reinforcing the Relatedness of the thing you're trying to remember.

That example shows how each of the four ways to organize everything can reinforce each other. It also gives us another Idea Rule:

The best way to remember is to reconnect the known to the known.

That might sound funny at first, but think about it. If you can remember just one thing—and if that thing is connected to other things—you can remember more and more about the thing you currently care about remembering. If you are in the dark, think of each reconnection as someone turning on a light bulb. The more light bulbs that are connected, the fuller image you can see.


As we connect the dots between more and more ideas, we start to see patterns. And the thing about patterns is that they repeat. That's why they're patterns. Rest assured, just by living, you are naturally doing this. It's why we look to our elders for wisdom. They often see the patterns more easily.

This extra sense—this pattern-seeing sense—allows us to extrapolate from the known to the unknown. This is the next Idea Rule:

The best way to imagine is to connect the known to the unknown

When you connect what you know with what you can only imagine, you activate your most creative and insightful self.

The Best Way to Learn, Remember, & Imagine

If you prioritize rote memorization, you are prioritizing a rigid way of thinking. If you prioritize highlighting, you prioritizing a passive way thinking. Both priorities can interfere with your ability to understand how things are related.

I remember these three rules of ideas as three parts of a triangle.

  • (∆1) The best way to learn is to connect the new to the known
  • (∆2) The best way to remember is to re-connect the known to the known
  • (∆3) The best way to imagine is to connect the known to the unknown

The better you connect ideas, the faster you can move in the world. When you do, you will:

  • Learn more effectively
  • Remember past stuff more reliably
  • Create new insights more naturally

Can you make an intentional effort to connect more ideas today?

Good luck!

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