How To Protect Your Memory And Achieve Mastery

We all know the importance of seeking knowledge (‘ilm) has in our Deen. It is central to Islam. We learn the words of Hadīth that describe the gatherings of paradise being gatherings of knowledge where you should sit and eat an ample amount (of knowledge). We hear that seeking knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim man or woman.

We live in a time of materialism and although there is a certain culture of knowledge, it’s a culture that’s dumbed down. Everyone uses the internet or platforms that use information the likes of me are putting out there to use and generate new information, not knowing whether that’s true or false (hello, so called ‘AI’). I have spoke about the importance of this previously.

The story of mankind in the physical world begins with knowledge and man is defined by the knowledge he keeps well. For us knowledge is a means of guidance and an elevation of our spiritual states as embodied by the prophets and the People of Allāh. True knowledge rooted in humility and submission strengthens faith and much more.

This all begs a question, what does the modern man think? Is there a benefit to gaining knowledge from cradle to grave?

I think he’s agreed.

Here’s why.

New research suggests that seeking knowledge may be the best way to protect against cognitive decline

An analysis of data from more than 7,000 U.S. adults showed that education could explain nearly 40% of the differences in the amount of cognitive ability people had lost by age 54.

Education, in particular whether a person had finished college, made the biggest difference in cognitive abilities such as memory, judgment and focus, Ohio State University scientists reported this month (Feb 2023) in a scientific journal.

Study co-author Hui Zheng, a professor of sociology, suspects that the reason people with a college degree do better cognitively in their 50s is they are more likely to end up with a career that makes them use their brains.

But previous research has shown that having hobbies and interests that stimulate the brain, such as learning a new language, painting and writing, can also be protective.

The message here is to not ignore seeking knowledge in your journey with Qur’ān. It will keep you sharp and protect your memory.

Understanding skill and talent on the way to mastery

When you’re memorising the Qur’ān, it can be easy to dismiss yourself saying that you don’t have the skill or talent to do it. You actually have both.

You should understand skill as something that is learnable. Every memory champion you’ll meet or hear about will tell you that they don’t have amazing memories. Rather, they have mastery memory techniques that make them appear to have great memory. They train themselves to remember things better. Memorisation it turns out is trainable.

You should think of talent as something that is the rate at which you acquire the skill.So for some people, they might be younger and more energetic. They will may memorise quicker but an elderly might take twice the amount of effort to memorise. It doesn’t mean that the elderly person can’t memorise but it will just take them longer.

According to a study published last month by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (h/t to Wharton professor Ethan Mollick), students improve in academic performance at the same rate with each study/practice session. They concluded that any student can reach mastery level in a particular knowledge component. The average for this was seven sessions.

The Rule of Seven

As the researchers write:

Our evidence suggests that given favorable learning conditions for deliberate practice and given the learner invests effort in sufficient learning opportunities, anyone can learn anything they want. 

So while you might memorise at the same rate as someone else, your skill might not match unless they stop trying to memorise. That’s where perserverance kicks in. It’s often with many things in life that the person who finishes first is often the last person to give up.

So what’s the best way to memorise according to this research? Break things down into small sessions across seven sessions.

So don’t let feeling you don’t have the talent for memorising the Qur’ān hold you back. Break it down into smaller pieces. Commit to perseverance, practicing, and getting feedback.

Applying the rule of seven

We already know of the phrase “the magic seven” when it comes to short-term memory. The Magic number 7 (plus or minus two) provides evidence for the capacity of short term memory. Most adults can store between 5 and 9 items in their short-term memory. This idea was put forward by Miller (1956) and he called it the magic number 7. This is where you get the chunking method.

However, the rule of seven applies to the number of sessions. So the application of this to the memorisation of the Qur’ān can be to:

  • memorise a page across 7 days
  • revise a page across 7 days
  • revise the same juz’ for 7 days
  • revise or memorise the same portion for 7 days

This may work for those areas that are weak for you and need strengthening. Try and think about how you apply the rule of seven to your memorisation journey. It may perhaps prove useful in helping you memorise or revise.

I’ve been applying it to a method I’ve been experimenting with for some time now. In shā’ Allāh, I will reveal that soon.

May Allāh grant us all ease and blessing in our journey with Qur’ān!

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