When we’re engaged in a conversation with ourselves, we typically ask ourselves questions along the lines of: “How will I know what I know? What do I find confusing? Do I really know this?”
Whether we hit the pause button while listening to a podcast or stop to reflect while reading a manual, we develop skills more effectively by thinking about our thinking.
Self-explaining can give voice to impulses of curiosity that may otherwise remain unexplored. It’s about asking ourselves the question, “Why?” Now, if we really know a topic, “why” questions are not that hard.
If I asked you a why question about the town that you grew up in, the answer would come pretty easily. It’s when we don’t know something that why questions become more difficult — and create a way to develop an area of expertise.
Recall, for instance, a time when you read an article and then detailed its argument for a friend. That’s a form of summarizing — you’re more likely to have learnt and retained information from that article after you did it.
Or imagine that you recently wrote an email describing your thoughts on a documentary that you saw on Netflix. In doing so, you fleshed out the idea and engaged in a more direct form of sensemaking. So, all in all, you’ll have a richer sense of the movie and its themes.
One of the benefits of self-explaining is that it helps people see new links and associations. Seeing connections helps improve memory. When we’re explaining an idea to ourselves, we should try to look for relationships.
That’s one of the reasons that a tool like mnemonics works. We’re better able to remember the colors of the rainbow because we’ve created a link between the first letter of the names of the colors and the acronym VIBGYOR.
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