I can memorize but I can't learn

This might be a little bit of the opposite of what’s meant to be here.

Basically, I know how to memorize. I’ve used the method of loci a ton and spaced repetition. ican remember equations.

But I don’t actually have the knowledge, if that makes sense. Like, how do you remember HOW to do something? I can remember WHAT to do, but not HOW, if that makes sense.


What if you try to memorize the steps a.k.a the algorithms of how to do something?

How to open a bottle.
1.Seek a bottle opener.
2.Place bottle opener in place with the bottle cap.
3. Pull up, slowly incrementing strength.

So, you want to memorize how to open a bottle? then memorize step 1, 2 and 3. Of course, the example is silly but, in all seriousness, all you need is to define your “how” of “what” you want to learn. Define always, what you want to memorize and why. Then memorize in the most convenient way.

Cheers! :fox_face:


Do you have any examples?

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I can remember steps to do things. The problem is I don’t know why I do each step. Which means that I end up not being able to build upon that information very easily.

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You probably have a poor deductive thinking. I recommend reading the book: “The art of logical thinking”

And also look for books by Marilyn vos Savant about IQ tests and logic problem solving.

The first thing you need to learn to do is build logical inferences.

  1. All people are mortal.
  2. Socrates is a man.
  3. So Socrates will die someday.

In fact, there may be many more points in the problem. But it all comes down to this pattern.

It is also very good to be guided by your imagination.
Socrates is one person. We can imagine it. So this is a secondary fact. To understand where to attribute the minor fact, we need to find the major fact.

Major fact is already a concept. And the concept cannot be visualized in the literal sense of the word. We cannot visualize the phrase: “All people”.
You can imagine a company of people, or look at the city from a bird’s-eye view.

But our visualization will always be abstract, because we cannot imagine all the people of the planet, which is what we are talking about. Is our image abstract? Bingo.
The concept is always abstract. So we found it.

We then use the usual comparison based on previous experience.
In this case, it is unnecessary to think for a long time to understand that Socrates is a man.
So the concept for all people applies to him too.

The concept says that ALL people are mortal.
Socrates is a man, so he is mortal.


I think the simpler point is that without explicitly encoding what you want, you won’t really guarantee that you get what you want.

So if you haven’t encoded a how or why then encoding a ‘what’ isn’t enough on its own to know why and how.


Have you tried explaining the steps to an imaginary student? I’m not sure if it would help, but when I have trouble fully understanding something, I start explaining it to an imaginary student in my own words without looking at the notes (speaking and/or writing). If it’s something computer-related, I’ll explain it while I perform the steps on the computer. If I don’t understand one piece, I’ll look it up and try modifying it a little so I can see what that part does.

If you can think of a specific example of when it happened, it might be easier to come up with more suggestions.


If you want to do or learn a new skills try to apply an algorithm in your mind ex :slight_smile:

  1. If :


  1. Then:

This will happen (up to the end result)

1 = start to apply the steps (instructions)

2 = the result
Always simplify the new information, like if you are going to explain it to a 5 years old .


Thank you for all the suggestions. I’m also having issues keeping things in long term memory which is affecting things as well.

I guess an example would be my differential equations class. At one point, I knew how to solve first-order differential equations because I memorized the steps. But I didn’t know what I was doing at all. I still don’t know what a differential equation even is…


Spaced repetition could probably help with that. If you keep track of a list of concepts you want to remember, you could create a schedule for reviewing them.

Have you tried using YouTube? Sometimes there are good videos there that can break down concepts.

Here’s an example search:

I don’t know if it’s what you’re looking for, but here are a couple of videos from the search results:

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Welcome to the forum!

I am sure you got excellent advice from many people here.

Firstly, a disclaimer. I am not a memory champ. I am just a learner.

BTW, I studied computer science too : )

What you are suffering is probably

Trees Vs Forest


used the method of loci a ton and spaced repetition. I can remember the equations.

You are focussed on the trees.

How to do something?

That is the forest. Something like how it fits the bigger picture.

I used to have that issue when I was in school.

Then I found something called Mindmapping and Feynman Technique which Josh mentioned.

Here are the steps which I would follow if I were you:
step 1: read 1 page of book/material/watch 5 minutes of lecture (just an example) on differential equations.
step 2: close the book/material/stop the video and take a blank sheet of paper and mindmap the things you learned
step 3: check if you could recall the content correctly.
step 4: if yes, continue; if no, check where you missed and correct the mind map
step 5: once the whole differential equation section/material/small chunk is done, draw the mindmap sheet from memory.

That formed an algorithm it seems which you are learning I am sure :slight_smile:

Try it for yourself. Everyone is different. But it may work for you.

Probably one thing we must remember, to learn something, neurons in our brains must rearrange. This can only happen if we FOCUS. That is the only secret that I have found after years of lurking in memory forums and reading books on memory.

Let us know if you have more questions.

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This reminds me of an story feynman recounted in one of his books. He said that the brazillian students would recite physics off by heart without understanding it. One of the best ways I would say to help with understanding is to ask why at every step. For example, if you’re learning how to solve an equation, you should ask yourself why does this step solve this equation. If you don’t understand why, then don’t move on until you do.

Also, solve logical puzzles a lot. this and this are great resources for them.

Another thing you should is read is the works of Richard Feynman. The way he taught and learned really helps people to understand the works, rather than just memory

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TL;DR:Practice. Drill. Simulate. Do it. You can memorize all you want, but you won’t be able to do it unless you do.

I am in flight school and have a similar dilemma. You can memorize the procedures for a maneuver all you want, but that does not mean you can execute it flawlessly.

To counter this my flight school goes through a few different stages.

  1. You memorize your maneuver. I “chair fly” the maneuver and literally pretend to do it with my eyes closed. I paint a picture in my mind of what will be happening (almost like a memory palace). Then I get up and walk around my house pretending to do the turns and climbs associated with the maneuver. I have two strong links at this point-- the image I painted while sitting in my chair with my eyes closed, and as I walk around I build an association with the objects in my house. The memory is becoming stronger and stronger from these associations.

  2. You teach it to your instructor during the brief (helps identify gaps, which is a common theme in the Feynman technique). This is the third strong link of association for the maneuver.

  3. We go practice the maneuver in a simulator, so we don’t waste fuel in an expensive aircraft and we can make dangerous mistakes with no real consequences. This is the fourth association and link to the maneuver we are going to do.

  4. We then go do it in the real airplane and the maneuver can be refined for the real world application as needed. You should barely have to think about what you do, because it is ingrained in you. You will be able to use your mental capacity to focus on flying the plane and making the necessary corrections.

I think you probably just need practice doing it. I feel like that’s something that’s not preached on here a lot. Just go do it. Memory palaces are great when you don’t have any actual thing to tie the facts to, but if you’re practicing, drilling, or simulating the information that information gets tied to whatever environment you’re in at that point. I often use mnemonics to help remember steps in order, but it eventually becomes a flow printed into your mind.