Do you ever complain that you don’t remember enough of what you read? Here’s what to do about it. Think of your memory as having four doors. You brain automatically stores experiences by using one or more of these doors. If you decide to remember something, you can decide which of these doors you will use. Preferable more than one.

You can’t choose the doors till you know how they are different. So we have laid them out below. People who use cars with right-hand drive may want to make a change in the layout.


Event: in the driver’s seat. You remember what happened. We put that in the driver’s seat because everything you remember comes from events that you experience. Event memory is dynamic and may include what you did. The other doors emphasize specific aspects of the experience.

Place: in the navigator’s seat. You remember where events happened. Where you put things (except the TV remote). You remember routes and what you see on routes. You remember the layout of houses and neighborhoods you visit. Generally, what you remember is an average of repeated experiences.

Imagery: rear passenger, looking out the window. You remember what something looked like as a static image. See an image of the passenger quietly looking out the window and remembering the scenery. A static image is likely to be an average of repeated experiences.

Verbal: rear passenger, talking as back seat driver. You remember what a person said. You may remember the inflections in the voice.

Listen, for example, to the nagging voice of the Canter, who always updates you on what you can’t do, “You can’t get any help from reading this. Even if you believe this door stuff, you don’t know what door to use for things you read.”

For once, we have to agree with the Canter. People wish they could remember more of what they read. Remarkably, people then set out to improve their memories by reading about how to do it. And seldom wonder if they will remember what they read.

Reading is an event. Tomorrow, you will remember that you read something about memory. If you try to remember what you read, you may even remember what the page looked like and where the information was on the page.

To remember the content of what you read, you need to turn the content into an experience that fits through some of the doors. To remember about the doors, for example, imagine a family getting into a car. The name of the driver is Dynamic Event. Into the other front door goes another family member, named Navigation. Navigator points to other doors for the other two family members, Imagery and Verbal.

Stop for a moment and imagine. See the family members opening the doors (Event). See the layout of the doors (Place). See an image of the car with the people doing their things. Hear the complaint, “People can’t expect to remember what they read.”

Then make a note on your calendar to test your memory on this content in a couple of days. Be sure to check all four doors.

Author's Bio: 

Selby Evans, Ph. D., was Professor of Psychology at Texas Christian University and an independent consultant in behavioral research. He retired some years ago. He now provides consulting to the Applied Cognitive Research Lab at TCU and maintains a website in collaboration with Dr. D. F. Dansereau. The site,, is intended to disseminate the findings of cognitive engineering to people interested in self-improvement, self-growth, and self-direction.