Last week was a sad one. We lost one of my heroes – Pete Seeger. I’m having a little trouble imagining a world with no Pete Seeger in it. He has been an inspiration and guide through his actions as well as his music. He was also a first-rate entertainer and I had the privilege of seeing him live on several occasions.

Many people have been writing about him and replaying parts of the many interviews he gave. Just this morning I heard portions of a 2008 interview with Bob Edwards. In that interview Pete said something that fits right into my exploration of what helps me with my ADHD. Stick with me a moment, and we’ll get to what Pete had to say.

We ADDers can be challenged in the area of memory. I often find that if I read an article or listen to a talk and do nothing more to engage with the information, what I have read or heard is not available to me afterwards. I know I read the article or heard the talk, but I couldn’t even tell you the main points. Sometimes if I re-read the material or play back a podcast, much of it is familiar, confirming that I had indeed read or heard it previously. It’s just that the information was not accessible when I needed to draw on it.

Since each of us is unique, we need to experiment to see what helps us engage enough with new information to cause it to stick in our memory. We need to become expert observers of ourselves—to notice what is working and what is not working. When we find something that works, we need to write it down with other similar observations in a place where we can find it when we get stuck, something one of my mentors calls a Personal Operations Manual.

So far I’ve learned that there are several steps I need to take to remember something: I take notes during lectures or webinars, but that by itself, though helpful, is not sufficient. I underline when reading, but that alone is not sufficient. I re-read books or lecture notes and outline them, and that starts to make the information stick. If I need to present the material to someone else, to teach it, that almost always results in the information being stickier. If I don’t actually have a student at hand, I can imagine a student and prepare a lesson for him or her to help the information stick.  Here’s where Pete’s comment comes in.

Here is the full quote that especially resonated with me this morning. Pete Seeger said to Bob Edwards:

I think participation is the saving of the human race. Participate in games, puzzles, fun, storytelling, and when you’re grown up, participate in education. Learn to ask questions. The most important thing you can learn in the world is how to ask questions. The next important thing is learn how to give a report. You read a book and then you don’t just read it, you learn how to give a report in two minutes, telling roughly what the book is about. And you learn to work with other people, participate in politics, participate in work. All sorts of things. It’s the key to the future of the human race – participation.

There is a lot of wisdom in that quote, but what I’m interested in regarding memory is what he has to say about giving a report. I know that we ADDers are much more motivated if we’re doing something for someone else. We can’t always get ourselves moving if we’re focusing just on ourselves. Reading a book (or listening to a talk) while keeping in mind that I’m going to give someone a two-minute summary afterwards because I want to share the most important points with someone else will help me focus and retain the material.  It turns book reading just for me into a potential for sharing valuable information in a concise form with someone else.

So, thank you for that lesson as well as all the others, Pete. I’m off to try it! I’ll finish reading one of my current books (I think perhaps Rick Hanson’s Hardwiring Happiness) keeping in mind that at the end I’ll want to share the main points in a two-minute report.

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