Learning has an evolutionary purpose: Among species, individuals that adapt to their environments will succeed. That’s why your brain more easily retains important or surprising information: It takes very little effort to remember that the neighbor’s dog likes to bite. Remembering the dog’s name is harder. One ensures safety, the other is just a random fact.
But today, the kinds of things humans want to learn are rarely focused on survival; we also use our adaptive, evolutionary memory to remember new languages, 11-step face-washing routines, obscure vocabulary words, and facts about Star Wars. The trick to doing so, once you’ve decided to acquire a new skill or build up your knowledge in a particular area, lies in convincing your brain that the information matters. In other words, you have to overcome the “forgetting curve.”