“Memory is the treasure house of the mind wherein the monuments thereof are kept and preserved.”
Having a good memory is important, right? But have you ever stopped to consider just how important it is? The fact is that everything we do involves our memories. We can’t think without using our memories, and everything that we do unconsciously, like moving our lips and making sounds to speak or walking across the street, accesses our memory, which tells us how we did it the last time.
So, on one level, almost all of us have extremely good memories. These are the kinds of things we usually take for granted. We don’t really think about memory at all until we find we’ve forgotten something. We’d like to get better at remembering things at will, and there’s no reason why we can’t do that since we use so little of our brains. This article will give you some guidance on how to master your memory.
How Memory Works and How You Can Master It
The act of remembering something involves complex processes which utilize many parts of the brain working simultaneously. But there are only two steps involved:
– fixing something into our memory
– retrieving it when we need it
Here’s what happens: first, we sense something (hear a statement, smell something cooking, and so on). Then an electrochemical pathway goes along neurons, across the synapses between the site of the sense and the brain. Remember, there are 10 million billion possible connections – so for our brains to remember the information accurately is an amazing feat. The more a certain pathway is activated, the better chance that memory will be created.
We have two types of memory – explicit and implicit.
Implicit memory (often-used pathways) allows us to do things automatically because those are so familiar since we’ve done them time after time.
Explicit memory involves things we have to remember consciously. As an example, you remember how to use the telephone automatically, but you need to consciously recall the telephone number you want to use.
We can’t improve our implicit memory with exercises, but you might want to try some of these techniques to improve your explicit memory.
Believe it or not, how much you want to or need to remember something plays a vital part in remembering it. If you commit yourself to remember something and concentrate on it, your chances of remembering it are much better.
Here’s another surprising fact: studies have shown that short bursts of activity help you remember something better and for longer. Many of us got through college pulling all-nighters, so we know they work. It’s true – they work better for remembering things short-term, like when you want to pass an exam. But working in short bursts of time helps us to remember things better over longer periods of time.
So if you have something that you want to remember for a long time, don’t study for hours on end, but make a plan to study a part of the entire project, take a break, and go back to studying.
Studies have shown that we do not retain things when we are at low levels of alertness, such as in sleep, or at very high levels of alertness, such as in panic or high stress. Our optimal level of alertness for learning and remembering is somewhere in between these two extremes.
Determine your own optimum alert state and save that time for learning things that are most important to you. Other things can be done when you’re less alert. This approach will give you the best chance of storing information in your long-term memory.
Time Of Day
Again, studies might surprise you. It had been previously thought that the best time for learning was in the morning. Studies are showing now that learning in the morning hours is better for short-term memory. Learning later in the day seems to be better for long-term memory. If you can make use of both times to learn, then you are far more likely to master your memory.
Here’s an area where a lot of people are self-conscious. It’s embarrassing not to be able to remember someone’s name, especially when that person seems to have no trouble remembering yours. This is like every other aspect of memory – some people are at a higher level of unconscious competence in this area, and they are remembering names by using a process even if they don’t know it. If you make a conscious decision to remember someone’s name and follow these steps, you too will be successful in remembering names in the future.
1. Consciously decide to give this person respect by learning his or her name
2. Listen when you hear the name. It’s easy to be focusing on other things and let the name slip by.
3. Be certain that you hear the person’s name properly. If there’s any doubt, ask him or her to spell it.
4. Visualize that you’ve written the name down. Doing this forces you to listen to it. This visualization is a surprisingly powerful technique.
5. Visualize the name itself. Seeing the name in your mind acts as a trigger. If you can associate it with something else like a town or a famous person, it becomes even stronger. Associate the person in front of you who belongs to the name with the name in your mind, so that the name and the person’s face are linked in your mind.
Triggers for Stubborn Memories
You can probably relate to this – sometimes we have problems remembering things even though we very much want to remember them. Criminal investigations use techniques that can help us with recalling our own memories. Here’s what you do:
1. Re-create the original conditions in your mind. See them as clearly as possible and use your senses. What was happening? How did you feel? Was it hot or cold? Were you tired, hungry, angry, at the time?
2. Pay attention to the details, even the unimportant ones. What do you see? Those images may help you bring other images to mind.
3. Try to see the situation from another point of view. For instance, if you were sitting in chair the last time you saw your ring, pretend you’re standing in the doorway looking at the situation. What you see now?
4. See the situation in reverse. In your mind, see the situation before you entered it. See the room before you came into it – what was happening then?
These “investigation” techniques are powerful for recalling stubborn memories.
We have covered a number of techniques designed to master your memory. I hope you find them useful and, if you have any other suggestions, tips, or tricks, then please let us know in the comments.