Improving Your Memory
How can we improve our memory? Is this even possible? Can we remember everything? First off, we can’t remember everything, but, we can remember a lot more than we think we can. Being open to this possibility of memory improvement is one way, according to Fogler and Stern’s book on Improving Your Memory, that does make a positive difference. When you open up your mind to this possibility, you literally open up the neural pathways that help you do it.
How Does our Memory Work?
To quickly summarize how memory works, there are three main parts. First, sensory memory is where our senses pick up impulses (sight, sound, gustatory, touch) and then if focused on long enough, are then sent to the second part of our memory process called working memory. At this stage, we can choose to let go of the impulse, or keep working at it until we, by repetition, store it into the third part of our memory, called long-term memory. Long-term memory is the largest part of our memory system. It’s capacity is virtually limitless! Finally, long-term memory is defined as the information that is no longer in conscious thought, but is stored in our memory for recall.
Recall that Memory?
Now that we have a clear idea of how we get things into our memory, how can we access what we have stored? Accessing what we have memorized is called retrieval. We actively retrieve our stored, long-term memories back into our working memory. There are two ways known that we can do this. They are called recognition and recall. Recognition involves recognizing a stimulus like when someone says an old friends name, you remember it. However, you may have struggled to remember on your own. Recall is the more difficult of the two ways of accessing our long-term, stored memory. We literally search our memory until we recall.
Some Steps in Improving our Memory
An effective memory is needed for learning, effective communication, building trust, enhancing interpersonal relationship skills and you wouldn’t want to forget to leave the iron on before you left to go to work for the day! So what can we do to improve our memory? Jim Rohn said, that remembering and capturing the moments of life is so important. I remember a quote he had that said, “a day is like a piece of the mosaic of our life.” We should never treat remembering things casually. Why? We won’t remember. We won’t learn, and without this, how can we improve? So, how can we remember, or improve our memory? Firstly, we should know that we don’t have to store everything in our memory. Writing things down we want to remember is a great way to start. Keeping a journal or taking pictures is a big help. Remember the saying, a picture is worth a thousand words! However, to improve how we store and retrieve things we want to remember, here are a few methods that have been known to work, referencing Fogler and Stern once again, who are clinical social workers at the University of Michigan Medical Center.
To help improve the way we encode information for simpler retrieval, we can create associations or connect to things that we already know. We already do this. For example, you needed to remember that you need to make a right turn on Richmond Road, you could associate that the Richmond and right both begin with the letter R. This again is called association. We can also use auditory reminders like a certain chime on our cell phone alarm to remind us that we need to call home before we leave work. These are two good methods for helping us to remember, but how can we improve on our ability to recall from long-term memory?
First, thinking longer and stressing out over why you can’t recall will not help. Relax. This helps free your mind up. Also, we mostly recall things from our memory better, that we use more often. Furthermore, things that we used to remember like certain foreign vocabulary words we learned a few years back in high school, are there, but not easily recalled. Thinking about related facts to something you are trying to recall can help. For example, you are driving down a road to the library, you know you need to make a left turn, but you cannot recall exactly which street to turn on. You can recall however, that it was the street after the gas station. This helps you recall the right street to turn on.
When trying to remember something, stay calm and have faith that you can remember. Relax and look for some associations or facts surrounding that. Utilizing our senses, especially visual and auditory and creating associations through those senses, can help our recall as well. Also, repetition is the mother of skill. If you are committed to remembering something, repetition is key for embedding into our long-term memory.