Tips to Improve Your Memory
We all know that your brain is like a muscle – the more you use it, the better condition it remains in. And this is especially true of memory – the mental ability to retrieve information that you have learnt or experienced.
Types of MemoryMemory can be short-term, usually used to store information temporarily for a few minutes (eg. when you dial a phone number) and this type of temporary memory is useful in helping you carry out daily tasks without the risk of overloading your brain, as you would if you had to retain every number you have ever called, every meal you have ever ordered in a restaurant, etc…However, if a piece of information is important enough, it can be transferred to long-term memory where you will make a conscious or unconscious effort to retain it. This includes personal information about your family and friends, knowledge needed in your studies or your job and emotional impressions that are meaningful, such as childhood experiences or a book you particularly enjoyed. Long-term memory can be further divided into episodic and semantic memories, which require a conscious effort to recall (eg. experiences you’ve had on holiday or facts about things or people, such as someone’s hair colour) – and procedural memory which cover all the skills and routines you have learnt and which don’t require conscious recall (eg, tying your shoelaces).
How Memory is Laid DownMemory is laid down in 3 stages: first, there is acquisition, during which new information enters your brain, is encoded by neuron pathways and stored in the appropriate area. Next comes consolidation when the information is encoded into long-term memory; and finally there is retrieval when your brain activates the same pattern of neurons used to store a certain piece of information. Obviously, the more often you activate this pattern and retrieve this information, the easier it is to access it – just like the more often you go to a place, the more familiar you are with the route and how to drive there.
Strategies to Improve MemoryUnless your brain is diseased or suffering from an injury or disorder, it is possible to improve your memory through exercising your brain. This can be as simple as breaking your normal routine, which forces your brain to use new pathways (eg, brush your teeth with a different hand) to learning a whole new subject or skill. In everyday life, there are some simple ways to improve your memory:
- Concentrate and pay attention - It sounds obvious but if you focus attention on something, you are much more likely to encode it properly and retain it. This is one reason why teachers are always telling students to pay attention!
- Follow your own learning style – everyone learns in a different way and what works for someone else might not work for you. Find out how you best record information – for example, some people are visual learners and retain information best through reading words or watching images – whereas others are auditory learners and perform best when they learn information through listening.
- Engage your senses – regardless of what type of learner you are, the more senses you use during the learning process, the better you will retain the information. Don’t just read it – read it aloud so you can hear it; if possible – taste it, smell it, feel the texture…
- Use association – relating new information to old information you already know is a very useful way to learn, as you are building on previous knowledge.
- Be organised – the act of organising often helps to imprint things in the brain, as you will have to think about the information to arrange it into categories and work out its relationship to other things.
- Focus on understanding – something that many students overlook, when it comes to complex topics, it is far better to be able to understand and interpret the material than to simply memorise isolated details. Aim to be able to explain the complex topic to a lay person in your own words.
- Revise and review – you will retain information far more effectively if you review it periodically over a period of time, rather than trying to cram it all the day before. By going over material again and again, you will “over-learn” the information so that it becomes second nature.
- Write it down – for many people, writing information down again is a very useful way to imprinting it permanently in your brain as the process requires mental retrieval and organisation. Keep a positive attitude – if you believe in yourself and tell yourself that you can learn and remember, you will perform much better than if you keep believing that you have a bad memory and poor recall. Positive mental feedback creates an expectation of success that is self-fulfilling.