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You’ve Been Using Your Brain Wrong: Human Brains Aren’t Designed to Remember Things

You’ve Been Using Your Brain Wrong: Human Brains Aren’t Designed to Remember Things

If you think that the secret to effective brainpower is to stuff it with as much information as possible using your memory, think again.

Look at this.

This is what will appear in your mind when I ask you to recall the night view in the city.

    When it comes to memory, our brains are typically no better than an 8GB USB storage device.

    In the modern world, information bombards us constantly. And if we rely on our 8GB capacity to memorize as much as possible, the only way to make it fit is to store it at a low resolution. When we come to review what we’ve learned, we’re dismayed to find only ‘blurred’ information and vague approximations of what was so clear when we experienced it.

    In the past the top priority for human brains was survival

    Let’s leave the modern world of computers behind for a moment, and travel back in time to when the informational landscape was very different.

    Put yourself in the prehistoric shoes of one of your early ancestors.

    The prehistoric environment was challenging and harsh. So for much of your time you’d have been motivated by basic survival – how to sustain your life (food, shelter, relationships); and how to deal with threats (predatory animals, weather conditions).

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    In other words, ‘prehistoric-you’ would not have elevated memorization to be a primary goal, but would have prioritized processing information like thinking ‘this is a dangerous area’, ‘this is edible’.

    The more civilized we got, the more we needed to remember

    As civilization advanced – with the development of spoken and written language – the memorization of information that didn’t have immediate survival benefits became useful. It allowed people to communicate with others and learn how to act based on the experiences of others, without having to deal with mistakes and risks first-hand. Nevertheless, the amount of information available to an individual was still relatively limited compared to today’s standards, and could therefore be savoured and reflected upon.

    But here in the modern world we have unparalleled access to information – books, TV, radio, game consoles, mobile phones, and of course the Internet – which has resulted in an explosion of information consumption. Both a blessing and a curse, we’re now able to exchange masses of knowledge at a faster rate than ever before. But now we need to learn how to handle too much information.

      Photo credit: Source

      If we still rely on our brains we’ll be overwhelmed

      Every day we consume a whopping 34GB of information[1]. Add to that the 50,000 thoughts we generate each day [2], and it becomes clear that we’re not up to the task of managing information from memory alone – we need to find a way of outsourcing this task.

      Now try this.

      Look at the following string of numbers for 5 seconds and store them in your memory in the correct order:

      92748109382301832

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      Now calculate:

      9 x 23 = ?

      14 x 13 = ?

      .

      .

      .

      .

      .

      (The answers: 207 and 182)

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      Now try to recall the long chain of numbers. How many can you recall? I tried this with several of my colleagues and, not surprisingly, none of them could remember the whole chain.

      Had you been given just one of the tasks, no doubt you would have done a better job. But because you were trying to both memorize and process at the same time, your brain was under greater strain. This is what your brain has to contend with all the time.

      Our brains are not designed to record information accurately and objectively. Trying to take in too much information results in us becoming overloaded and overwhelmed. What’s more, we interfere with what our brains are truly great at – processing information and being inventive and creative.

        Photo credit: Source

        How to free up the space in your brain

        Just because information is now at our fingertips, it doesn’t mean we should become slaves to it.

        We should be more like our prehistoric selves, and instead of being dominated by information, we should know how and when to access information to fulfil our needs.

        We need to free up any space that is used for pointless memorization so that the brain can do what it does best – process information. We’d like to introduce two great ways that you can achieve this –

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          Photo credit: Source

          Develop Your ‘Pocket Brain’

          Outsource the job of memorization by designing a system to organize and store potentially useful information. A computer is of course a great tool for accurate storage and reliable retrieval.

          The important idea here is to become a skilled information handler rather than trying to stuff your brain with information.

          Keep an eye open for future articles where we show you exactly how you can create and use your pocket brain for all kinds of information.

          Meaningful Learning

          As well as your pocket brain, you also need to know how to make the most of the memory that you do have to achieve meaningful learning.

          The desired outcome is to make information so relevant to you that it becomes effortless to activate it when you need it. For example, think about how effortlessly you speak your mother tongue – it’s knowledge that’s become a part of who you are.

          Watch this space – we’re going to be showing you how to practice meaningful learning in future articles.

          Reference

          More by this author

          Leon Ho

          Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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          Last Updated on July 8, 2020

          How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

          How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

          What is decision fatigue? Let me explain this with an example:

          When determining a court ruling, there are many factors that contribute to their final verdict. You probably assume that the judge’s decision is influenced solely by the nature of the crime committed or the particular laws that were broken. While this is completely valid, there is an even greater influential factor that dictates the judge’s decision: the time of day.

          In 2012, a research team from Columbia University[1] examined 1,112 court rulings set in place by a Parole Board Judge over a 10 month period. The judge would have to determine whether the individuals in question would be released from prison on parole, or a change in the parole terms.

          While the facts of the case often take precedence in decision making, the judges mental state had an alarming influence on their verdict.

          As the day goes on, the chance of a favorable ruling drops:

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            Image source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

            Does the time of day, or the judges level of hunger really contribute that greatly to their decision making? Yes, it does.

            The research went on to show that at the start of the day the likelihood of the judging giving out a favorable ruling was somewhere around 65%.

            But as the morning dragged on, the judge became fatigued and drained from making decision after decision. As more time went on, the odds of receiving a favorable ruling decreased steadily until it was whittled down to zero.

            However, right after their lunch break, the judge would return to the courtroom feeling refreshed and recharged. Energized by their second wind, their leniency skyrockets back up to a whopping 65%. And again, as the day drags on to its finish, the favorable rulings slowly diminish along with the judge’s spirits.

            This is no coincidence. According to the carefully recorded research, this was true for all 1,112 cases. The severity of the crime didn’t matter. Whether it was rape, murder, theft, or embezzlement, the criminal was more likely to get a favorable ruling either early in the morning, or after the judges lunch break.

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            Are You Suffering from Decision Fatigue Too?

            We all suffer from decision fatigue without even realizing it.

            Perhaps you aren’t a judge with the fate of an individual’s life at your disposal, but the daily decisions you make for yourself could hinder you if you’re not in the right head-space.

            Regardless of how energetic you feel (as I imagine it is somehow caffeine induced anyway), you will still experience decision fatigue. Just like every other muscle, your brain gets tired after periods of overuse, pumping out one decision after the next. It needs a chance to rest in order to function at a productive rate.

            The Detrimental Consequences of Decision Fatigue

            When you are in a position such as a Judge, you can’t afford to let your mental state dictate your decision making; but it still does. According to George Lowenstein, an American educator and economy expert, decision fatigue is to blame for poor decision making among members of high office. The disastrous level of failure among these individuals to control their impulses could be directly related to their day to day stresses at work and their private life.

            When you’re just too tired to think, you stop caring. And once you get careless, that’s when you need to worry. Decision fatigue can contribute to a number of issues such as impulse shopping (guilty), poor decision making at work, and poor decision making with after work relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t dip your pen in the company ink.

            How to Make Decision Effectively

            Either alter the time of decision making to when your mind is the most fresh, or limit the number of decisions to be made. Try utilizing the following hacks for more effective decision making.

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            1. Make Your Most Important Decisions within the First 3 Hours

            You want to make decisions at your peak performance, so either first thing in the morning, or right after a break.

            Research has actually shown that you are the most productive for the first 3 hours[2] of your day. Utilize this time! Don’t waste it on trivial decisions such as what to wear, or mindlessly scrolling through social media.

            Instead, use this time to tweak your game plan. What do you want to accomplish? What can you improve? What steps do you need to take to reach these goals?

            2. Form Habits to Reduce Decision Making

            You don’t have to choose all the time.

            Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it doesn’t have to be an extravagant spread every morning. Make a habit out of eating a similar or quick breakfast, and cut that step of your morning out of the way. Can’t decide what to wear? Pick the first thing that catches your eye. We both know that after 20 minutes of changing outfits you’ll just go with the first thing anyway.

            Powerful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg don’t waste their precious time deciding what to wear. In fact, they have been known to limiting their outfits down to two options in order to reduce their daily decision making.

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            3. Take Frequent Breaks for a Clearer Mind

            You are at your peak of productivity after a break, so to reap the benefits, you need to take lots of breaks! I know, what a sacrifice. If judges make better decisions in the morning and after their lunch break, then so will you.

            The reason for this is because the belly is now full, and the hunger is gone. Roy Baumeister, Florida State University social psychologist[3] had found that low-glucose levels take a negative toll on decision making. By taking a break to replenish your glucose levels, you will be able to focus better and improve your decision making abilities.

            Even if you aren’t hungry, little breaks are still necessary to let your mind refresh, and come back being able to think more clearly.

            Structure your break times. Decide beforehand when you will take breaks, and eat energy sustaining snacks so that your energy level doesn’t drop too low. The time you “lose” during your breaks will be made up in the end, as your productivity will increase after each break.

            So instead of slogging through your day, letting your mind deteriorate and fall victim to the daily abuses of decision making, take a break, eat a snack. Let your mind refresh and reset, and jump-start your productivity throughout the day.

            More Tips About Decision Making

            Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

            Reference

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