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10 Scientific Ways to Improve Your Long Term Memory

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10 Scientific Ways to Improve Your Long Term Memory

Wouldn’t it make sense to invent a device that could help you improve your long-term memory?

Unfortunately, it may not be realistic now. Despite several innovations, R&D and technologies that have made living simpler, it would be appealing to believe a device like a chip, no matter the price, would help you improve your long term memory.

Instead of wasting time looking for that device, why not familiarize yourself with these scientific ways to improve your long term memory?

Where Is Long Term Memory and Why Is It Important?

The hippocampus is the passage through which information passes from the short-term memory to the long-term memory. The hippocampus ( ‘hippokampos’ in Greek) is a part of the cortex so named as it takes the shape of a bent tail of a seahorse.

Every information that is decoded in different sensory regions of the cortex links up in the hippocampus, which later redirects them to their origins. It could also be described as an information-sorting center where new information is juxtaposed with the initially recorded ones.

Any time you relive an event, recall new information or repeat those using mnemonic techniques, you are directing them repeatedly through the hippocampus. The hippocampus is capable of strengthening the connections among all the new constituents until there is no need to reinforce them. By then, the cortex would have developed the ability to associate these elements independently to form what is known as ‘memory.’

Nevertheless, the cortex and the hippocampus are not the only components that facilitate long-term memory and its different capabilities in the brain.

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Long-term memories are not default. While long-term memory possesses a boundless duration and capacity, the memories could be delicate and prone to change, distraction, and misinformation. Elizabeth Loftus, a Memory expert, did a great job on this by showing how false memories can be easily be triggered. She made 25 percent of her respondents to accept a false memory that they were once missing in a shopping mall as a kid.[1]

Why is long-term memory prone to inaccuracies? Most times, people retain the visual aspects of an event but forget the details. What the brain does is to curate details that are reasonable to fill in this gap. In other cases, old information can hinder the formation of new ones, which makes it tedious to remember the actual event. This is why, sometimes, it is better to unlearn before learning further information.

So, how do you improve your long term memory?

Here, you will learn 10 scientific ways to improve your long term memory.

1. Be Very Focused

Forgetfulness is a by-product of distraction or lack of concentration. It takes focus to learn anything. In a world where we presently things that could easily take our attention off what we are learning, focusing is not going to be an easy-pie, but it is nevertheless crucial.

In case you keep losing your umbrella, to develop your cognitive ability, begin to note every time you set it down consciously. If you researched a topic before a presentation, invest additional time to digest the juicy aspects so they can stick.

2. Practice to Be Perfect

When you were in kindergarten, did you recite the ‘A, B, C..? If you did and you still remember them now, it means you will need to process and practice any information to have it installed in your long term memory.

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It does not matter what you wish to learn- football, piano, or remembering your friend’s birthday. You can only remember by rehearsing over the information we already have repeatedly. You are repeating when you sing a song over and over again, when you sit in front of the piano and run some keys, or when you play an object on your way home even when there is no ball.

Any information that you process and practice will be logged into your long term memory as exercise strengthens the neural pathways located in your brain.

3. Reminisce and Recall Details Every Now and Then

Scientists were able to discover the exact cells where some specific memories are stored using a mouse brain as the specimen. Before this research, the notion was that the short-term memory was formed in the hippocampus while the long term memory is formed later. However, the new mouse research indicated that both forms of memories are formed simultaneously.

Although the formation of the long-term memory happens in the prefrontal cortex and starts with what is called silent engrams though not yet accessible immediately, it matures within a few weeks. You can strengthen this process by reminiscing the event or recalling the details through practice.[2]

4. Practice Journaling

This has been proven to be another means of solidifying information and facts in long-term memory. You can relive daily events or exciting events and milestones in your career, business or relationship by writing and drawing them in your journal.

Sketch it, write it, read it, draw it, and share it. The variety of experiences helps us to recall that moment in the future.

Take a look at this article and learn how to start journaling: Writing Journal for a Better and More Productive Self (The How-To Guide)

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5. Schedule Time to Sleep

The physical functioning of memory storage hinges on sleep. Quality sleep optimizes the neural process in the brain. A 2016 report in Nature Communications indicated that when the subjects under study went without retiring to bed, the neural processes in their brains became noisier.

Heightened activities have been found to hinder the formation and consolidation of long-term memories. You will become less productive the next day when you skimp on a night of good sleep.[3]

6. Exercise Regularly

Any activity that activates your muscles and keeps your heart working will impact your brainpower positively. There is empirical evidence that exercise enhances the chemical that empowers the brain to grasp concepts and learn. A recent study has discovered that aerobic exercise is capable of increasing the size of the hippocampus. This increase enhances your memory in totality.[4]

Another research also pinpointed the significance of moving while learning. Those who walked while studying foreign language vocabulary recalled what was learned better compared to those who were stationary.[5]

7. Guard Your Mental Wellbeing

Anxiety, stress, and depression have been found to cause memory problems. They can affect your focus while learning.

There’s no way you can learn when you are depressed, anxious or stressed. It does not matter if forgetfulness is an outcome of a mental ailment or a contributing factor; you must go for medical treatment if you discover you have anxiety or depression.

You can try these 6 Mental Exercises For Busy People To Calm the Hectic Mind.

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8. Use Smart Devices Wisely

Smart gadgets can be an exciting way to enhance our memory. You can utilize reminders, sticky notes, and alarms to free up space in your mental faculty.

If you are always thinking of not forgetting to rehearse for a music presentation, then you are not maximizing your brainpower. You could leave that for your reminder or alarm to handle.

Also, taking pictures of events or information is a great way to retain information in long term memory. Nevertheless, there is a need to take precautions here as a study recently discovered that subjects who focused so much on the visual aspects failed to recall the actual information that was shared.[6]

9. Quiz Yourself

An examination is proof of learning. The best means of checking if you have learned is to quiz yourself.

Evaluation helps you to test your knowledge to discover the aspects you need to dwell on. It also helps you to recall what you have learned.

10. Mind Your Medications

Some drugs like tranquilizers, antidepressants, and blood pressure drugs have been found to cause forgetfulness by Harvard Health Blog.[7] If the drugs you are taking is making you sedated or confused, quickly consult your primary care doctor. You will be surprised to be prescribed some better alternatives to those medications.

Not only that, a study published in 2015 discovered evidence that continuous usage of anticholinergic medications like Benadryl can obstruct the functioning of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine that is linked to dementia. Aside from that, most of those drugs contain bladder-control drugs and antidepressants. You can consider drinking a lot of water instead of taking drugs.

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Bottom Line

Long-term memory performs a crucial role in our lives. It helps us construct a firm foundation of memory and information that enables us to live a productive life. While it can be compared to files on a computer, studies have shown that long-term memory is not only enduring but prone to error if you don’t improve it.

More Tips for Improving Memory

Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on November 23, 2020

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

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How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

Your neighbors downstairs are playing loud music. Again. How do they not get tired of partying? And why do they choose songs with such a heavy downbeat that the glass in your cupboard is vibrating every two seconds? What can you do to get some peace that you deserve? What should you?

Human mind tends to go in circles whenever faced with a problem without a clear solution. It becomes easy to forget the big picture and get lost in anger and self-pity, wasting our precious time, energy and enthusiasm.

Would it not be nice if we always remembered to put things in perspective?

Would it not be more efficient to face all kinds of problems, from tiny annoyances to life-changing emergencies, with a calm demeanor, sharp focus and fearless determination to promptly take the most efficient action possible?

Alas, humans are not like that. All too often we let anxiety or greed get the best of us and make a rushed or shortsighted decision that we quickly come to regret. Other times, we spend weeks or months at an impasse, rehashing the exact same arguments, unable to accept the compromise required to move forward with any of the available options.

Buddhists talk about getting lost in the “small self.” In this state of mind, we literally forget the big picture and focus on the small one. We start taking our daily problems too personally and, paradoxically, becomes less capable of solving them in an efficient manner. And this is the opposite of big picture thinking.

Let me share with you a story related to big picture thinking…

In 1812, the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia.[1] After a decisive Battle of Borodino, the capture of Moscow and therefore Napoleon’s victory in the war seemed inevitable.

Unexpectedly, the Russian Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov made a highly controversial decision of retreating and allowing the French to capture Moscow. Much of the population had been evacuated taking supplies with them. The city itself was set on fire and large parts of it burned into the ground.

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After waiting in vain for Russia to capitulate, Napoleon had to retreat in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. He won the battle but lost the war. The campaign ended in a disaster and the near destruction of the French army.

What can we learn from this historical lesson?

1. Focus on the Consequences

Napoleon focused on the important part: capturing Moscow. Nobody could accuse him of thinking small. Yet he overlooked that the Russian army could still fight even after giving up the country’s most important city.

So was Moscow not an important target after all?

Success expert Brian Tracy has a litmus test: things are important to the extent that they have important consequences. Things are unimportant to the extent that they have no important consequences.[2]

When faced with a choice, ask yourself, what would be the consequences of each option?

  • Want to spend an hour studying or watching the new series on Netflix? What would be the consequences of each option? Netflix can sometimes be a better choice, but it helps to put things in perspective.
  • Want to maintain your apartment by yourself or to pay a cleaning service? Would would be the consequences of each option?
  • Want to meet up for coffee with this acquaintance of yours or catch up on your work instead? What would be the consequences of each option?

The choice can be different for different people. An aspiring filmmaker may have a legitimate reason for choosing Netflix. Personally, cleaning your own apartment can be relaxing and nourishing even if the economics of hiring a cleaner looks compelling because you are earning a high hourly rate.

This is where you will need a basic idea of who you are — what are your goals, values and aspirations.

2. Flip Defeat Into Victory

Kutuzov managed to turn Russia’s defeat into a historic victory by recasting the problem in a wider context: losing Moscow need not mean losing the war.

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Despite the symbolic meaning attached to the Kremlin, the churches, the priceless treasures that had been stored in the city for centuries, the outcome of the campaign was ultimately determined by the strength of the remaining armies.

If you can adopt this result-oriented perspective, many of your personal defeats may be flipped into victories as well. Few events in a human life are absolutely good or absolutely bad, and it usually takes many years to recognize in retrospect, what role a particular encounter did play in your story.

Therefore we have every reason to look for the good in the things that happen to us.

This is a very practical attitude, far from baseless “positive thinking.” After all, if something unfortunate has happened to you and you find good sides in this circumstance, you will then be better positioned to take advantage of those good sides.

Say your noisy neighbors are affecting your productivity. What if it is a blessing in disguise? How can you turn this defeat into a victory?

  • Perhaps you are too serious about life and could learn how to have more fun. Join your neighbors or go out for a walk instead of working;
  • Perhaps you only wanted to be productive while instead procrastinated on social media. Now that your procrastination has been interrupted, stop and acknowledge this much greater obstacle to your productivity;
  • Perhaps you are too sensitive to interference. Take this opportunity to practice ignoring the noise and doing your best anyway;
  • Perhaps you have a victim mentality and the feeling of unfairness drains you more than any actual nuisance your neighbors might have caused. Try accepting this lapse in your productivity the way you would accept bad weather.

Get used to finding opportunities in your problems. This is the quintessential big picture thinking.

3. Ask for Advice

Both Napoleon and Kutuzov had trusted advisers to discuss their affairs with. In general, getting a different perspective — or several — can only help inform your understanding and lead to better decisions. Just ensure that the people giving you advice are competent in the particular area where experience is needed.

Paying money for advice can also be a wise investment. Lawyers, tax accountants, medical doctors spend years learning how to assist people like yourself in living more successful, more fulfilling lives.

A quick legal consultation can save you a fortune down the line or even keep you out of big trouble. A medical check-up can uncover potential issues and help keep you healthy and active for years to come.

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Even big, complex dilemmas at your job or in your romantic relationship can be tackled more effectively by partnering up with a coach or a therapist or, of course, with the help of a wise friend.

4. Beware of Biased Advice

Many imperfect decisions occur in response to an imperfect piece of advice that you choose to act on. This advice often comes from a biased party.

For example, we are often encouraged to buy something that we supposedly need:

  • Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by using a special lotion.
  • Fortify your health by taking multivitamins.
  • Connect with your friends by sending them elaborate gifts.
  • Brighten your weekend by consuming a delicious pastry.
  • Become more productive by getting a faster computer.

However, most purchases are unnecessary.

Some, such as the sunscreen, do have legitimate benefits when used properly.[3] Others, such as multivitamins, only make a difference for a small group of people.[4]

Advertisers of those benefits inevitably want to narrow your focus in order to overstate the importance of their product. They frequently present it as the only solution to your problem, whether real or imaginary.

After all,

  • Skin can also be protected from the sun by wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Health can be better fortified by consuming a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
  • Spending time or talking on the phone with your friends is the foremost way of connecting with them, and it is virtually free.
  • Your weekend can be brightened by doing something that you love.
  • You can become more productive by focusing on the tasks that have the most important consequences. A faster computer can, in fact, decrease productivity by making it easier to multitask and by enabling your favorite distractions.

There are other sources of imperfect advice. Politicians also frequently want us to focus on a particular “big picture,” to the exclusion of the alternatives.

Even loving parents can be guilty of the same. They can advise their children to pick a career path that is safe and respectable, based on their “big picture” that in life one has to make a living. A child may disagree, however, based on another “big picture” that one’s life has to have meaning and fulfillment.

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Bottom Line

It is human nature to make rushed, emotional decisions based on incomplete information, then regret those decisions later on.

You can protect yourself from poor judgment by striving to attain the big picture when careful consideration is called for.

Focus on the consequences of your decision before considering how you feel about it.

Play with the cards you’ve been dealt, but look for opportunities in each situation and you will find them.

Ask knowledgeable mentors for advice, but beware of biased people who have an opinion, but do not necessarily have your best interest in mind.

Yet remember, true big picture thinking comes from hard-won experience. Legendary military commanders Napoleon Bonaparte and Mikhail Kutuzov were both injured on the battlefield.

Clear thinking comes from putting your big picture to the test of reality.

More Tips on Thinking Clearly

Featured photo credit: Haneen Krimly via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wikipedia: French invasion of Russia
[2] Brian Tracy: No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
[3] American Academy of Dermatology: Say Yes to Sun Protection
[4] Harvard Medical School: Do multivitamins make you healthier?

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