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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

7 Proven Ways to Strengthen Your Long Term Memory

7 Proven Ways to Strengthen Your Long Term Memory
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We’ve all had that experience where someone approaches us and says something like, “Hey, it’s so good to see you again!” And we suddenly turn into Dori from “Finding Nemo.” In an instant, our memory fails us. The moment we need our long term memory most, it’s nowhere to be found.

Long term memory, and memory more generally, can seem mysterious. You learn something, it goes somewhere in your brain, and then you hopefully remember it when you need it. However, we all know that memory isn’t as precise as simply storing and retrieving. After all, we’re not robots. Sometimes it can feel more like searching for a pair of tweezers in a hoarder’s basement.

Therefore, understanding a little about how long term memory works can give us some valuable tricks for how to strengthen our long term memory and improve the retrieval process.

Where Does Long Term Memory Happen?

Memory is broken down into three parts: encoding, storing, and retrieving. First, we perceive something, and it gets encoded in the brain as a memory. Next, the memory is stored in various brain regions. Finally, you retrieve or recall the memory when necessary.

Consolidation is the process of transferring a short term memory into a long term memory, and scientists have made some new discoveries about how this consolidation process occurs.

Until fairly recently, scientists thought that short term memories occurred in the hippocampus and were then consolidated to other brain regions, but new studies have given us another model for how long term memory works.

The old way of thinking about memory, called the standard model, says that memories get encoded in the hippocampus as short term memories and are later consolidated or transferred to the neocortex.

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But there’s a new model in town. Scientists have recently come up with the multiple trace model.[1] Instead of starting in the hippocampus, this model shows that memories start in the hippocampus and the neocortex simultaneously.[2]

Instead of transferring memories from one region to the other, the memory trace in the neocortex strengthens over the course of two weeks to become a long term memory, while the memory in the hippocampus weakens over that same time period.

This is an important distinction because, instead of trying to strengthen the transfer from short to long term memory (hippocampus to neocortex), we may actually be strengthening what started as a trace of a memory that’s already hanging out in the neocortex.

How to Improve Your Long Term Memory

Here are 7 scientifically proven ways to strengthen those trace memories in the neocortex and boost your long term memory:

1. Get Some Exercise

Studies[3] have shown that walking and running both help improve long term memory. The trick is to get that exercise during the encoding stage of memory. That means reading while on the treadmill or going over your speech while pumping iron. This helps boost your long term memory.

The good news is that even light exercise during encoding boosts long term memory retrieval later.

2. Get Some Sleep

Recently, scientists[4] have discovered that sleeping helps our brains clear out some memories, which helps strengthen others. It’s a necessary process that requires us to get a good night’s rest and plenty of REM sleep.

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In order to retrieve long term memories that we need later, we need that nightly downtime to discard less important memories.[5]

3. Drink Some Coffee

Good news for all you coffee addicts—caffeine can also help boost your long term memory. In one study, participants were given caffeine after their memory testing.[6] The results showed that caffeine helped with long term memory consolidation.

Think of it as strengthening those trace memories in the neocortex (if we’re using the multiple trace model). A caveat: scientists still haven’t been able to prove that caffeine helps with long term memory retrieval.

4. Pay Attention

Memory relies on the first step in the process; we have to encode information before it can be stored. That’s why it’s so important to pay close attention the first time we experience new information.

In one adorable study with toddlers, scientists tried to determine whether immediate imitation helped the toddlers strengthen their long term memory on later tests.[7]

What they found is that imitation wasn’t actually necessary for improving later memory retrieval. The key to successful long term memory retrieval was paying attention in the first place. It wasn’t essential that the toddlers parrot back the information, just that they paid attention to it.

So whether you’re repeating, taking notes, or just staring intently, the bottom line is that you need to pay attention to boost your future long term memory storage and retrieval.

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5. Quiz Yourself

Another way to strengthen your long term memory is to quiz yourself. Paying attention is important, but to really boost your eventual memory retrieval, periodically testing yourself to see what you remember is important.

The testing effect is the phenomenon that testing yourself improves retention.[8]. Think about just reading over your notes as compared to using flashcards to quiz yourself. When you skim over your notes, you aren’t paying attention to what you do and don’t know. You’re also not practicing your long term memory retrieval.

However, when you make flashcards, create a practice test, or cover the answers and quiz yourself, you are forcing yourself to confront what you do and don’t know and which memories are weaker than others. This forces you to practice your retrieval and strengthen your long term memory.

6. Practice Repeated Retrieval

Quizzing yourself is one thing, but if you want to take your memory-boosting to the next level, you need to try repeated retrieval. Instead of just quizzing yourself once, repeated retrieval is where you quiz yourself multiple times over a period of time.[9]. Since it takes two weeks to strengthen those trace memories in the neocortex, that’s the benchmark for repeated retrieval.

Repeated retrieval is also known as spaced retrieval. Companies using this technique have been around since the 1970s, but now, thanks to advances in technology, you can easily access spaced repetition tools online.

The concept is simple. You are asked a question. If you know the answer, it goes in one pile (virtual or real), and if you don’t it goes in another. More time will go by before you are asked the questions you got right than the ones you got wrong. The interval between questioning increases each time you get an answer correct until it is safe and sound in your long term memory.

7. Space out Your Recall

Instead of cramming, spacing out your recall sessions has been shown to improve long term memory. When you cram, you can just rely on the short term memory in your hippocampus, whereas spacing out your study sessions forces you to strengthen those trace memories waiting in your neocortex.

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Final Thoughts

Memory is imprecise, and there’s still a lot we don’t know about it, but recent studies have shed some light on the techniques that we can use to better boost our long term memory.

Knowing that memories are simultaneously encoded in multiple brain regions can help us think more about strengthening those trace memories instead of transferring them from one region to another.

Exercise, caffeine, and paying attention to the world around us can help with our encoding. Then, quizzing ourselves over time can help us store and retrieve those long term memories.

It’s important to think of memory as a gradual process that takes place over weeks, not moments. Also, it can’t be overstated how important sleep is to the memory process. Without a good night’s rest and regular REM cycles, the brain doesn’t have time to sift through which memories to keep and which to throw away.

Without these 7 strategies, our brains will be like that hoarder’s basement, so clean it out and create a retrieval system that you use regularly. After using these 7 techniques to strengthen your long term memory, your brain will be more like a library archive than a messy, musty basement.

The final piece of good news: you’re never too old to strengthen your long term memory, so get started today.

More Tips on Strengthening Memory

Featured photo credit: Tamarcus Brown via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Clay Drinko

Clay Drinko is an educator and the author of PLAY YOUR WAY SANE (January 2021 Simon & Schuster)

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

Are You Right-Brain Dominant? (7 Right Brain Characteristics)

Are You Right-Brain Dominant? (7 Right Brain Characteristics)
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Do you prefer drawing to writing? If so, you are most likely right-brain dominant.

When we break down the characteristics of a right-brain dominant person, we can think of someone very visual, a little spontaneous, and often labeled as emotional. They may struggle with memorization, as well as paying attention to detail. We most likely label those who are right-brain dominant as “creative”. Their learning styles often differ from a left-brain dominant person, who traditionally tends to do very well in western school systems. A right-brain dominant person on the other hand, can find it difficult to settle into routines. However, working in group settings are ideal for them, this helps them nurture the creative nature that comes with being right-brain dominant.

Here’re 7 right brain characteristics:

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1. You Prefer Drawing to Writing

If you are right-brain dominant, you most likely would rather create a picture to tell your story than writing it down word for word. Right-brain dominant people often find themselves creating visuals for ongoing learning methods.

2. You Prefer Open-Ended Questions to Multiple Choice

Since right-brain dominant people thrive in group settings, answering questions posed in an open-ended format tends to be more natural for them than answering questions in multiple choice format. Settings that allows for discussion and freedom when finding solutions is better for a right brain dominant person than finding solutions through “black and white” methods.

3. You Tend To Be Disorganized

A right-brain dominant person may have difficulties staying on task and keeping things in order. This can be as simple as maintaining a neat and clean work desk or completing specific academic tasks.

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4. You Have Difficulty Focusing for Long Periods of Time

A right-brain dominant person requires constant stimulation. Remember, they are visual beings. If you place a right-brain dominant person in a traditional western school, they will have a hard time focusing, as they need constant stimulation.

5. You Have Less Than Average Memorization Skills

When it comes to memorization, right-brain dominant people require a unique way to call upon information they’ve digested.[1] Instead of repetition to remember specific details, use meanings, colors, visual representations and emotions.

6. You Are a Holistic Thinker

A right-brain dominant person refers to the bigger picture, in other words they are holistic thinkers. They have the ability to recognize interconnectedness of the smaller pieces that make up the big picture.

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7. You Can Be Spontaneous And Intuitive

Right-brain dominant people like adventure and thrive off of energy and spontaneity. They are emotionally intuitive and tend to be emotional by nature.

How to Make Good Use of Right Brain Characteristics?

If you have right-brain tendencies, you know that some of the characteristics listed above can be used to your advantage. You can choose a career that corresponds to these strengths in order to nurture your creative self.

Don’t be afraid to go into the opposite direction as well– having some right-brain traits doesn’t stop you from pursuing left-brain activities, and strengthening your own weaknesses.

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Final Thoughts

Be sure to be mindful that the labels “left” or “right-brain” are not truly an important matter. It just helps you observe the characteristics you already have.

Don’t pigeonhole yourself by solely identifying with one or the other, because in reality both hemispheres are functioning. Determining if you fit the left or right-brained stereotype will merely help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, and help you expand on them later.

More Tips About Boosting Brain Power

Featured photo credit: Daria Tumanova via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] The Education Alliance: Right Brain vs. Left Brain

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