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9 Facts About Your Memory That You Won’t Believe

9 Facts About Your Memory That You Won’t Believe

Memory is an essential human skill, relied upon on as a second-to-second basis for survival, yet still mysterious and poorly understood. Here are 9 things you don’t know about it, that you’ll wish you knew sooner.

1. Memory is enhanced by forgetting things first.

Conventional wisdom says that if you want to remember something, you should repeat it often, and keep it fresh in your memory. Husband and wife research team Robert and Elizabeth Bjork out of UCLA suggest otherwise. According to their research,

You need to forget a new piece of information at some level before remembering it in order to make that memory robust over time.

The more a new memory fades before you go looking for it, the more it’s subsequent “retrieval strength” improves.

2. Memory thrives on storytelling.

In his 2012 bestseller, Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer tells tall tales of memory champions recalling entire randomly shuffled decks of playing cards, from memory in less than a minute. How do they accomplish these miraculous feats? They get really good at telling memorable stories to themselves while weaving in what they’re trying to remember. Because the human brain is built for storytelling,

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The more things you can link together into a narrative, the more readily you’ll be able to recall them later on.

3. Memory is supercharged when new information is visual.

What do we typically associate with learning new technical information? That’s right, textbooks. But the least effective component of textbooks may just be the “text” itself. Yes, we generally find it easier and faster to process information in visual form (if you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I’ll just wait for it to come out as a movie,” you know what I’m talking about). But does it help us learn better? Richard Mayer, psychology researcher at UCSB, indicates yes. His research demonstrates that:

Text paired with a relevant visual significantly improves the amount of information retained by novice learners.

4. Memory is made robust by a rich environment.

Some people swear they can write better in the coffee shop with the low hum of conversation. This may be true. As Benedict Carey indicates in his recent bestseller, How We Learn, a large body of psychology research shows that:

Studying in a diverse range of environments can actually improve the robustness of your ability to recall that information in the future.

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It turns out, “find a quiet place to concentrate” may not be the best advice if you’re trying to build a memory that will stand the test of time.

5. Memory is not all about repetition.

You’ve heard it before: “Practice makes perfect.” In reality, this common phrase should be updated to say: “A specific type of difficult practice makes perfect.” Back to the Bjork research team again – they found that:

Repetition is key, but is most powerful when “interleaved” with unrelated information to make the brain work harder.

This forces us to have to go back and “retrieve” that information from our long-term memory stores each time we do it, strengthening that neural connection for future use much more than simply repeating something over and over (which offloads some of the work to your short-term memory). So when it comes to practice, there is a level of “desirable difficulty,” as they call it, to any task that will make it much easier to recall in the future.

6. Memory uses procrastination as an important tool.

How many times have you gotten frustrated with yourself for procrastinating on an important assignment? Well don’t get too upset, because research indicates that procrastination is actually an important tool for getting things done. When we’re not actively focusing on something, it allows your subconscious to work on ideas in the background while you do other things. This effect is particularly noticeable during menial tasks (ever wonder why you get so many eureka moments in the shower?) and sleep. Bottom line:

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Your brain needs time to integrate new ideas with existing memory, allowing them to percolate and connect.

7. Memory relies on your brain to “fill in the gaps.”

When a memory gets stored in your brain you retain its key features (the shape of someone’s face, what shoes they were wearing, how hard the wind was blowing), but most else is pretty much a blur. But what happens when someone asks you what the clouds looked like that day?

When faced with a fuzzy aspect of a memory (or one that wasn’t actually stored in the first place) your brain tends to “fill in the gaps” with what it “thinks” most probably was the case.

That’s why eye-witness accounts are so unreliable. Each time a witness is asked to describe what they saw (apart from the fact that people tend to see what they want to see), their memory is immediately contaminated with new information that is being transplanted into the past.

8. Memory gets broken up in bits and pieces in different parts of your brain.

The most common analogy for information storage in the brain is that of a computer. A new string of bits gets written in a particular location, and stored in the hard drive. Turns out, that’s not really how it goes.

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Your memory is more like a distributed filing system.

Smells go over here. Emotional intensity goes down there. Visual information gets stored here. And then it’s the job of the hippocampus to pull everything back together. To remember it in the same way your brain has to pull everything back together, like a puzzle.

9. Memory gets prioritized by emotion.

Ever wonder why your most vivid childhood memories usually involve an intense emotion (fear, rejection, elation, pride)? As John Medina, author of Brain Rules explains:

Emotions “attach themselves” to new information in the brain, acting as an indicator of importance.

The stronger the intensity, the more clearly and readily you’ll be able to recall that memory.

Featured photo credit: Johan Bichel Lindegaard via flickr.com

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Published on July 22, 2019

The Secret to Success Is Failure

The Secret to Success Is Failure

You see a job that you’d love to do; and, you decide to go for it.

You submit your application, and then are pleased to find a few days later that you’re invited for an interview. This goes well, and you begin to have quiet optimism that a job offer will be coming your way soon…

It doesn’t.

Instead, you receive a letter saying thank you — but, they’ve decided to go with another candidate.

At this point, you could allow yourself to feel defeated, sad, and perhaps even a little angry. These are normal responses to bad news. Yet, it’s not wise to let them fester and disrupt your goals. Successful people don’t let failures kill their dreams.

Sure, they might temporarily feel deflated. But, very quickly, they pick themselves back up again and begin planning their next steps towards success.

How about you? Do you currently feel embarrassed or guilty about failing?

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Don’t worry if you do, as most of us have been programmed since childhood to see failure as a bad thing. Yet, as I’m going to show you in the next few minutes, this programming is dead wrong — failure is actually an essential part of success.

Don’t Be Tempted by Perfection

The first thing I want you to think about is this:

Resisting failure is, at its core, seeking perfection. And, perfection doesn’t exist.

That’s why perfectionists are also likely to be chronic procrastinators.

As Psychology Today noted in their article Pitfalls of Perfectionism, people who constantly seek for perfection stop themselves from engaging in challenging experiences.[1] That’s because these perfectionists are less creative and innovative than the average person — plus they’re less likely to take risks. Add these factors together, and you have someone who is overly focused on their own performance and is always quick to defend themselves. Unfortunately, these traits prevent them from having the necessary focus when it comes to learning new tasks.

Let me be clear: Striving for perfection is not the same as striving for excellence.

The former is a fool’s quest for the unattainable; while the latter is really just about doing our very best (which we can all obtain).

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And, there’s another problem that perfectionists have to deal with. Namely, when they fail to reach their ideal, they feel dejected and defeated. And — as you can imagine — repeat this often enough, and these people can end up feeling bitter and depressed about their lives.

So, forget about seeking perfection, and instead, focus on always doing your very best.

Why Failure Is Good

I recently came across a Forbes article Failing Your Way To Success: Why Failure Is A Crucial Ingredient For Success[2] that helped explain why most people are opposed to failure.

The article referenced the work of two world-renowned psychologists (Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky), who were awarded a Nobel Prize for their work. They discovered something very interesting: the effect of a loss is twice as great as the gain from a win.

Have you ever thought about that before?

What it means is that failure has a far greater negative impact on us than the positive impact of an equivalent win. It’s no wonder then that most people are afraid to fail.

And, here’s where it gets interesting…

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Amazon (which along with Apple, Facebook and Google, is considered one of the Big Four technology companies) has a culture that is tolerant of failure. And Jeff Bezos — Amazon’s founder and CEO — believes that this culture is one of the main reasons for the company’s big achievements over the last 25 years. In a letter to shareholders, he said:

“Failure comes part and parcel with invention. It’s not optional. We understand that and believe in failing early and iterating until we get it right.” 

The truth is, failure can open up a world of exciting opportunities for you.

How does it do this?

By constantly showing you new avenues to travel on. And, by helping you learn from your mistakes — so you can be better next time around. It also helps you identify what’s not working for your life, and what is.

So instead of seeing something as detrimental to success, you should see it as a tool FOR success. A tool that will help you to continually refine your journey in life.

If you still need some convincing that the secret to success is failure, then take a look at the following excerpts from our article 10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On:

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• J.K. Rowling encountered a catalog of failures shortly after graduating from college, including: being jobless, the breakdown of her marriage, and living as a lone parent. However, instead of giving up on life, she used these failures to propel her to write the Harry Potter fantasy series — the best-selling book series in history.

• Walt Disney didn’t have an easy start either. He dropped out of school at a young age in a failed attempt to join the army. Later, one of his early business ventures, Laugh-o-Gram Studios, went bankrupt. He was also fired from a Missouri newspaper for “not being creative enough.” (Yes, you read that correctly.) Was he defeated by these failures? Just ask Mickey Mouse.

• Michael Jordan had this to say about the power of failure: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Embrace Failure, and Prepare for Success

I hope this has been an eye-opener for you.

Failure has long been branded a leper; but in reality, it’s a healthy, essential component of success.

The trick of course is to develop the mindset of a winner. Someone who sees failures as stepping stones to success — and defeats as important learning experiences.

So, are you ready to embrace your failures and take the proud road to success?

I sincerely hope so.

Featured photo credit: Bruce Mars via unsplash.com

Reference

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