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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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Last Updated on March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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