How To Boost Your Memory
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Do you wish you had a better memory? Do you forget people’s names three minutes after meeting them? Are you that husband that never remembers the dates of your anniversary or wife’s birthday? Have you performed poorly on tests or missed important meetings because you simply forgot crucial details? If so, you’re not alone, and there’s good news: You can enhance your memory.
How Memory Works
The human memory is so complex that scientists are unable to understand all of the nuances of this function; however, they have defined some basic principles that explain the general process. First, understand that your memory is not a filing cabinet. You do not store information in a particular region of the brain, only to be retrieved when needed. Also, memories are not just glimpses of past events, they are the very building blocks that make us exactly who we become.
We are what we learn. The brain’s main function is to perceive information to understand its environment. It does this through creating memories. Activities as mundane as learning to eat and speak are made possible through memories. For instance, babies perceive the sounds and actions of others, and then they assimilate these aspects of communication into their brains. This input, from their various senses, is registered by the brain in the hippocampus, and the frontal cortex (the front lobe of the brain) assesses the situation. From this point, the brain makes a judgment--is this really worth remembering? Most likely it is, and the information becomes a part of the brain’s knowledge.
Once our brains perceive an action, the information becomes a part of our short-term memory. Imagine this aspect of your brain as a place setting at a table. You have a plate, fork, knife, spoon, glass, napkin, and then things get complicated with a butter knife, soup spoon, salad fork, etc. Too many societal rules may make you feel like a fool at a fancy dinner, just like too many situations may overwhelm your short-term memory. The short-term memory can typically handle only about seven items at one time, and usually for only about 30 seconds each. Once it decides that particular input is important, it stores it in long-term memory.
Think about phone numbers for a minute. They are seven digits for a reason; this is the optimal length for short-term human memory. You need to remember the number to dial it, so it is also conveniently dissected into three different portions. However, once you dial that number a few times, and then maybe many times if you like the person, it is committed to memory. Do you still remember your phone number from childhood or that of your best friend? (You do if you remember a time before cell phones).
Practice Makes Perfect
Of course, this is a very simple explanation for one of the most complex processes known to man, but it’s a start. And here’s where this information becomes useful to you in your search for personal development. As you repeat tasks, or spot a pattern through constant behaviors or events, that particular memory gets stronger. Chemicals (neurotransmitters) convey messages between two brain cells (neurons). It is likely that the same cells in the same regions communicate a specific memory. The more often the communication, the stronger the connection. This is why practice is so important.
But the most important aspect of memory that we must realize is that these connections can be altered just as they can be reinforced. Although it may take more time to change a habit or re-learn a skill (like riding a bike for the first time in 10 years), the brain can easily make new connections. Psychologists call this neuroplasiticity, and it is this powerful capability that you can harness for mental growth and personal development.
Tips for Memory Improvement
· Get plenty of rest. Sleep is how your brain recharges; it is not a luxury. In fact, memory reinforcement occurs during deep sleep. Also, give yourself a chance to daydream and do “mindless” activities. It is in these moments that the brain’s creativity makes many new connections.
· Enjoy other people. Research has shown that relationships boost brain power. Social interactions are the foundation of learning, and the more social a person is, the more likely he or she will have stronger memory function, longer.
· Get silly. Laughter engages multiple regions of the brain, which is why it is good for mental well-being. Hanging out with kids and jovial people can help give you a laughter lift. Gravitate toward it.
· Whatever you do, de-stress. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just do it. Chronic stress can actually lead to neural damage, particularly in the hippocampus. Researchers have discovered that people with clinical depression have smaller hippocampal regions. Symptoms of anxiety and depression include difficulties with memory and concentration. Get professional help if your symptoms are impeding your productivity and quality of life.
· Meditate. Not only does meditation help relieve stress, but it actually improves psychological functioning. Through brain imaging, researchers have discovered that meditation can increase activity in the left prefrontal cortex (think happiness and a calm disposition). Meditation can also thicken the cerebral cortex, the outer layer of the brain or gray matter, which is responsible for information processing.
· Eat right, drink well. Consume foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon and walnuts), and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Drinking wine and green tea—not together—can also help benefit your cognitive functioning. Too much fat and sugar will only hurt your brain.
· Challenge your brain. Do brain aerobics. Play memory and mind-bending games. You can typically find plenty on the Internet or in books at the story. You can also boost the connections in your brain by trying new things. Try writing with your opposite hand. Listen to music you normally wouldn’t. Practice math problems if you’re horrible at math. Creating new connections will keep you sharp and will only open your mind to limitless possibilities.
- Melissa Lavery, M.S.
Mohs, R. (2007, March 8). How Human Memory Works. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/human-memory2.htm
Smith, M., & Robinson, L. (2015, February). How to Improve Your Memory. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/memory/how-to-improve-your-memory.htm
The Importance of Memory. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.engines4ed.org/hyperbook/nodes/NODE-2-pg.html