Ways to Build and Maintain An Effective Retentive Memory

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According to neuroscience, forgetting names or keys is rarely a symptom of a major problem with your memory. However, this does not negate the fact that these regular memory lapses are inconvenient and, in some cases, detrimental to your business.

Is there anything you can do, short of magically turning back time a few years, to lessen the quantity of critical things you forget?

If you’re learning a new subject or otherwise trying to pack an extraordinary amount of knowledge into your brain, so-called memory athletes — those who compete to perform amazing feats like memorizing the order of a deck of cards in seconds — have plenty of suggestions and tactics to share.

But for more everyday difficulties, like as forgetting your anniversary or an essential work meeting, neuroscience suggests a simpler solution: learn more about how memory works.

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You actually have two kinds of memories.

Ranganath says that memories are not like hard drives or photo albums. Instead, what we commonly consider to be a single ability is actually made up of two independent skills, each with its own unique characteristics.

Your brain’s hippocampus creates episodic memories, which remember distinct periods in time. These types of memories are frequently tied to specific sensory experiences and emotions. That’s why listening to a hit song from your teen years might bring back vivid memories of when you first heard it. It’s also why feeling sad now often brings back recollections of occasions when you felt sad in the past.

The third sort of memory, semantic memory, is controlled by your prefrontal brain and records abilities or lessons learned from previous experiences rather than isolated incidents.

“So, while the hippocampus may store memories of all the places we’ve left our house keys in the past, the prefrontal cortex may discern a pattern in those memories and direct us to where we can hunt for a lost pair. It may also detect a trend of memory lapses, alerting us to be more cautious in the future,” Greater Good explains.

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How to make memories stick

All of this is fascinating stuff, but what are the practical implications? Ranganath thinks that knowing your memory reveals techniques to improve it.

First, don’t forget the fundamentals. According to studies, not getting enough sleep is bad for your memory (you probably didn’t need science to tell you that),

Understanding that episodic memories are frequently associated with specific sensory events can help you improve your memory. If you want to take a trip down memory lane, put on that ’90s music or cook your mom’s distinctive recipe.

You’re also more likely to remember something if it’s associated with a new, intense sensory experience, which is why “going to a new restaurant with your romantic partner will make the experience more memorable than going to a favorite hangout, where you often dine,” Greater Good adds.

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Finally, by understanding that semantic memory is a distillation of multiple experiences, you can enhance your brain’s efforts to convert moments into memories in a variety of ways.

Recalling a memory several times helps it stick in your mind. Talking about memories with others may change them significantly, but it works to transform solitary shards into a lesson or story that stays with you.

“When we get to know the remembering self, we can seize the opportunity to play an active role in our remembering, freeing ourselves from the shackles of the past,” Ranganath said.

Understanding how memories are created allows us to better guide the process of storing and recalling them. I cannot guarantee that you will never forget your keys, but it should help you retain the memories that are most essential in your life and job.


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