As we now know, our memories are far from reliable. What we remember is actually a reconstruction of what happened because, even under the best conditions, our brain isn’t capable of taking in an entire experience. Instead, it decodes bits and pieces of it, and stores that information in different parts of the brain. So when we try and recall an event, we only have a partial store of information from which to draw. Our brain fills in these empty spaces with other information that wasn’t part of the original experience. (A little unnerving, no?)
Some of us are more skilled than others at storing and recalling information and events accurately; factors like age, stress level and depression affect how efficiently our memories work. However, even among the tiny group of 50 or so people in the US deemed to have a ‘highly superior autobiographical memory’, research reveals numerous inaccuracies in their recollections. Scientists have discovered that there is an emotional competent to our memory, and that we adjust and add to our memories according to experiences we have after the event took place.
The stronger the emotional attachment to a moment, the more likely the parts of our brain involved in memory will become activated, memory expert and Professor James McGaugh points out. You might not remember your daily commute to work, for instance, but on the day something exceptional happens you’re far more likely to recall small details that you would normally ignore. Memories we hold on to are those embedded with emotion.
6 Ways To Stay Sharp:
There are things we can do to improve how well we remember events and information. Below are some tips on how to keep your memory sharp and strengthen your brain’s ability to retain and recall information. Whether it’s stress, spreading yourself too thin, depression or age — or any combination of these factors — with regular effort you will notice improvement.
1. Keep learning new things. Continuing to challenge yourself is a great way to stay in the habit of using your brain at a higher level. This could mean learning a new language, taking a class in a subject that interests you or picking up an instrument you’ve always wanted to play. Whatever inspires you, dig in.
2. Be social. When you interact with others, you naturally challenge your brain. Spending time being social is critical to both your emotional and physical well-being; there’s a strong link between depression, isolation and memory loss.
3. Believe in yourself. How we feel about ourselves greatly affects our present abilities as well as our ability to improve. So let go of any self doubt you may have and avoid negative people altogether.
4. Make Acronyms. This very useful learning technique is helpful in retaining information. To remember items on a list, create a word or sentence using the first letter of each item. Your brain is much more easily able to pull this information together as a group when you create an acronym. (Ex: ROYGBIV = red + orange + yellow + green + blue + indigo + violet. In this case ROY G BIV sounds like someone’s name. Whatever it is, it has easily stuck in many of our brains for years!)
5. Repeat it out loud. When you do this, you’re reinforcing the memory connection. If you ask a question and need it repeated, ask again out loud, and repeat the information to yourself. (As someone working in sales might be advised: Upon meeting someone, ask his or her name, and immediately respond by addressing that person by name. Hearing yourself say the name out loud will create a deeper connection in your mind.)
6. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Take advantage of technology. Calendars and apps are there to prevent you from wasting energy trying to remember small details that can easily be stored. Write things down if it’s helpful, and make lists – give yourself a break.
* Song to get you in the mood:
“Do You Remember”, a pensive and hypnotic mid-tempo song by Australian singer-songwriter Jarryd James.
“How Many of Your Memories are Fake?”, The Atlantic: http://goo.gl/pvPv14
“Why Eye Witnesses Get it Wrong”, Ted Talk by Scott Fraser: http://goo.gl/lsTpJ5
“7 Ways to Keep Your Memory Sharp at Any Age”, Harvard Health Publication: http://goo.gl/LJrzbf