We use our memory for a lot more than the weekly shopping and the kids pick up timetable. With myriad of memory tests and improvements flaunting themselves at us, which of these memory skills do we actually need?
The Two Types of Memory
Short-Term Memory: more often relates to the day-to-day memory, and is often referred to as the ‘working memory’. The short term memory station is where you retain the ‘stuff’ that’s being utilised at the moment. These memories are either discarded or retained for further use.
Long-Term Memory: is related to the past, sometimes going back years. This is the place where we keep the ‘stuff’ we want to hang on to.
Interesting Fact– The question has arisen whether it is the absence of a memory, or the inability to recal said memory that occurs with memory loss. As of yet, the question has no answer!
Which Memory Skills Do We Actually Need?
- Retrieval- recalling information we previously stored
- Elaboration- expanding on knowledge and making important connections
- Interleaving- memory multi-tasking
- Improvisation – recalling ‘stuff’ in order to improvise
- Reflection- reviewing events and information
If that seems like a pretty long list and a bit of a painful subject let’s focus on some tricks to improve each area.
Improving Memory Skills
Retrieval– like I suggest in my online course, when studying for an exam or an interview, a simple way to learn how to retrieve information is to close your eyes, and try to recite your notes, not simply read them over again. Try creating a picture of the information in your mind.
Elaboration– Our brains relate to interlinking connections and perform far better when ideas have some correlation to a topic that’s already present. It is therefore helpful to try to explain new ideas in your own words and/or describe how they relate to knowledge you already retain.
Interleaving – Little and often seems to be the spec here. By spending half an hour on each subject, as opposed to 2 hours on just the one, will give the sub conscious breathing space to work on the retention side of things.
Improvisation– Looking at a topic from start to finish and picking it apart piece by piece will help recall when an individual aspect is required.
Reflection– by recalling in depth past experiences the memory bank can help fix areas of discord in our minds. As long ago as last century, the importance of engaging learners in reflection has been a hot topic and in the words of John Dewey (1933) via experientialtools he:
believed that our experiences shape us, and when reflective practice is part of the learning, meaning and relevancy is created, initiating further growth and change
What’s interesting about memory is that it has the capacity to inflate and deflate when needed. Yes we have untold areas of our brains that are secretly storing facts and info that we don’t need right now, and sometimes (usually those wee hours of the night) we have a big, bright blasting ballroom that wants to spew out all manner of disturbing recall, guaranteed to keep us awake and in turmoil until daybreak.
So train your brain and improve your memory skills, but remember we don’t need to have instant recall of every single person we ever met on that summer holiday when we were 5 years old. We have photos for that