Remembering is just thinking; an impulse of energy in your brain. Think of your memory as a highly sophisticated computer. Your “short term” or “working” memory is the RAM and holds your thoughts for about 30 seconds until they slip from your mind or are stored in your “long term” memory, which is like the hard drive of your computer. On the average, your short term memory works with only seven items at a time until it fills up and those thoughts are lost, usually in 2-3 days. Or, they can be stored in your long term memory, where they remain forever. Your brain sorts through all those thoughts, slots them and cross-references them. But unlike a computer, your brain has trillions of files in a directory with a billion branches of items to sort through.
Your memories take place in the hippocampus (so named in Latin because its shape looks like the curved tail of a seahorse) or in the amygdala (which also manages reactions to fear). Think of the hippocampus as a sorting center where all your thoughts go to be sorted with previously recorded thoughts, creating and strengthening the associations until finally it is saved in the cortex as a memory. “Declarative memories” (memory of facts and events), “episodic memories” (remembering a dinner date, vacation, etc.), “semantic memories (general knowledge) and “spatial memories” (mental mapping of scenes) all go through the hippocampus.
“Procedural memories” (like riding a bike, tying your shoelaces, etc.) and “flashbulb memories (emotional memories) are associated with the amygdala, not the hippocampus. Flashbulb memories are also referred to as “photographic” memories because they are more vivid and accurate and relate to an emotional event. Who can’t remember where they were when they heard of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination or when the Twin Towers were being attacked on 9/11? Some biologists believe that the nasty hormone, Cortisol (which many dieters have heard about) may be released in a stressful incident and that is what causes a flashbulb memory.
The key to good remembering is paying attention. Repeating something over and over makes it stick in your mind. Remember how we learned our multiplication tables? It was boring, but the repetition made us remember. But each individual has a particular way of remembering and the key is to find out which way is the best for you. You can take a memory test online to find out which of the following six ways is the best way for you to process memories:
1. Visual memory – You remember a person by what they look like before you remember their name.
2. Numeric memory – You are able to recall phone numbers, account numbers, license tags, social security numbers, etc.
3. Spatial memory – You remember the physical relationship of one object to another, such as where you placed an object or how to get to a destination.
4. Object-oriented memory – This type of memory is used in some sports. You form a mental picture of an object and it doesn’t matter how it is placed or moved around, you can determine whether two objects are the same. People who have this type of memory are usually very organized.
5. Reading comprehension – You are able to read a passage and interpret its meaning and remember the facts for later use.
6. Delayed Recall – You have the ability to recall short term memories minutes, hours, days or even years after learning it.
TIPS FOR REMEMBERING:
First and foremost, tell your brain to listen and then pay attention! I know it sounds silly, but by paying close attention to someone or something, a signal goes to your brain telling it that important information is being received. Many things affect memory – how attentive you are to the subject, how interested or motivated you are, your emotional state at the time and where you were at the time you heard it. Because your memory system is contextual, you may remember something if you can recall where you heard it, read it or saw it. The following are some mnemonic techniques for remembering:
Having trouble remembering a name?
1. Associate the person’s name with some defining characteristic that’s either interesting or irritating to you. Putting the name with a characteristic about that person may help you remember.
2. Repeat the name. Most times when you are introduced to a person, you are thinking about something else and the name just flies away. Repeat it to yourself and then again when you leave, say “It was so nice to meet you, Sharon.”
3. If it’s very important that you remember the name, review the names of the people you’ve met when you get home and jot them down. You may remember it by associating the name with the page on which you wrote it, so it might help to write each name in a different kind of lettering or a different color.
It’s on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t remember.
1. Relax. Let your mind wander or think about something else for a little while. It will usually come to mind once you’ve stopped thinking about it.
2. Use the ABCs. Go through the alphabet and hold the visual image in your mind while reciting each letter.
3. Try to think of associations. For instance, if you are trying to think of an actor’s name, start visualizing an episode from the movie. Or, if it’s a place you’re trying to remember, think of the stores in the area or the sign on their building.
1. If it’s a long series of numbers, break them up into groups. That’s why phone numbers and social security numbers are easy to recall; they’re broken up by hyphens.
2. Associate the numbers with letters on a keypad (i.e., 2 would be a-b-c, 3 would be d-e-f and so on) and then try to make up words. This may be difficult with some numbers, but once you make up a name or phrase, it’s easier to remember.
Feed your brain. The strength of your memory is helped by a good diet. Drink plenty of liquids because dehydration makes you tired and unable to concentrate, but limit your intake of alcohol, caffeine and sugar. Eat a balanced diet because the anti-oxidants can nourish brain cells. Consider taking supplements to enhance your memory, like calcium magnesium, Vitamin C and gingko biloba (not for people on blood thinners).
Finally, keep a positive attitude when your memory fails you. If you’re worrying about your declining memory, your anxiety will interfere with your remembering.