One of the biggest challenges in this competitive world is to remember things. Right from an infant to her great grandmother, all are involved in the tussle of improving memory. The infant struggles to remember the association between the word ‘eyes’ and her eyes whereas her great grandmother works to remember her mobile number. Often she isn’t able to reproduce her own number when someone asks for it and her excuse is unpardonable to self. Be it profession or personal life, memory plays a crucial role. Can one really improve one’s memory or is it something to live with?
The human brain is one bio machine. Just as the efficiency of a machine goes up on continuous use, the productivity of the brain also rises when exercised often. That’s why the brain of a lazy brat is not as sharp as that of a disciplined student. The more you utilize your neurons and put them under testing situations, the better would be the productivity. Now the question is about how to exercise the brain. Yes, just as the other body parts need fresh air, even the brain needs its share of fresh atmospheric air which you can provide by aerobic exercises like jogging or walking, the brain gets tired and then it needs its share of sleep and to keep it functioning, tasks and tests are required in day to day life. These tasks should be off the routine. Anything like walking backwards in the garden, cooking a new dish, speaking words in a backward fashion in a sentence, knitting with closed eyes are all ways in which you can test your brain apart from reading, concentrating and memorizing. Now that we have used these terms, it is the right time to understand the difference between information assimilation, consolidation and retrieval.
Assimilation: The brain receives information in form of electrical impulses through nerves. These nerves acquire these impulses from the sensory organs like eyes, ears, skin and tongue. The information is rapidly transcribed to electrical impulses and this travels up the brain where the information is processed further. However this would happen only if there is enough concentration and there is a will to sore and utilize this information in future. That’s why teachers yell at students to concentrate while studying. Otherwise information goes into the body through one ear and comes out through the other.
Consolidation: Once the impulses reach the brain, information is stored in short term memory at least. Now the brain can reproduce this information for the next few minutes at least. But if the information is to be used in the long term, more deliberate attempts have to be made to store it within the brain neurons. This can easily happen if there are associations to the information which the brain is more familiar with.
Retrieval: When you need to recall information, your brain has to activate the same pattern of nerve cells it used to store it. The more frequently you need the information, the easier it is to retrieve it along healthy nerve cell connections
In addition to exercising your brain, there are some basic things you can do to improve your ability to retain and retrieve memories:
- Pay attention. You can’t remember something if you never learned it, and you can’t learn something — that is, encode it into your brain — if you don’t pay enough attention to it. It takes about eight seconds of intent focus to process a piece of information through your hippo campus and into the appropriate memory center. So, no multitasking when you need to concentrate! If you distract easily, try to receive information in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
- Tailor information acquisition to your learning style. Most people are visual learners; they learn best by reading or otherwise seeing what it is they have to know. But some are auditory learners who learn better by listening. They might benefit by recording information they need and listening to it until they remember it.
- Involve as many senses as possible. Even if you’re a visual learner, read out loud what you want to remember. If you can recite it rhythmically, even better. Try to relate information to colors, textures, smells and tastes. The physical act of rewriting information can help imprint it onto your brain.
- Relate information to what you already know. Connect new data to information you already remember, whether it’s new material that builds on previous knowledge, or something as simple as an address of someone who lives on a street where you already know someone.
- Organize information. Write things down in address books and datebooks and on calendars; take notes on more complex material and reorganize the notes into categories later. Use both words and pictures in learning information.
- Understand and be able to interpret complex material. For more complex material, focus on understanding basic ideas rather than memorizing isolated details. Be able to explain it to someone else in your own words.
- Rehearse information frequently and “over-learn”. Review what you’ve learned the same day you learn it, and at intervals thereafter. What researchers call “spaced rehearsal” is more effective than “cramming.” If you’re able to “over-learn” information so that recalling it becomes second nature, so much the better.
- Be motivated and keep a positive attitude. Tell yourself that you want to learn what you need to remember, and that you can learn and remember it. Telling yourself you have a bad memory actually hampers the ability of your brain to remember, while positive mental feedback sets up an expectation of success.