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How to improve your memory

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Our memory and cognition are crucial to our daily lives. Without them, we would never be able to form meaningful relationships, learn, or make basic decisions. اضافة اعلان

All our memory is stored in the brain. Although it is not a muscle, it shares a common principle in that if it is not used regularly, it can become weak. Conversely, training and practicing using the brain can make it stronger. Much like physical activity, exercises for the brain are important to one’s mental health and overall well-being.

How do we form memories?

The science behind memories and how they are formed has been studied since the start of mankind. Despite this, there is still debate on the exact mechanisms through which we create memories and how they work.

One of the most popular theories to date is the “dual-process theory”, which suggests that we form memories unconsciously and consciously, referred to as system 1 and system 2 respectively. System 1 is considered to be fast, automatic, and responsible for everyday decision making, but prone to error. System 2, on the other hand, is a slower process that requires effort but is responsible for more complex decisions and is less prone to error. These two systems work in tandem to provide the sum of one’s knowledge and memories.

System 1 is memorized knowledge and system 2 is often the application of system 1 memories.

Memories are formed in three distinct stages. The first stage is known as encoding, and is the process in which stimulation from our senses is translated into a piece of knowledge or memory. This process can be hard to explain as no language can fully translate what we observe, and yet our brains understand it perfectly.

An example of this is trying to explain the color red. Although we can not articulate the description of the color, our brains convert the visual color of red into a meaningful piece of knowledge that can be stored in our brain.

There is debate on how many methods of encoding there are, but generally it is agreed that there are at least three methods and information can be encoded through or a combination of them. Visual encoding is how something looks, acoustic encoding is how something sounds, and semantic coding is what something means.

The second step of memory formation is storage, Which refers to how, where, how much, and how long encoded information is retained. Storage of memory is further divided into two categories which most are familiar with: long and short-term memory. All memory starts as short-term memory, which on average lasts between 15–30 seconds. In addition to being of a short duration, its capacity is also small. On average we can only retain five to nine items of information within this duration.

Long-term memory has a much greater capacity and can remain indefinitely. Semantically encoded memories (memories with meaning associated with them), tend to be primarily retained in the long-term, but acoustic and visual memories may also be stored long-term. For a memory to be useable, it must be retrievable, therefore the final step is retrieval. The process of retrieval depends predominantly on the type of memories (long or short-term). Generally, short-term memory is retrieved in sequential order (e.g., a list of items on a shopping list), whereas long-term memory is retrieved through association (e.g., retracing your steps to find your keys).

Why do we forget?

Forgetting memories can be the result of accidents and diseases. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that affects the brain. Abnormal protein deposition form plaques and tangles which result in the death of brain cells.

Amnesia is another form of memory loss; there are many types of amnesia. Depending on the type, people with amnesia may have difficulty forming new memories or remembering old memories, but typically, they maintain knowledge of their identity and motor skills. Medical conditions aside, it is a natural process to lose memories. This phenomenon is often referred to as memory decay. In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus studied memory decay and later developed the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, which depends on two factors: the amount of time that has elapsed since receiving the information and how strong the memory is. The more time elapsed and the weaker the memory, the greater the memory decay.

Benefits of improving memory

Improving memory has many practical uses, but there are also benefits to cognition and overall health. Memories are responsible for our ability to learn. By improving how quickly and how well we can improve our memory, we can greatly improve our capacity to learn. Additionally, we also rely on our memories for social interactions.

The ability to remember personal details helps us form and maintain social relationships. Even something as simple as remembering a person’s name improve social bonds. Lastly, improving your memory may help prevent or slow the progression of certain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Lifestyle changes

The physical aspects of our lives can impact our ability to form memories or recall them. Eating a healthy diet is important in order to provide the proper nutrients our brain needs. Similarly, avoid the use of recreational substances, such as drugs and alcohol, which can impair the ability to form new memory and make old ones decay.

Physical activity is also important. By exercising, we improve blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which consumes a lot. Of our total oxygen supply, the brain consumes roughly 20 percent. Lastly, 7-9 hours of sleep for adults is crucial to memory. While the exact mechanism is not fully understood, it is believed that sleep plays an important role in consolidating memory.

Socializing


Socializing regularly has many benefits, such as improving overall well-being, but it also can help with memory. Social interactions require extensive use of our memories and cognition. In order to socialize, we need to be able to remember details of a person, social etiquette, as well as any information that is involved in a conversation. Additionally, the improvement to overall well-being can help manage or prevent certain conditions, such as depression and stress, both of which can have a negative effect on memory.

Repeat and retrieve

Repetition and retrieval is the best way to improve your memory on learned information. Repetition helps enforce the memory, but alone is ineffective. Memory is a two-way process, and it is just as important to recall the memory as it is to memorize it.

By forcing the retrieval of information, you form more long-term and semantic memory. The best way to remember information is to have the memory be long-term, particularly using semantic encoding. Acronyms, abbreviations, and mnemonics associate greatly with meaning and utilize semantic encoding, thus allowing the formation of long-term memory. Additionally, there is an ancient technique that is difficult to master but if accomplished can greatly improve your long-term memory. “Constructing a mind palace” is a technique that creates a mental visual of memory and can help with retention and retrieval.


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