Don’t we forget the password all the time? Or just forget why we went to the kitchen in the first place? As humans, we’ve been the easy victims of lack of memory. Even the great Einstein’s memory was poor. He had a tough time remembering dates and his own phone number!
To improve our memory let’s start by understanding why we forget things.
Being forgetful is a decay of data recorded and stored in the brain over a period of time. Memories just fade away like the magic ink on paper. Research suggests that forgetting is often deliberate. But does forgetfulness mean defective memory? Not at all. In fact, it’s seen that the smart memory system needs forgetting to work better. Therefore, if memories mix with each other they fade and decay quickly. Forgetting is fine and an adaptive thing. The most important task is to ensure brain training and save the vital memories of our life.
Let’s first agree that a memory is an event. So once it’s created, it must be stored – either as a short-term memory or a long-term memory. Short-term memory has a limited space and is saved for a brief time. Important information from short-term memory is slowly converted into long-term memory. The more the information is used, the more likely it is to end up in long-term memory.
Thus, there are 3 ways in which we can forget information:
1. Decay: Overtime, old, unused memories fade from our brain. It could be our school times or names of books we have read or places we’ve visited. If we do not use any short-term memory often, we lose it.
2. Displacement: Our memories are over-written – like good old CDs. Some memories are forgotten and new memories take the place of the old ones.
3. Interference: Interference of memories can be proactive or otherwise. Often old memories interfere with new memories and affect their storage – leading to forgetfulness.
Brain Training – What’s the Psychology Behind Forgetting?
The noted Psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus was the one to study forgetting. Over multiple trial and errors, he drew what is known as the ‘Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve”. The curve explains the loss in the ability of our brain to save memory. He said that we start losing memory over time – in a matter of days or weeks. The only way to get it back is by brain training to reuse it time and again. (And many other ways which I will explain later in this article)
For now, let’s learn more about why we forget in the first place.
We Fail to get Back the Memory
The reason why we don’t remember in the first place is that it was never made for long-term memory. Try this well-known demo: draw a side of a penny and once done, compare it with the actual penny. Surprised at how it looks? Since we’ve not seen how it actually looks, all we could focus was on its size, shape and colour of the coin. The details are unclear as we never saved it in our memory at first look.
We Fail to Store Information
The thought that memories fade over time is not something new to us. Plato, the Greek philosopher proved it 2,500 years ago. There’s a lot that happens between the information of memory and the recall of that information. The reason wherein we fail to remember is the decay theory explained above. For example, newness plays a vital role in memory. We are likely to remember our first day at work, because of the excitement. But the memories of other days at work or even the first days at many other jobs may be left to decay.
We Forget Intentionally
Did you know that information is already present in memory but it cannot be recalled unless the hints are present? Remembering our wedding day or our first date can set-off the revival of those memories.
Furthermore, if we really want to learn more about the WHYs behind forgetfulness, Simon Sinek’s book, “Start With Why” is a great starting point. The book explains why his idea works and how to find a good reason behind a decision. His method in brain training is simple: only good reasons bring good results. If we do not have a good reason to remember a memory, most probably, we are not going to be great at remembering that memory.
Let’s move on to learn more about how to increase memory power with brain training.
How to Increase Memory Power – Brain Training
In a recent study on healthy adults, the average number of memory slips was around six per week. It would be surprising to note that the list had younger people that were the most absent-minded. Remembering is an active process. Our brain does the difficult tasks of paying attention, planning, and saving the heaps of memories we create at every moment. Luckily, there are a many effective memory improvement methods on brain training that can help us remember better.
The point to note here is that as humans we are forgetful and there are many reasons we forget things easily. The problem lies in our way to remembering. Jim Kwik, a memory and speed-reading expert shared a simple brain training idea called the ‘MOM’ theory. It stands for Motivation, Observation and Mechanics.
Motivation: How eager are we to remember?
The first step is to ask ourselves why we need to remember something. Motivation is the key to learning. Often, memory has little to do with our abilities and everything to do with how much we want to remember it. If we can’t come up with a reason to remember, we won’t remember.
Observation: Do we pay enough attention to remember?
The art of memory is the art of attention. We have to understand that memory issues are attention issues, not retention issues. We need to listen and be alert about our surroundings as best as we can to boost our memory.
How often do we say this, “When I was young I had a good memory, but as I am getting older my memory is fading.” It is because as we grow older, when we talk to people, we are focused on presenting ourselves rather than paying attention to what they are saying. As a result, we give lesser focus to the chat which affects our memory.
Mechanics: Can we improve our memory with brain training?
We need to learn more about the methods and most importantly, practice them to get better at memorising. A few memory improvements and brain training tips can help us boost our memory power.
There are different tricks and tips to remember better. Let’s take the case of forgetting names to understand the application of techniques better. Did you know that our brains have dedicated processors for faces, but not for names? That is why we tend to forget names but may recall faces more often. But the good news is that Jim Kwik has developed a unique brain training method that can help us remember names better. And he has given it the acronym BE SUAVE – which is easy to remember too.
BE SUAVE is a simple formula to remember names of people – Brain Training
“Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, either way, you’re right” – Henry Ford.
Our brain is like a supercomputer and our self-talk is the program that it will run to remember. So if we tell ourselves we can’t remember names, we will never remember names. Because we ask our supercomputer not to remember names. If we believe that we can remember names, over time, we will get better at it. This stands true for many parts of our lives.
Remembering names is a skill which takes practice and efforts. In brain training, practice makes progress.
- Try mental workouts: Solve brain games like crosswords or puzzles. The more we stick to completing it, the sharper will be our memory.
- Try physical workouts: Regular exercise protects the brain against memory decay. Include activities such as aerobics, running, swimming, hiking, dancing and brisk walking to keep the mind active.
- Calm the mind: Mindful meditation may help in improving memory retention and reduce brain damage. Meditation increases brain flexibility, which helps in keeping it sharp and healthy.
- Get enough zzz: Sleep is important for overall brain health. A good full night’s sleep of about 6-8 hours helps our brain restore long term memories.
Hearing is not enough for memory. Saying it helps us remember the name better. It also ensures that we have heard it correctly. What’s the point of remembering an incorrect name, anyway?
The more we use a memory, the stronger it will become. And it will also win us brownie points from the person. Use it during the talk or refer the person by name to others. We can also check if we have any link with the name. Did our friend have the same name? Or maybe our favourite author or actor? If it links with an important part of our lives, we will remember the name more easily.
People belong to various countries and cultures. And it may be difficult for us to spell their names. Creating stories in our mind can help us remember the names better. Does the person’s name rhyme with any word? Or does the name have any link with the place at which we met the person for the first time? Building stories around the name can help us recall the names smoothly.
We are better at remembering visuals instead of names. So let’s think like children. Children are the fastest learners on the planet because they are active and creative. Relate the name to a picture or an action or an object. Does Sunny remind of the Sun or Mike of the microphone? Other ways to remember a name is via acronyms like VIBGYOR for a rainbow. If we create our own versions that connect with our lives, we will always remember a name.
End it with a lasting impression. If we use the person’s name to end the chat they will remember us forever. It’s a win-win for both of us.
The BE SUAVE brain training method is not limited to remembering names alone. We can remember addresses, birthdays, favourite movies and many other things that we are likely to forget.
Now that we have understood the methods of remembering, we can learn more about our unique styles.
What is Our Remembering Style?
As a first step, we have to ask ourselves – do we prefer to remember by listening, viewing, or doing. If we’re the more listening kinds, the best way to get and store information is via audio sources – like music, audiobooks, podcasts, etc. As visual learners, we may prefer watching or reading information to understand it better. Doers tend to learn by experimenting or doing actions like writing down a number of cooking a recipe. Once we find out how our brains remember the best, it gets easier.
Can We Remember Well at Any Age?
It is by now clear that memory loss or forgetfulness is not strongly linked with ageing. In contrast to the old beliefs, some parts of memory get better with age. Thus, if we want to make the most of our memory power, we should practice these methods, take care of our physical and mental health and be positive that we can remember. So, we can tick off the age factor right away.
Lastly, the more we learn more about our brain, the more we will be surprised about it. Our brain is always open to training and learning new methods. We have the power to unlock its abilities and achieve new level of performance. It may not show the results from day one. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. Let’s focus on brain training, put in a little time and effort and see the super rewards it can get us.
You can also have a look at my article Ways to Boost Brain Power.
Have a Good Day and Life!
Wellness Explorer & Lover