“There are four Powers: memory and intellect, desire and covetousness. The two first are mental and the others sensual”
Leonardo da Vinci
Memory and ways to enhance memory
“I read, but, I forget very easily” is surely one of the most commonly reported problems for students. Parents also often feel baffled and frustrated with the fact that their children do homework very dedicatedly, but cannot perform well in the examination. Now, no matter how much we complain about the education system that promotes memorization more than concept building, a good memory is a key to achievement in present days. From elementary classes ‘General Knowledge’ questions to ‘not-so-general questions’ faced in job interviews, all we require is a sharp memory. Being Indians, some of us have experiences of drinking a home-made recipe of brahmi or munching almonds in the morning in order to improve memory. Some of the academic researchers have even proved positive effects of herbs like brahmi on human memory. Besides changes in food habits, one can use some easy psychological tactics to enhance memory.
Why do we forget?
In order to improve our memorization, we must know why and how we forget. Although, forgetting is as useful a process as the memory for human existence, sometimes, forgetting of useful gets us in a troubling situation, think of forgetting a meeting with your boss or submission date! Psychologists suggest handful of explanation regarding forgetting like,
- We all have experienced that fact that the older the information of interest, the more is the chance of forgetting. This happens simply because the traces of learned information decays over time, if not practiced. Information that is learned in a superficial manner, just for the sake of maintenance is more susceptible to be forgotten due to trace decay. That is why when we learn chapters a day before the exam with the only purpose of reproducing the information in exam paper; we are very likely to forget those. Very common experience right?
- Sometimes, interference of information can also occur. For example, learning of History immediately after finishing a chapter of Anthropology will interfere with the memory of both the subjects. Interference theory assumes that memory can be disrupted or interfered with by what we have previously learned or by what we will learn in the future. This happens because we need some time to consolidate any information after learning it. Research shows a break after learning or a small nap after learning can improve memorization as the information gets the scope of consolidation.
- We often face a situation in which we are absolutely sure that a piece of information is located somewhere in our memory system, but we cannot access it. Such tip-of-tongue condition happens because of lack of retrieval cues at that moment. As we know, we memorize things better when the context or the state of recalling is same as that of the learning. That is why we tend to recall happy memories while we are in a happy mood and fail to recall them when we are feeling blue.
What can we do to improve memory?
- We can memorize best when we add meaning to it. That is why we can recall concepts better than facts. This happens because active learning involves more processing of brain and the more you process your brain, the better you recall. Now, you may ask me, how to add meaning to facts of history? My suggestion is, try to build a story based on the historical fact and try to visualize when you are reading.
- From the same logic of processing, we recall our book chapters when we read and write it than when we only read it. In fact, recall is best when we not only read, write and watch it in a video but also when we discuss it with a friend. Therefore, actively dealing with the information is the key.
- Developing memory device like mnemonics helps. I mean you can develop an acronym from the keywords of a long essay that has many points.
- We can recall better only when we have learned it better. Be sure about the effectiveness of the learning environment. In a noisy reading room, a tired body and disturbed mind no one can learn in an effective manner. Therefore, complete attention while learning is another step.
- Most of the time, we drift over a chapter and we think that we have learned it, but later, at the time of recall everything seems blank. It is a good habit to summarize everything in your mind immediately after you are done with a chapter, it will serve as a check.
- Practice more! It is a wrong belief that practice improves general mental ability, but, it surely improves one’s chances of recalling.
- What do you recall better, two pages long essay or ten points summarizing the essay? Anyone recalls points better than a paragraph because of the simple reason of organization. When we have a clear organized picture of a text we find it easy to memorize rather than when we have material on pages after pages. Therefore, try to organize what you read.
- Take a break. Small breaks between reading two things are always helpful to your memory.
- Sleep properly. An exhausted mind cannot function well. Therefore, sleep is important for effective learning as well as for good recall.
Besides all these, a healthy life and a healthy attitude towards life is required. No one can deny the fact how stresses and anxiety in our day to day life affects the memory. Anxiety distracts us from learning new information, as well as leads to lack of sleep. Therefore, before an important presentation or examination relaxing is necessary, of course, if you cannot afford the risk of forgetting. Hard work is always good, but using these strategies will definitely help you to work smart.
P.S: Memory is one aspect of human learning, it is surely important for human existence. But, memory tells nothing about one’s capability and general intellect.