Everyone’s memory is different, but none of us have a perfect memory. In fact, even if you think your memory is perfect, chances are it isn’t. To understand how this works, we need to look at a few different things, starting with how we remember anything to begin with.
Why You Remember What You Remember
According to a one study from MIT, it might simply be how meaningful an image is and if we can connect it to other knowledge. If you can connect that image to something else, it increases the chances you’ll remember it later. Like learning, memory is all about context. This is why, as The Atlantic points out, pattern recognition is key. Essentially, the more connections a new memory has to knowledge you have, the more likely it is you’ll remember that information. The same basic process seems to happen with most memories.
Memories Are Fallible
Memories are changed by all kinds of things. Nostalgia plays a roll in how we remember, and according to Scientific American it’s surprisingly easy to instill false memories in people.
Also it’s not just traumatic events that cause our memories to flake out. One study in The Journal of the Association for Psychological Science points out that simply recalling memories enhances and distorts them. Which is to say, when you remember something you’re actively changing it. In part this has a lot to do with a wide variety of memory biases that color the ways we remember. From the positivity effect where we tend to remember the positive over the negative to the egocentric bias where we remember ourselves as being better than we are, we’re constantly changing memories in a way that benefits how we view ourselves. Which is to say, trusting your own memory isn’t always the best idea.
What You Can Do to Improve Your Memory
Improving your memory is possible, but despite what the self-help section at your local bookstore might say, it’s not just about a series of mental hoops you can jump through every day. In fact, while there certainly are some techniques proven to help you retain information, improving your memory is just as much about lifestyle as anything else.
1. Exercise Regularly
We know that physical activity affects the brain in a number of positive ways, and one of those is a boost to memory. Studies published in Behavioral Neuroscience, The Journal of American Geriatrics Society, and The Journal of Aging Research, among others suggest that exercise plays a signifigant role in memory.
Essentially, exercise improves cognitive functions, and when that happens it enhances our memory storage and retrieval. Basically, the better shape your brain is in, the better the chances you’ll remember something.
2. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Sleep and memory is an intensely researched subject, and it’s pretty clear that sleep plays a signifigant role in memory formation. Basically, certain stages of sleep are thought to help form different types of memories. So, declarative memories (things like facts and knowledge) are enhanced by slow wave sleep (deep sleep), whereas implicit memories (long term memories that don’t require conscious thought, like riding a bike or tying a shoe) are enhanced by REM Sleep. Essentially, it’s thought that the better the sleep you get each night, the better your memory.
A good night’s rest really can improve your memory in the long term. The good news is that rebooting your sleep schedule isn’t that hard to do. If you stick with it, your memory should stay strong.
3. Try Memorization Techniques
In the end, your memory probably isn’t as bad as you think. It just takes some regular maintenance and a little training to keep it in shape. You can’t magically just improve your memory by studying. If you’re the type who forgets your keys, you’ll probably always do so. That said, you can employ certain techniques to help you with memory retention, and perhaps more importantly, your initial perception.
Memory is weird, and it works in strange ways. It’s unreliable, but we still have to put our trust in it. Memory is hard to work with, but it’s still malleable and you can force memories into your brain. Science is still figuring out exactly what works best, but for now it seems like few things trump a good night’s rest and exercise.
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Source: Life Hacker