The Memory Cycle
The ability to remember information is extremely critical in today’s fast paced world. The frustration involved in forgetting can be great. How can we improve our retention? Let’s start by looking at the memory cycle.
The memory cycle. Remembering takes place in four distinct stages: 1) registering a piece of information, 2) retaining it, 3) recalling it, and 4) recognizing it.
This is the most critical point in the memory process. If we are clearly aware of something, and understand it, we will be more likely to remember it than if we only think of it casually. Many of us are too busy thinking of a response to another individual to actually hear what he or she is saying. If we do not hear someone’s name when introduced, we will not be able to recall it later. The most important thing you can do to remember something is to focus your attention on the subject and to listen intently to what they are saying. Most of the time we simply are not paying close enough attention to the subject matter. The more interested in an experience, the more action in the experience, and the more emotionally involved we are with an experience, the better it will register.
Once a thought registers, it is stored in short term memory. As its name implies, short term memory fades fast. To retain information before it fades, we must refresh or review the information to transfer it to long term memory. The more often we review, the stronger the long term impression will be. Another way to strengthen the retention process is to study information utilizing multiple senses. To remember what you read, try reading it through, summarizing it out loud, and writing down some notes on the subject. You will find that you can retain more of what you read by using this method.
This stage occurs when our thoughts and feelings travel along similar territory. When you are having difficulty recalling an experience or fact, try concentrating intently on it for a few minutes followed by a calm passive time. Often the item you are attempting to recall will return out of the blue. It is important to keep clouding emotions out of the way of the recall process. Another way of enhancing recall is the “re-enactment” method. This involves going “through the motions” that occurred at the time of registration and retention. By posturing, acting and thinking the way you did the first time you had an experience, you will “warm up” your memory. Remember to stay calm. Trying too hard to recall a forgotten memory often drives it further from our reach.
Even after we recall an experience, we sometimes remember it incorrectly. Like a fading photograph, memories fade with time. When we recall a fading event, we often fill in the missing details to make the memory complete. In fact, we often distort details so they will fall in line with our beliefs and wishes. This is known as selective retention. To guard against this we should question facts and experiences that fit our wishes too easily. We need to verify facts before making important decisions.
Write it down. The written record is the best memory aid we have. Take advantage of calendars, appointment books, to do lists, “post-it” notes, voice recorders, video cameras, and computers to store important information that you wish to recall at a later date.
Tips and Tricks.
Memories can be tied to each other like the links of a chain. By associating (linking) one thought to another, you can recall entire lists of items by remembering just one. You can remember your daily appointments, your grocery list, or the key points of your speech. Begin by creating your list. Here is a sample appointment schedule:
1. Deposit money at the bank.
2. Buy stamps at the post office.
3. Drop off bike for repair.
4. Have lunch with Mary.
5. See the dentist at 2:00pm.
6. Wash the car.
The key points of this list can be simplified to:
Next, make an association between “bank” and “stamps.” The key to remembering is to make a visual image that is active, exaggerated, and absurd in nature. The reason for this is that we remember the unusual and active experiences more readily than the simple ones. Picture a long line of postage stamps waiting to make their deposits at the bank. Have each of the stamps holding large amounts of cash. See the picture, watch the stamps interact with the bank tellers who are also large stamps.
Now, imagine the large stamps riding in a bike race. Thousands of bikes racing through the streets where you live. See the image. Make sure it has action.
Next, picture a large bike eating a sandwich and drinking a cola. Seated across the table is Mary. See the bike taking bites from the sandwich and drinks from the cola.
Now envision two (for 2pm) life size sandwiches performing dental work on you. One of them pulls a large tooth from your mouth.
Finally, pretend that two dentists using large wooden tooth brushes are scrubbing your car clean. Notice the abundance of suds and bubbles as they wash your car.
Now review and refresh your links. When you think of the bank, do you remember the postage stamps with large amounts of money at the bank? Do you see the stamps in the bicycle race? Can you see Mary having lunch with the large bike? One ridiculous image should trigger the next. Review the images a few times now, and again in an hour. With a little practice, and an abundance of creative images, you should be able to recall each of the items on your list without difficulty. If you have trouble remembering the first item on your list, try picturing your alarm clock robbing the bank. When you awaken in the morning, you should remember this absurd visual. Remember, the key to linking is to make the images absurd, exaggerated, and active.
Another useful memory aid is the use of acronyms. If you were asked to name the Great Lakes could you? If you knew that the first letter of each lake spelled out “HOMES” you would have less difficulty remembering Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. Picturing large homes on a lake should strengthen this association further. Music teachers often help students remember the lines on a music staff with the phrase “Every Good Boy Desires Favour.” The lines are E, G, B, D, and F. The spaces spell out the word “FACE.”
These shortcuts allow us to remember large lists with one key word or phrase.
Everyone can remember when Columbus first sailed to the Americas. “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Just like the acronyms, rhyming can bring about a creative image which is easier to recall than the simple facts: “Columbus sailed to the Americas in 1492.”
To improve your memory review this article again. Practice the four stages of the memory cycle. Use memory aids when written records are not available. Most importantly, write down important information whenever you can. Having an effective memory takes practice. Developing good memory habits will lessen the difficulty of memory recall and make you more effective at everything you do.
Will you remember this post tomorrow?