EXPOSE | We Can Better Remember
“While it was once thought that the capacity of each individual’s working memory was something they were simply born with, research from the worlds of cognitive science and psychology are showing that we can actually train it to become stronger and faster.” – Brett and Kate McKay
EXPLORE | The Role of Working Memory
Fortunately, we do use more than 10% of our brains, but it may not feel like it sometimes. I get stumped most Mondays at work by someone asking me what I did over the weekend. Sigh. And then there’s the classic challenge of reading a book and not being able remember what you read!
In their article on improving our memory, the McKay’s define Working Memory and it’s importance this way:
“Whenever we perform tasks that require reasoning, comprehension, and learning, we use our working memory. Our working memory allows us to hold relevant information in our brain while we do something else at the same time. It’s a short-term storage tank for thoughts and ideas that you can retrieve at the ready… Working memory also plays a vital role in focus and attention… allows us to ignore irrelevant information, including distracting thoughts… [and] the ability to stay focused make us more productive…”
So, it looks like I have two options: stop reading, or, find a way to improve my working memory. If you opt for the former, well, I guess you can go do something else. But, if you’re facing facts, then we’ll move on to what we can do about remembering more, more quickly.
EXECUTE | Toward a Better, Faster Memory
When bringing about change in our lives, it rarely is a sole factor that needs attention. More often than not it is a package deal. Such is the case with improving our memories. Working to derive a consensus, I found these 7 tips to be most significant:
Give it meaning. “The theory known as the Baker/baker paradox teaches us that we should train ourselves to translate more meaning into information we want to make memorable. When you hear “baker” your brain associates visual representations of what it means to be a baker, therefore giving it more meaning. “Baker” as a last name, on the other hand, is rather meaningless unless you already have a friend or colleague with that name.
One killer technique is to come up with real-life examples of principles you’ve just uncovered. If you’ve just learned about slant rhyme, you could read poems that exhibit it. If you’ve just discovered heat transfer, you could think of the way a warm cup of coffee disperses warmth into your hands on a cold winter’s day.”
Exercise. “Exercise enhances blood circulation and oxygen to our brain, giving it more functionality.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association supports that even 150 minutes of walking per week will reduce the risk of developing dementia and age-related memory loss.
Teresa Liu-Ambrose’s research suggests that resistance-training programs can improve cognitive functions more than aerobic exercise. For those of you who are aerobically inclined, there are cognitive benefits that come with activities like running and swimming too; the research just suggests they’re not as potent as those which come from strength training.
As an added benefit, exercise is known to release dopamine in our bodies, which reduces depression and stress, two major causes of memory loss.”
Train your mind. “While the before and after results are not as clear, there is no doubt that mind exercises can significantly enhance our memories and reduce brain-related diseases.
The rule of thumb is, if you need to take a mental break from the activity, it’s good training for the brain. But we need to play the right kind of brain-training games. One type of game has been shown over and over to improve working memory. It’s called the “dual n-back game”. But here’s the catch: the improvements are transient and short lasting. While research participants were able to improve their working memory after 12-week programs of dual n-back training, once they stopped, the gains quickly went away. So working memory is just like your physical muscles in this way too: if you don’t use it, you lose it. Most researchers recommend 25 minutes every day or every other day. Just as you set aside time to exercise your body, set aside some time to exercise your brain.”
Teach someone. “As research shows, it turns out that people retain:
5% of what they learn when they’ve learned from a lecture
10% of what they learn when they’ve learned from reading
20% of what they learn from audio-visual
30% of what they learn when they see a demonstration
50% of what they learn when engaged in a group discussion
75% of what they learn when they practice what they learned
90% of what they learn when they teach someone else/use immediately
This means that the way we’ve been taught to remember information is the least effective way to learn!”
Meditation. And by meditation, I mean this kind. In addition to that, there are some physical benefits: “The physical benefits of meditation include lowering blood pressure and alleviating depression, and, it can also improve your working memory. And the meditation sessions don’t have to be long to get the benefits. Eight minutes of daily meditation will do the trick.”
Sleep. “This step is perhaps the most important, but one that most of us take for granted.
While we understand the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep before a big event, we don’t take the time to rest our brains after the event. Our brain needs rest in order to process all the information that it took in during the day.
Taking short breaks is also important to give your brain the bandwidth to process what you’ve learned. Just remember to put yourself in a distraction-free environment when doing so. This could mean going for a long walk or hike at your local park, or simply taking a quick nap.
Researchers have found that individuals who get a full eight hours of sleep perform up to 58% better on working memory tasks than individuals who get less.”
Avoid fluency. “When you’re reading something and it feels easy, or you forget something immediately after learning it, you’re experiencing is fluency.
The least-fun part of effective learning is that it’s hard. In fact, the “Make It Stick” authors contend that when learning is difficult, you’re doing your best learning, in the same way that lifting a weight at the limit of your capacity makes you strongest.
Therefore, we should force ourselves to recall a fact.”