Health 103: Having A Good Memory

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The mind’s entire process of memory is 3 major tasks

  1. Encoding
    • Take every bit of sensory data that is perceived
    • Subtract out anything that is not seen as important
  2. Storage
    • Short-term memory holds onto information for 15-30 seconds
    • During this time, the most important information is moved to long-term memory
    • Through repetition later, long-term memory is maintained
      • Contrary to popular belief, memories never actually “fade” as much as the neurons’ connections to them start fraying
  3. Retrieval
    • Recall is typically unconscious and depends on how effectively it was remembered
  • This system is prone to error in many ways
    • Failure to perceive due to not being focused on the present moment
    • Failure to encode from distractions
    • Not converting from short-term to long-term memory
    • Not maintaining connections that can keep the memory readily accessible
    • Losing the ability to ultimately recall the information on command
  • However, the most common issue is the recording of the information

There are tricks to improve your ability to remember

  • As a general rule, link ideas together (like a mental chain)
    • Create connections across multiple unrelated things to make your memory more diverse and extensive
    • Start with the broadest ideas, then work your way downwards to the smaller ones
  • Most memory retention is tied to making good mnemonics
    • Create word and idea associations together, one on top of the other, and it soon becomes easy to remember large amounts of data
    • Lists of things can be remembered by turning them into absurd and silly stories that are naturally more memorable
      • Always include the following to make the best stories to remember
        • Bizarreness
        • Personal emotional connection to events in the story
        • Large numbers that can be daunting
        • Senses and sensory perceptions
        • Unique characteristics of the objects being remembered
        • Disgusting or revolting parts of the story
        • Humor
      • Make the stories visual and use exaggerations to force a mnemonic for what you want to remember
        • Example: Remember the following list – car, hair, sweetener, milk, Yale, dinosaur
        • I was driving in my car, but then my hair set on fire. I pulled to the side of the road, but ran over a small packet of artificial sweetener. I crashed into a gigantic truck of milk right outside Yale university, and then a dinosaur drank all the milk and spat it at me.
        • It may seem ridiculous and strange to remember like this, but it is the most effective way to remember
    • Connect numbers to letters in the mind, or to the sounds of letters
      • Connecting numbers to words is not as hard as it sounds:
        • 4 represents “j” sound
        • 3 represents “r” sound
        • 43 stands for “jar”
        • to remember 43, just remember a “jar” you had a hard time opening and smashed to get it open

Studying is simply setting time towards dedicating information to memory

  • Most studying involves repetition, but is best spread out across time to let the thoughts naturally settle into the subconscious
  • Though a textbook may be laid out sequentially, our memories are connected by experiences and feelings
  • Create a comfortable working scenario to memorize what you want to learn
    • State-based memory is our tendency to more easily recall things when we’re in the same state of mind as when we first remembered it
    • This means that if you were tired or upset when you memorized the information, it’s easiest to be tired or upset to recall it
    • For a test, try to recreate the same environment your testing will take place in
  • Set earlier deadlines when preparing for a test to avoid building test anxiety
  • Note-taking strategies
    • There are many note-taking strategies, but these 3 are the most popular:
      1. Outline system
        • Write out general points with supporting ideas indented below them
      2. Cornell system
        1. During the lecture write down all the main ideas
        2. Create a summary at the bottom at least 24 hours later
        3. Write down all the key words and phrases used in the lecture to the left of the notes
      3. Mapping
        1. Make a bubble with an idea in it
        2. Make another related idea elsewhere in a different bubble
        3. Connect the ideas with a line
        4. Continue drawing lines to connect ideas and making bubbles to show new ideas
    • Focus less on absorbing all the information and more on retaining the information you run across
      • Science has proven that the faster the consumption the less the comprehension
    • Only write down paraphrasing or what jogs your memory
      • Create your own shorthand as you go and experiment with using memorable symbols
  • When you need to listen to a lecture or read content
    • Schedule it for small durations at a time across multiple days
      • Cramming the information isn’t very effective
      • Make the study session part of your routine
        • It solidifies the information more easily to study right before bedtime
      • “Prime” the brain by having tools ready for studying
    • Before the lecture or study session
      • Sit in the most acoustically pleasing part of the room
        • Avoid listening to any music that is rhythmic, since it disrupts deep focusing
      • Turn off anything that could distract you, like a phone or television
      • Eat a healthy meal before you start to keep your blood sugar primed
        • A balanced, slow-digesting food like oatmeal will provide a steady flow of glucose
        • Alternately, science has also shown that an empty stomach helps people focus
        • Eating chocolate has been linked to improved math skills
      • Have caffeine to boost memory retention
      • Stay well-hydrated
    • During the lecture or study session
      • Use a trick to keep you motivated, such as putting pieces of candy on each page and eating them as you get to it
      • Try the military’s trick for a photographic memory
        1. Sit somewhere where you can easily turn the lights off without getting up
        2. Cut a rectangular hole roughly the size of a standard book’s paragraph in a piece of paper
        3. Use the piece of paper to show only a paragraph you’re trying to memorize
        4. Turn off the light and let your eyes adjust to the dark
        5. Flip the light on for a split second and then off again while looking at the page
        6. When the imprint fades, repeat flipping it on for a split second and then off
        7. If you do it right, you’ll eventually be able to see the paragraph and read it in your mind
      • Stay alert by taking routine breaks and keeping physically active
        • Studying is most effective in small short chunks
          1. Read through a page of notes once
          2. Try to recall as much as possible
          3. Re-read until you’re happy with the results
      • Pay attention to important points from repetition or changes in inflection/tone
    • After the lecture or study session
      • Review your notes within 24 hours
      • Identify any gaps in your understanding and focus more on those parts
        • Focus on one aspect at a time
        • Make sure you know it well enough to teach it
        • Force yourself to retrieve concepts instead of re-reading information
          • Take practice tests to increase confidence and find gaps
        • Flash cards work well to bring back ideas to remembrance
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