Health 103: Having A Good Memory

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Health 102: Sleeping

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
    1. Failure to perceive due to not being focused on the present moment
    2. Failure to encode from distractions
    3. Not converting from short-term to long-term memory
      1. Eating oysters provides zinc, which improves brain function
    4. Not maintaining connections that can keep the memory readily accessible
      • Listen to music frequently to decrease the risk of a brain tumor and increase general focus
    5. Losing the ability to ultimately recall the information on command
      • The more organized you are, the less mental decay you’ll have over time and the less risk for Alzheimer’s Disease
    6. Tendency to fixate on specific bits of information
      • If a song is stuck in your head, do something brain-intensive such as a puzzle
  • However, the most common issue is the recording of the information

There are tricks to improve your ability to remember anything

  • 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
          • The secret is to make a visual narrative
    • 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
    • Compress ideas by using acronyms, rhymes or making mental diagrams
      • e.g. Remember pi (3.1415926) by counting the letters in the sentence “May I have a large container of coffee?”
  • There are other strange tricks to help with memory
    • Speak things out loud instead of simply reading it to remember it more effectively
      • To remember someone else’s name, say it out loud verbally when you first meet them
    • If you can’t remember a word, clench your fist
    • To remember where you left something in a room, scan it the opposite direction from how you normally look (right to left)

Studying is simply setting time towards dedicating information to memory

  • 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
    • Because of the way brain cells grow, it’s easiest to learn when having a new experience connected to it
      • This can range from going to a new venue to study to eating something new
    • If you chew a specific flavor of gum while studying, you can recall more easily in a test by chewing that same flavor
  • Set earlier deadlines relative to the test date when preparing for a test to avoid building test anxiety

Get ready for studying

  • 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
    • Avoid cramming, since it will disrupt memory retention
  • Schedule it for small durations at a time across multiple days
    • Make the study session part of your routine
    • Synchronize studying time with sunrise or sunset to link it to circadian rhythm
      • Morning is the best time to study with an uncluttered mind
      • Evening allows the subconscious mind to think on the studied material while sleeping
    • “Prime” the brain by having tools ready for studying
      • Chewing gum is a great way to focus, especially cinnamon gum
      • Drink peppermint tea or eat peppermint leaves
  • Because of the nature of tests, focus more heavily on the first 20% and last 20% of what is on a syllabus

Before the lecture or study session

  • Get plenty of sleep
    • If you can’t sleep, take a power nap to get ready to study
  • Sit in the most acoustically pleasing part of the room
    • If you can choose, sit in a blue room to increase focus
      • In a large lecture, sit near the front, which means the professor also knows you’re devoted to learning
    • Take the time to meditate and focus
    • Lying down will help you think faster
  • Cut out any multi-tasking, since it harms memory development
    • 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
    • Stay nutritionally supplied by eating a well-balanced diet with an emphasis on healthy fats
    • 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 better learning and memory
    • Stay well-hydrated with water or herbal tea
  • Have caffeine to boost memory retention
  • Warm up the mind mentally
    • Use exercises such as addition, counting backwards or doodling

During the lecture or study session

  • Write down everything that stands out to you as relevant or important to remember
    • Without writing, 60% of the information will be lost in 9 hours
    • Focus less on absorbing every piece of information and more on retaining information you observe
      • Only write down paraphrasing or what jogs your memory
      • Pay attention to important points from repetition or changes in inflection/tone
      • This should be the key themes and images instead of word-for-word
    • Handwriting is a more effective method for retaining information when taking notes
      • Writing in blue ink is easier to remember than black ink
      • Create your own shorthand as you go and experiment with using memorable symbols
    • There are 3 major 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
      • The more types of strategies and variety you use, the more you’ll remember
      • Pretend that you will have to teach the information later to stay more alert
  • Use a reward to keep you motivated, such as putting pieces of candy on each page and eating them as you get to it
  • 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
  • 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
    • Set an alarm for every 30-45 minutes and exercise for a few minutes
  • Keep it interesting by varying up the material
    • Jump between chapters every 5 minutes if the subject doesn’t particularly fascinate you
  • Exhaust your brain to fully work it out, otherwise brain cells don’t grow as much

After the lecture or study session

  • Take a quick nap if you have the time to encode the ideas into memory
  • Review your notes within 24 hours
    • Type out the notes you had written or paraphrase them
      • The easiest fonts to read are Times New Roman, Palatino, Bookman, Georgia, Garamond and Courier
      • Using a weird font like Comic Sans will make it easier to remember the content
    • Find ways to connect the ideas to practical matters that you are already familiar with
  • Share the ideas with others to solidify it in your mind
    • Find others who want to learn the information and teach them to solidify the information in your own mind
  • 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
      • Use a flash card app like Memrise
      • Coloring the cards based on topic can help build memory connections
    • Use a brain training program like BrainHQ or Lumosity
  • Test yourself regularly to track your improvement
    • Reward yourself with something for accomplishing certain milestones
  • If you are permitted a card or a page of notes for the test, fill it with everything you didn’t learn
    • To make more room, get 3D red/blue glasses and print one page in red and another in blue

There are other ways to keep the brain generally sharp

  • Pick up a new hobby
    • A new unrelated hobby will help the brain retain the information more easily
  • Exercise regularly
    • This enhances the ability to discriminate familiarity of previously encountered objects
    • It also helps long-term memory
  • Play a musical instrument
    • This enhances cognitive skills and academic achievement by promoting development of certain executive functions
    • This makes people more verbally fluent and process thoughts faster
    • It has also been proven to slow down brain decay
  • Play games
    • Develops the system responsible for holding and processing new and already-stored information
    • Improves spatial navigation, strategic planning and motor performance
    • 30 minutes a day can significantly increase gray matter in the brain
  • Learn a new language
    • Improves brain’s executive function, making mentally demanding tasks easier
    • Bilinguals are better at solving puzzles, planning and task management from better attention and task-switching capacities
  • Read more
    • Increases language capacity and ability to think of words
    • Readers experience brain connectivity that mimics actual actions
Next: Health 104: Ailments