Health 103: Having A Good Memory

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Health 102: Sleeping

The brain’s entire memory process is composed of three primary tasks

  1. Encoding
  • Take every bit of perceived sensory data
  • Subtract out anything viewed as unimportant
  1. Storage
  • Short-term memory holds information for 15-30 seconds
  • During this small window of time, the brain moves essential information to long-term memory
  • Repetition maintains long-term memory
  • Memories never actually fade, but the connections between neurons will fray when unused
  1. Retrieval
  • The recall is typically unconscious
  • Recall depends on how effectively the brain stored and reinforced the memory

This brain’s system is prone to many forms of error

  1. Failure to perceive from being unfocused on the present moment

  2. Failure to encode from distractions

  3. Not converting from short-term to long-term memory

  4. Not maintaining connections to keep memories readily accessible

  5. Losing the ability to 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
  1. A tendency to fixate on specific bits of information
  • If you have a song stuck in your head, do something brain-intensive such as a puzzle

However, the most common memory issue is in recording the information

A few tricks will improve your ability to remember anything

Listen to music frequently to decrease the risk of a brain tumor and increase general focus

If you can’t remember a word, clench your fist

Instead of merely reading, remember more effectively by speaking things out loud

  • To remember someone else’s name, say it out loud verbally when you first meet them

Link ideas together like a mental chain as much as possible

  • Find connections across multiple unrelated things to make a more diverse and extensive memory
  • Start with broad ideas, then work your way down to smaller ones

To remember where you left something in a room, scan it the opposite direction from how you typically scan (from right to left)

Memory retention is the skill of mnemonics

Create word and idea associations together, one on top of the other, and it soon becomes easy to remember large amounts of data

You can remember lists of things by turning them into naturally memorable stories

  • Make the stories memorable by including as many of the following emotional connections
    • Bizarreness
    • Personal emotional connection to events in the story
    • Large numbers that can be daunting
    • Senses and sensory perceptions
    • Unique characteristics of the objects
    • 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 universal secret is to make a visual narrative

Connect numbers to letters or numbers to the sounds of letters

  1. 4 represents “j” sound
  2. 3 represents “r” sound
  3. 43 stands for “jar”
  4. to remember 43, remember a “jar” you had a hard time opening and smashed to get it open

Compress ideas with 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?”

Use expressive body language to create a stronger emotional connection to the words (it may look like interpretive dance)

Studying is devoting time to dedicating information to memory

State-based memory is our tendency to more efficiently recall things while in the same state of mind as when we first encoded it

  • If you were tired or upset when you memorized the information, recalling is easiest when tired or upset
  • If you’re taking a test, recreate a similar environment to where you’ll be testing in
    • If you chew a specific flavor of gum while studying, you can recall more quickly during a test with that same flavor
  • Because of the way brain cells grow, we learn best with new experiences
    • New experiences can be as small as studying in a new venue or eating something new

Avoid test anxiety by preparing for a test with earlier deadlines than the test date

Get prepared to study

Most studying involves repetition, but spreading out studying across time lets the thoughts naturally settle into the subconscious

  • Though people usually write textbooks sequentially, we connect our memories through experiences and feelings
  • Avoid cramming, since it disrupts memory retention

Schedule study time for lengths of time across multiple days

  • Make the study session part of your routine
  • Synchronize study time with sunrise or sunset to link it to your circadian rhythm
    • Studying in the morning provides an uncluttered mind
    • Studying in the evening allows the subconscious mind to think on the reviewed material while sleeping

“Prime” the brain by keeping study tools ready

  • Chewing gum is a great way to focus, especially cinnamon gum
  • Drink peppermint tea or eat peppermint leaves

Tests tend to have more questions pulled from the first 20% and last 20% of the syllabus or textbook

Before the lecture or study session

Get plenty of sleep

  • If you can’t sleep, take a power nap

Sit in the most acoustically pleasing part of the room

  • If you can choose, sit in a blue room to focus more
    • Sit near the front in a large lecture, which also allows the professor to know you’re serious about learning
  • Lying down will help you think faster

Take time to meditate and focus

Cut out any multi-tasking, since it harms memory development

  • Avoid listening to any rhythmic music, since it disrupts deep focusing
  • Turn off anything like a phone or television that could distract you

Eat a healthy meal before you start to peak your blood sugar

  • Stay nutritionally supplied by eating a well-balanced diet with an emphasis on healthy fats
    • Zinc (found in oysters) improves brain function
  • A balanced, slow-digesting food like oatmeal will provide a steady flow of glucose
    • Science has also shown that an empty stomach helps focus
  • Eating chocolate has been linked to better learning and memory
  • Stay well-hydrated with water or herbal tea
  • Drink caffeine to boost memory retention

Mentally warm up the mind

  • Use exercises like addition, counting backward or doodling

During the lecture or study session

Write down everything that stands out to you as worth remembering

  • Without writing, you will lose 60% of the information in 9 hours
  • Focus less on absorbing every piece of information and more on retaining the information you do observe
    • Only write down paraphrasing or what jogs your memory
    • Pay attention to critical points from repetition or changes in inflection and tone
    • You should be gathering 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 triggers more memory than black ink
    • Create shorthand as you go and experiment with using memorable symbols

There are many types of note-taking strategies, but three of them are the most popular

  1. Outline system
  • Write out general points with supporting ideas indented below them
  1. Cornell system
  1. Write down all the main ideas in the book or lecture
  2. Create a summary at the bottom at least 24 hours later
  3. Write down all the keywords and key phrases to the left of the notes
  1. Mapping
  1. Make a bubble with an idea in it
  2. Make another related concept 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 strategies and varieties you use, the more you’ll remember

Try the military’s photographic memory trick

  1. Sit somewhere where you can quickly 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 one paragraph
  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

Studying is most effective when you’re fully alert

You can only stay alert 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

Find tricks to stay more alert

  • Imagine that you must teach the information later
  • Put pieces of candy on each page and eat them as you get to it
  • Take routine breaks and stay physically active
    • Set your alarm for every 30-45 minutes and exercise for a few minutes
  • Vary up the material
    • Jump between chapters every five minutes if the subject doesn’t fascinate you

You won’t develop as many brain cell connections unless you work out your brain to the point of mental exhaustion

After the lecture or study session

If you have time, take a quick nap to encode the ideas into memory

Review your notes within 24 hours

  • Type out the notes you wrote or paraphrase them
    • The easiest fonts to read are Times New Roman, Palatino, Bookman, Georgia, Garamond, and Courier
    • Weird fonts like Comic Sans make it easier to remember the content
  • Find ways to connect the ideas to practical matters that you are already familiar with

Share the thoughts with others to solidify it in your mind

  • Find others who want to learn the information and teach them

Identify any gaps in your understanding and focus more on those parts

Focus on one aspect at a time

Make sure you know the content well enough to teach it

Force yourself to retrieve concepts instead of re-reading information

  • Flash cards work well to bring back ideas
    • Use a flash card app like Memrise
    • Coloring the cards by topic can help build connections
  • Use a brain training program like BrainHQ or Lumosity

Take practice tests to increase confidence and find gaps

Test yourself regularly to track your improvement

  • Reward yourself for accomplishing certain milestones

If you are allowed a card or a page of notes for the test, fill it with everything you didn’t learn

  • To make more room print on a page with red ink, then with blue ink, then bring 3-D red and blue glasses to the test to read it

Try other general ways to keep the brain sharp

Pick up a new hobby

  • A new unrelated hobby will help the brain retain information more easily

Exercise regularly

  • Physical activity enhances the ability to discriminate the familiarity of previously encountered objects
  • Exercise also helps long-term memory

Play a musical instrument

  • Music enhances cognitive skills and academic achievement by promoting the development of specific executive functions
  • People who play music are more verbally fluent and process thoughts faster
  • Playing music has also been proven to slow down brain decay

Play games

  • Games develop the system responsible for holding and processing new and already-stored information
  • Playing games improves spatial navigation, strategic planning, and motor performance
  • Thirty minutes a day can significantly increase the brain’s gray matter

Learn a new language

  • Language development improves the brain’s executive function, which makes mentally demanding tasks easier
  • Bilinguals are better at solving puzzles, planning, and task management from better attention and task-switching capacities

Read more

  • Reading increases language capacity and the ability to think of words
  • Readers experience brain connections that mimic physical actions
Next: Health 104: Ailments