The brain is an amazing organ, with many wonderful qualities, including the ability to forget – which can actually be a good thing. “If we remembered everything we’ve experienced, our brains would be hoarders, cluttered with all sorts of useless crap that gets in the way of what we really need,” says Charan Ranganath, professor of psychology and director of the Dynamic Memory Lab. at the University of California Davis.
In today’s constantly connected, always-on world, people are faced with a deluge of information – emails, news, pointless meetings, traffic updates, chatter from family members – well more than anyone can handle, says Ranganath. “Instead, evolution favored quality over quantity,” he says. “We get good quality memories for the things we pay attention to, and those are often the important things. But if we don’t pay attention to something, we’ll never really have a good memory of it to begin with.
These memory problems often arise at the least favorable times: when you’re in a hurry and can’t find your keys, when you walk into a room and you don’t know why you came, when you’re talking with an acquaintance whose name escapes you, when a friend refers to a pleasant moment that you shared and of which you have no memory. This kind of forgetfulness is completely normal, says Ranganath, but is frustrating nonetheless. (Other more serious conditions can cause memory loss and interruptions in memory recall, such as trauma, Alzheimer’s disease, and ADHD. Strategies to treat these disorders may include therapy and medication, plus intensive than the advice described here.)
As a general rule, however, hope is not lost if your booster is a bit rusty. Memory is an active process, not a passive one, explains clinical neuropsychologist Michelle Braun. “Which undermines a long-held myth that brain health is just a product of genetics and there’s really nothing we can do about it,” she says. Paying a little extra attention and savoring special events can help you remember life’s moments, big and small.
Start giving your full attention to important events and interactions
The responsibilities of modern life mean that there are more priorities than ever vying for your attention. How many times have you left a conversation not knowing what it was about because you were distracted by your phone? “You can get depleted memories for past events because you were never really there in the first place,” Ranganath says.
Absence of mind is one of memory researcher Daniel Schacter’s “Seven Sins of Memory”, common memory weaknesses that everyone experiences. It’s when you’re not paying attention to where you put your keys or you’re so dizzy that you miss an important doctor’s appointment. “If we engage in, say, multitasking, we’ll never really be able to encode information about where I just left my keys or my glasses,” says Schacter, a professor of psychology at Harvard University.
Another method to help you pay more attention to the tasks at hand is what Braun calls the PLR technique: pause, link and repeat. It can help you both remember someone’s name and remember why you walked into a room. If you’re hiding a birthday present for your child but are worried that you won’t remember where you put it, take five seconds to pause and focus on where you put the present, instead. to just put it down and look away and do something else,” says Braun. Then look at the environment — this is the “link” stage — and contextualize the place where you hid the gift with its environment: in your closet, next to a shoe bin. The last step is to repeat the process of retrieving the present. Look away from the hiding place and visualize in your mind where the present is.
Use technology to your advantage, Ranganath and Schacter agree: Put meetings on your phone’s calendar (specify who you’re meeting, where and why) and make sure alerts are on, set reminders and take photos of the events for your reference. for later. “Go back to those images,” Ranganath said. Don’t just take a photo and let it languish in your camera roll forever. “Anything you can do to revisit unique moments will bring back all sorts of other things.” (Schacter isn’t convinced the technology harms our memory, as some experts suggest. “I don’t think there’s a lot of hard evidence out there,” he says.)
Make even everyday moments memorable
Events that occur during intense emotional states – fear, joy, anxiety, excitement, sadness – are more memorable. This is why you remember your wedding day and maybe not your 10th date. In order to remember more mundane things — where you store dress shoes you wear once a year, a name, an item you need to pick up at the store — make those things extraordinary, says five-time USA Memory Champion and memory coach Nelson Dellis. “I made my life more memorable,” he says. After her grandmother’s death from Alzheimer’s disease in 2009, Dellis began exploring ways to improve her own memory. Two years later, he won his first USA Memory Championship — a competitive event consisting of memory challenges — through memory-strengthening exercises.
Dellis assigns vivid images to anything he tries to remember, whether it’s a number or an address. Maybe if you don’t want to forget to get cheese from the grocery store, imagine a giant, incredibly smelly piece of cheese. Dellis sometimes pinches himself or says a unique mantra while putting down his keys to remind himself of the weird thing he did in the moment. Or, let’s say you meet someone named Steve at a party and he’s wearing a shirt with monkeys on it. You could imagine him wearing a full monkey costume. “Anything you can make too exaggerated,” Dellis says, “like if it smells weird, maybe you can imagine it smells even worse, or if it’s something normal-sized, imagine it huge.”
Spend time at the end of each day thinking about what you want to remember
Another of Schacter’s seven sins of memory is transience, which refers to forgetting over time. For example, the more time passes after watching a movie, the more details you will forget. But if you study or think about things you want to remember, the more those memories will be reinforced, Schacter says. Again, looking at pictures or videos you took during a particularly enjoyable dinner with friends is a way to better remember those events. Or instead of photos, memorize the scene by writing.
Dellis recommends spending five minutes before bed to remember what happened that day. Did you see a beautiful sunset? Did your child have a funny retort to a simple question? Did you eat something delicious? Replay small but charming events that you would like to savor. “The more you do this, over time you realize you’ll be able to remember more details about your life,” Dellis says.
Be proactive and avoid oversights
It can be difficult to anticipate what you will forget in the future. But having an idea of your memory flaws can help you save those important things in your memory. If you sign up for a free trial and know you tend to forget to cancel it before you’re billed for the rest of the year, setting a reminder on your phone notifying you to cancel it isn’t too much. technology dependent. , is knowing your blind spots. That’s what Schacter calls having good metacognition, “a good understanding of how your memory works,” he says. “Being aware that your memory may fail in the future, even though at the moment it seems obvious that you should be able to remember it, but you know that in a year, projecting into the future, you won’t may not be able to.”
Maybe remembering names is one of your memory weaknesses – a “sin” Schacter calls blocking (where the information you want is on the tip of your tongue but you can’t access it). Before attending a wedding or your child’s basketball game, try reciting the names of the people who usually attend these events, Schacter says. This exercise doesn’t need to be more than a few minutes of refreshment – maybe switching Instagram from one social login to another. “With blocking,” he says, “you really have to get ahead because when it happens, it’s too late.”
Even if you consider yourself a forgetful person, memory is a skill that can be practiced and strengthened, Dellis says. Before entering the memory contests, Dellis never thought of himself as a person with an extraordinary memory. Test yourself, he says, by assigning vivid, unique images to grocery items and try shopping without a list. Tell yourself that you will remember 10 new names at a social event.
“It’s very easy to be like, ‘I’m just the person with the bad memory,'” Dellis says. “When you start to change that narrative and you start to realize that our memories really are more amazing than most people realize…it’s just a snowball effect that makes your memory even more powerful.”
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