Admission: Memory is not my natural strong suit. Fortunately, brain-research has validated some simple practices that measurably enhance anyone's memory.
The truth is, most humans have poor memory. Why? A big reason is that our normal awareness is extremely limited. Most people can only hold 4-7 tiny bits of information in working memory at a time.
Want to see if you can do better?
Take a glance at this set of numbers:
1 – 8 – 6 – 2 – 5 – 5 – 5 – 6 – 3 – 5 - 7
Want to Upgrade Your Learning Abilities?
Get personalized cognitive training proven to
change the structure and functioning of the brain.
Now close your eyes and try to recall the numbers. If you can, congratulations! Only 1% of people can do this. This is because the brain is trying to take in 11 chunks of information instead of 4-7.
Let’s look at the number a different way: 800-555-6357. When we look at it as a phone number, it becomes much easier to remember. When we chunk information effectively, our memory expands.
That said, our brain’s frontal lobes only keep that information for a few seconds. Then, another set of “chunks” will catch our attention. Worse, the learning centers of our brains can only deal with one or two ideas at a time.
So to efficiently learn anything, key information must get absorbed with precision. Then, your brain needs time to absorb it and encode it into long-term memory.
Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel explains in his book In Search of Memory that your brain needs rest to form long-term memories. This is why top athletes and other performers divide their practice into time-limited sessions with breaks.
During these breaks, it’s best to spend time daydreaming. Many consider mind-wandering a bad habit, but when you daydream your awareness expands throughout your brain. Meanwhile, hundreds of thoughts get processed and stored in your deeper memory.
You can improve your recall by taking just 60 seconds to let your mind wander after you learn something new. Just sit back, relax, and let your mind go anywhere it wants. The same holds true if you’ve been focusing on a task for a while. If you set alarms to give yourself micro-vacations, your performance will improve.
By learning in small chunks and giving yourself seconds to daydream, your performance can skyrocket.
Brain connectivity during resting state and subsequent working memory task predicts behavioural performance. Sala-Llonch R, Peña-Gómez C, Arenaza-Urquijo EM, Vidal-Piñeiro D, Bargalló N, Junqué C, Bartrés-Faz D. Cortex. 2012 Oct; 48( 9): 1187-96.
Brief wakeful resting boosts new memories over the long term. Dewar M, Alber J, Butler C, Cowan N, Della Sala S. Psychol Sci. 2012 Sep 1;23( 9): 955-60.
Words Can Change Your Brain. Newberg A, M.D., Waldman, M. R., Penguin Group, 2012.
Nondirective meditation activates default mode network and areas associated with memory retrieval and emotional processing. Xu J, Vik A, Groote IR, Lagopoulos J, Holen A, Ellingsen O, Håberg AK, Davanger S. Front Hum Neurosci. 2014 Feb 26;8: 86.
Kandel, E. In Search of Memory. Norton, 2006.
This post was lovingly crafted by Josiah Hultgren. He is Founder/CEO of MindFullyAlive, a Senior Lecturer at California Lutheran University, a cognitive coach, and a practical neuroscience expert. He produces and curates mindfulness content designed to improve structure and functioning of the brain.