“You remember the alphabets you have learnt in kindergarten but forget the answer you have by-hearted yesterday while giving a test, you remember your wife’s birthday but forget to wish her on that day?” These mundane occurrences in our lives are dependent on our memory. Yet, we rarely give a thought about the human brain’s capability to process the humongous information that we feed it, filter it and save only what is necessary!
Understanding how our brain makes memories will help us in putting our brain to better use by selectively feeding it with the necessary information and to also keep it active so that we can delay age-related memory disorders. Easy way to understand the intricate process of forming and processing memory would be to understand the Multi-Store model put forward by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin. Multi-Store Model explains three memory types; Sensory Memory, Short Term Memory and Long Term Memory and the relation between them.
Sensory memory is the information that is absorbed through the human senses; sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch. It is more of an involuntary process and most importantly sensory memory is of very short duration which is usually measured in milliseconds! For example, when we see an object and avert our eyes from the object after noticing it, we still remember it for at least a short time (approximately 250 milliseconds) or until our attention is caught by another object.
The information that has been paid attention to while in the sensory memory is transferred to Short- term memory in which it stays for a minimum of 18 seconds without repetition or rehearsal. This repetition is usually by chunking or mnemonics. For example, when we are trying to remember a phone number we usually chunk the 10 digits to 3+3+4(999-888-7777) or Kids are taught to remember the colours in rainbow using the mnemonic VIBGYOR.
Long-Term Memory holds the information that has been continually visited or rehearsed while in short term memory. The widely accepted assumption is that Long term memory is limitless in both capacity and duration. Almost all the memories we have from our childhood can sum up Long-Term memory like The almond cupcakes that your uncle brought for your birthday or the embarrassment from the test you failed when you were 8 years old.
From the above-explained theory, it is pretty evident that at each level, for the information to reach the stage of memory there must be some effort put in by us. At the sensory Memory level if we are not paying attention to the stimuli it is impossible to process the information further. Similarly, at Short term memory if we do not repeat or run through the same piece of information in our head there is no chance that it reaches our Long term memory. We can work on improving our memory capabilities following a few tips;
Implementable ways of improving Memory
Attention: As we have seen how a piece of information translates to memory in the multi- Store model, it is important that we improve on our attention capabilities in order to improve our memory in general.
Repetition: Based on the process in Short term memory, for remembering data, repetition is the key. We usually tend to forget difficult stuff like the name of a foreign colleague or the lengthy formulas in math. After all, studying on daily basis is assuring rather than by hearting all the topics one day before the exam.
Sleep: Sleep and its importance have been widely discussed. It is only while sleeping that our brain can work on the consolidation process of all the information we feed it with. Having a disciplined Sleeping pattern will not just help our memory but also our overall health.
Mnemonics: However childish these might sound, it is one of the best and easy way to fortify our memory. Remember how we learnt ganavibhajana for Telugu poetry using the mnemonics “ya-maa-taa-raa-ja-bhaa-na-sa-la-gam”!
Exercise: We are all culprits when it comes to being lazy. With our sedentary lifestyle with no much physical and intellectual stimulation, we are bound to fall prey for many age-related memory disorders. Exercise is the best way to keep your brain and body sound.
Alcohol & Drugs: Both of them though different have one similarity which is to alter the functioning of the brain. It may be mild in the beginning but once you become a Drug addict or drunkard you are damaging your brain as much as your body. Take therapy; get all the help you can to wean off them.
Stress: This is more common than and as dangerous as drugs and alcohol. Being stressed hits hard on your attention capabilities thereby deteriorating your retention chances. You must bust stress in all the ways you can; be it pursuing a hobby, meditation or time management.