I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been introduced to someone, only to walk away wondering what the heck their name was. Even worse, I’ll bump in to a colleague at the mall, and hit a complete blank.
The only reason I don’t lose my car keys is because I don’t drive. As for phone numbers, fuhgeddaboudit. Thanks to the advent of smartphones, many of us struggle to remember our own number, never mind anyone else’s.
HOW MEMORY WORKS
The reason we don’t remember whether we locked the front door, turned off the oven or put our car keys in our bag is because simple tasks that don’t require focus allow our mind to wander. After all, if it’s not needed, why should it hang around?
“Attention is critical for initiating memory formation,” says The Florey Institute’s Dr Jee Hyun Kim in his comic explainer how memory works.
When you remain present (i.e. immerse yourself fully in the task at hand, however menial it may be) you activate your working memory long enough for you to recall that you did, in fact, switch off the iron before leaving the house. Yay, emergency averted!
We have different kinds of memory for different things: short-term, long-term, episodic, procedural, semantic, etc. The key to all of them is attention. If you don’t pay attention, you’re not going to remember. Period.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO DEVELOP A GREAT MEMORY?
Joshua Foer —author of Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything— claims he used to be just as forgetful as the rest of us. Phone numbers and car keys were things he knew he had, he just didn’t know where.
He figured that was just how it went. Some people had great memories, others, well, they lost their car keys.
That all changed when he found himself at the U.S. Memory Championships and learned the participants weren’t savants (as he’d assumed), but regular folks with average recollection abilities.
As a journalist, Joshua wanted desperately to write about what he’d gleaned from hanging out with these memory geeks. Given that the championships were duller than a cardboard knife, he decided a participatory approach would work best.
Joshua returned the following year as an entrant and, spoiler alert: he took first place. Interestingly, the newly-crowned memory champ’s biggest takeaway from the experience wasn’t the extent to which he was able to hone his recall skills.
REMEMBER TO REMEMBER.
What Joshua learned in the year he spent preparing for the memory championships was that we all have latent in us the ability to perform incredible feats of memory. It’s simply a matter of learning and applying memory techniques.
Much like when you go to the gym and work out, your muscles grow fitter, stronger and more defined. So, too, does your brain (and memory) respond when put through its paces on a regular basis.
The thing is, in order to live a memorable life, you have to be, as he says, “…the kind of person who remembers to remember.”
STEP AWAY FROM YOUR DEVICES TO IMPROVE YOUR MEMORY.
When we lose ourselves in our devices, we’re losing more than just time. We’re losing the ability to process deeply. Everything we take in is ‘screen deep.’ More importantly, we’re losing the ability to pay full attention.
There are plenty of tips and tricks to improve your short-term memory and any number of memory loss remedies available for you to try. But a far easier approach is simply to put away your smartphone and immerse yourself fully in the present moment.
When you do that, your recall capabilities increase exponentially.