Memory Myths

Can you always remember everything you want?

  • Do you anticipate losing memory function as you age?
  • Ever find yourself disagreeing with a trusted friend about details of an event or a conversation you shared?
  • Is a written shopping list essential if you’re to remember every item you need?

If you replied yes to all or most of the above, I have diagnosed your condition. It’s called being human!

Let’s debunk a few myths and offer some helpful techniques:

1. Our memories ARE perfect

Yes, they are. Well…

Contentious point this – the evidence is that actually human memory is perfect. Or at least our memories of things that matter to us. What doesn’t work perfectly is our ability to retrieve things out of it. Same difference you might think? Fair point but not the whole story…

I expect you know how to get better at retrieval? Yep that’s it, relax, stressing about remembering turns off the part of the brain we need for remembering so guarantees we won’t.

And also ‘tips of tongues’ are traps that block retrieval too. Simply speak what you want to happen: “it will come
to me in a second” then think about something else, and usually, hey presto!

2. Memories don’t have to deteriorate with age

We all know that we lose brain cells every day, that booze and other substances accelerate that process, that brain diseases rob people of their faculties.

Two things:

We lose 50,000 brain cells a day – staggeringly 18.25m a year. However, we start with around 100,000,000,000. Do the math, it takes just over 5,450 years to get through the lot. Phew I hear you say. There’s more…

It turns out it’s not how many cells we have in our brains that determines how well we function. It is how many of the almost infinite number of possible connections between them that actually exist that sets the level of our higher functions. Intelligence and memory to name but two.

The reason this is good news is that USING our brains in the right way BUILDS new connections. So yes brain training actually does work. Keep studying, learn a language (however hard it may seem – as the connections build it WILL get easier), learn to play an instrument, play games that stretch your intellect (so chess, not Grand Theft Auto), read challenging material (Dostoyevsky not The Daily Mail), master the memory techniques in my next blog… All these things build new connections. Properly trained, the brain is the LAST organ to fail.

OK so as many of us know from our loved ones, brain degenerative diseases are real. It’s true, and I’m sorry, everything I’ve said above only applies to healthy brains. BUT and it is a BIG BUT, the evidence is that the very brain exercises I’m talking about do substantially reduce the risk of brain disease, and sometimes can even slow or reverse it in the very early stages.

3. Memories are not fixed, they change over time, sometimes completely

It’s wrong to think of our memories as unchanging data files or photographs. They are much more like a snowball rolling down the hill, picking up new layers that can modify and even totally change them.

Every time we recall a memory into our conscious it becomes affected by the conditions we are experiencing at the time. The place, the time, our perceptions of the situation we are in, our emotions, the other things on our minds, our interactions with others – all have an impact on the memory. When we turn our attention elsewhere, the memory is then stored back in our unconscious – but this time in the changed state.

For example, if we are sad or angry when we bring a memory to mind it will later be stored back with added anger or sadness. Or if we’ve been focusing on one particular aspect of it the memory will be stored with that aspect now more prominent. This process can even give rise to false memories as things are repeatedly over emphasised down the years.

So it may well be that both you and your friend have totally different memories of the same event. Nobody’s wrong, it’s just the snowball effect.

In my next blog, I’ll explain a memory pegging technique that is quick to master and will enable you to remember lists of ten items perfectly in almost no time. And with a little practice and imagination, that can be increased five or tenfold!

Please get in touch if you’d like to know more about how optimising brain function can improve your business performance.

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