We all know how frustrating it can be when you can’t remember something. Maybe you’re taking a test, and all of a sudden all of the material you’ve studied is gone. Or maybe you’re walking around a parking lot, trying to remember where you left your car. Or maybe you don’t even realize you have something to remember until your boss asks about that deadline you’ve just missed.
Memory issues can have a profound impact on your life, not only creating trouble during daily tasks but possibly even causing long-term damage to your ability to grow in your career.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Society tells us that having a good or bad memory is innate, just something a person is or isn’t born with, but that’s not true at all. You can work out your brain just as you might work out your muscles, and a good memory is just a skill that you can hone through a properly designed training regimen.
Root Causes of Memory Issues
Memory problems stem from the underdevelopment of a group of interrelated skills. These skills affect how you form, maintain, and recall memories in different ways, and depending on the specific sort of trouble you’re having, some of these skills may need more work than others. These skills include:
- Classification and Categorization is how you separate and group ideas, objects, actions, emotions, and time periods. With memory, this means effectively organizing incoming information and prioritizing it, filing it away, or discarding it as unimportant.
- Environmental Awareness is building mental templates for experience and how things in the environment are related to each other. Training this skill lets you better stay aware of what’s around you so that you don’t later find you can’t remember things because you didn’t really take it all in at the time.
- Pattern Recognition, or as we call it “rule induction,” is similar to environmental awareness in that it also has to do with building mental templates for different information. The purpose is to start being able to see information in patterns, so that you only have to remember the pattern instead of remembering each piece every time. This reduces the amount of memory used, enabling you to remember more things and deal more easily with complex information.
- Short-Term Memory is being able to cope with more basic units of information at once through strategic management. This allows you to assemble them into a concept network that gives you a better idea of the big picture, and also to manage how this information is transferred to medium- and long-term memory.
- Tracking is the process of how your eyes and brain follow and interpret incoming streams of information without deviating. By being able to follow something all the way through to the end without distraction, you can keep your eyes and brain from processing and mixing in those distractions and confusing your memory of the information.
Training these skills is the path to improving your memory, whether you’re forgetting things people tell you, things you need to do, or where you left some object.
Improving Your Memory
There are many ways to train your memory, but to have the biggest effect you need to target whichever of those above skills are the ones holding you back.
After we’ve helped you figure out which skills those are, we start assigning you weekly and daily exercises to help train your brain in those skills. Oftentimes, these take the form of games and logic puzzles, ones which focus in on skills like pattern recognition, sorting, and memory.
We also help you develop ways to apply these skills to your daily life. By developing processes for planning things out, organizing information, and more, we help make things easier on you. All the tools at your disposal are just extensions of yourself and your brain, and learning to use organizational tools like planners more effectively can take some of the burden of memory off of your brain.
So if you want to improve your memory and make everyday life easier for yourself, give Critical Thinking for Success a call today—before you forget!
About the Video
The average number of Google searches per day has grown from 9,800 in 1998 to over 4.7 trillion today.1 This may not be surprising, since we’ve all come to appreciate the thrill of instant information. But while it’s certainly convenient to have the sum of all knowledge at our fingertips, studies show that the “Google effect” is changing the way we think.
In a 2011 experiment published in Science Magazine, college students remembered less information when they knew they could easily access it later on the computer.2 With 49% of Americans now toting around Google on their smart phones, researchers concluded that the effect is the same. We’re relying on Google to store knowledge long-term, instead of our own brains.3
Neuroimaging of frequent Internet users shows twice as much activity in the short term memory as sporadic users during online tasks.4 Basically, our brain is learning to disregard information found online, and this connection becomes stronger every time we experience it. So the more we use Google, the less likely we are to retain what we see.
Our brains use information stored in the long-term memory to facilitate critical thinking. We need these unique memories to understand and interact with the world around us. If we rely on Google to store our knowledge, we may be losing an important part of our identity.
How does the human memory work? Twenty years ago you might have found your answer in a book, or by asking a friend. But today, you’ll Google it. There were 3.5 million searches in 1998, now, there are 4.7 trillion search queries everyday.1 When something changes our lifestyle so monumentally, you can bet it’s changing us as well.
Google has become our external hard drive. In a recent experiment, college students remembered less information when they thought they could easily access it later. We used to rely on friends and family members for this method of memory outsourcing, remembering who knew what rather than the information itself.2 But now, Google is the friend with all of the expertise. If the sum of all knowledge is constantly available in our pockets, is it any wonder that we’ve stopped bothering to keep it in our heads?
“Neurons that fire together, wire together.” And the same goes for those that fire apart. Neuroimaging of frequent Internet users shows twice as much activity in the prefrontal cortex as sporadic users.3 This part of the brain is reserved for short-term memory and quick decision-making. Essentially, our brains recognize that most of the flood of online information is trivial, and doesn’t deserve our full attention. The problem is, the brain does what we train it to do. And every time we open a browser, we prepare for skimming instead of learning. So even if we really want to remember something from Google, our brains are predisposed to forget. Everything we ever wanted to know is available to us, and we have conditioned ourselves to ignore it.
What do we actually know? If the goal is to forge a creative mind through critical thinking, our Google amnesia may be problematic. The information and experience that gets encoded into our long-term memory is the basis of our unique intelligence.4 Still, we may be able to mitigate the impact to our long-term memory by adapting our response to this new reality. After all, we can’t stop the sea change of the information age. In recent years, American schools have focused less on fact memorization and more on teaching students how to make innovative connections between the curriculum and real life.5 This way, it’s less about the knowledge you have, and more about how you use the information at hand.