How Memory Really Works and Ways to Improve It

Techniques for improving memory

The human brain stores what it understands. This means that in order to remember something, we must first ‘make sense’ of it. This is why ‘rote learning’ doesn’t work long-term – and why random numbers are the most difficult information to store and recall, because they have no meaning. We can train ourselves to improve our recall, by learning to focus on the meaning of whatever it is we need to remember, and by tying that understanding to something familiar and easy to recall. This is how most mnemonic techniques work. Effective techniques for controlling and recalling numbers involve connecting individual numbers permanently to key concepts which can be understood and recalled, so that recalling the familiar objects brings back the number along with it. There is no shortcut to learning this method – it takes about a day to learn, then hours of practice to refine.

Learning how to learn
We have both short-term (working) memory and long-term memory. Short-term memory is what we can hold in our consciousness at any given time and work with – what you might call the brain’s RAM, and it is easily overloaded. Human beings can only hold between 5 and 9 pieces of information in their working memory at any given time. Add even one more item, and something will ‘drop off’. Long-term memory is like the brain’s hard-drive and is virtually unlimited – if we learn to store information effectively.

We overcome the limitation of our ‘RAM’ by connecting ideas together – by forming concepts and understandings, so that one element in the working memory links to an almost infinite number of concepts stored in the long-term memory. This is why the only way to improve your memory long-term is to forget about short-cuts and ‘memory techniques’ and concentrate on learning how to learn effectively – to store information effectively in the long-term memory, so that it is easily recalled, associated and used.

Active Storage and Active Recall
As Active Recall is part of an overall learning process, at MindChamps, we don’t run ‘Active Recall courses’ on their own. Our students are successful – for life – because they learn to control, own and use information effectively under any circumstances. Because we would rather train the brain to work how it was designed to work, we build Active Storage and Active Recall strategies into all our programmes. We leave ‘stand-alone’ ‘memory techniques’ to those who do not understand how memory operates, and so still think that there is a ‘quick fix’. For those who master the art of learning how to learn, Active Recall is a natural part of the process of controlling information and converting it into life-long knowledge, because what we know – what we truly understand – we never forget.

Food for thought – brain-friendly diet
Good memory is just a part of healthy brain function, and a healthy brain begins with a healthy body. A balanced diet incorporating the right combination of the basic food groups is a great start. However, research indicates that brain (and memory) function is improved with the inclusion of LCPs (Long-chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids) better known as Omega 3, 6 & 9. These can be acquired by eating ample servings of fish, or they can be taken as a supplement in capsule form. LCPs have also been shown to help many children with symptoms of ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia, as well as helping in the development of better eyesight – especially in younger children. Nuts (especially walnuts) are another dietary ‘must’ when it comes to brain function and memory.

Of course – as with everything else – the key is balance and moderation. Too much of a good thing is rarely beneficial.

brian caswell 1
Mr Brian Caswell
MindChamps Dean of Research and Programme Development

Click here to register for a Complimentary Workshop to find out more about how our trainers impart Active Storage and Active Recall strategies to our champs.

Read also: 12 Super Brain Foods for Kids


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