Have you ever seen someone in town and you knew you should know there name but could not recall it? Have you ever gone to dial a telephone number that you dialled hundreds of times before and just could not remember? Did you ever walk into a room but forgot what you went to do?
In these situations we can sometimes feel useless, distracted and unable to connect with our brain properly. That phenomena that is often referred to as 'tip of the tongue.' Then maybe your memory improvement skills need working on!
In July 1998 the University of Florida published some research findings that showed that elderly people should ignore stereotypes about memory loss.
Older people are much less likely to have major problems with their memory improvement skills if they believe in themselves and work to improve their recall, this University of Florida study finds.
The elderly are more likely than younger people to buy into the stereotype that they can't control their memory, and it affects not only their self-esteem but also how hard they try to remember, said Robin West, a University of Florida psychology professor who did the research.
In the study conducted by psychology graduate student Monica Yassuda, more than 200 older and young adults were divided into two groups. One group was told memory is a skill that can be improved with effort, and the other group that the ability to remember is fixed forever at birth, she said.
"There is some indication in the literature that older people tend to see memory as something they can't control -- you either have a good memory or you don't," West said.
"The results show that we need to encourage older adults to think of themselves as a group that has the potential to have a better memory if they work at it," she said. Other studies, which were conducted by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, have found the belief that people can control part of their lives is a good predictor of whether they age well mentally and physically, West said.
This way of looking at memory improvement skills of course does not have to only be applicable to the older generation, of course it applies to us all.
Let me give you some examples of things people say to me individually or in my seminars:
- I do not have a good memory.
- That is too much for me to remember.
- I have a memory like a sieve.
- I am afraid my memory is failing now that I am getting older.
My Granddad said something to me recently that really made me think. He and I were in his local village pub and we were joking about the fact that my Nana gave him a hard time for coming to the pub and ordered him not to drink too much, despite over 65 years of marriage.
My Nana has been quite ill for a number of years and she does not go out much and I mentioned to my Granddad that I noticed her struggling for her words every now and then, or struggling to remember a name and he said that it was nothing to do with her age, they are both well into their eighties, but rather it was that she has very little communication with others anymore. That was his opinion.
These quotes I just mentioned are beliefs but too often people say them as if they were facts. There are some very common misconceptions about memory and memory improvement skills: that it is an ability that cannot be changed; that you only have a certain amount; that it relates to age, and declines as we get older.
Memory is not about volume and it is not about content, it is about processes. It is about something we do, not something we have: it is about remembering.
Remembering is dependent on the connections we make between things. Imagine you are constructing an index. If you have referred to a book, or a person, by only one attribute, you will have only one data point and hence only one way of accessing that information. If you have used a number of different data points, each capturing a different aspect, you will have more ways to access this information.
Anyone can achieve enormous memory improvement by focusing on two particular aspects of memory: encoding and storage on the one hand and recall on the other. Today I write about encoding, next week I write about recall.
If you want to improve your ability to encode accurately and store information, you will need to check out your attitudes, beliefs and feelings:
Joan was an in-house business trainer who used to be great at remembering names. Over the past couple of years, she had come to resent an increasing workload and an ever-growing number of delegates. One day she was heard to say to a colleague: There is no way Im going to remember the names of all these delegates. Joans feelings of disappointment and resentment were affecting her beliefs about how much she could remember yet within her area of expertise she was quite capable of remembering vast bodies of information and new research. She did not actually want to remember the names of all the delegates, because in her view there were too many of them. Not surprisingly, she did find it difficult, though many years ago she had made it a matter of pride to learn all their names. But she had felt differently then.
So, consider how you think and feel about what it is you want to remember.
Feelings can affect encoding and storage in other ways too. Do you remember your first day at school? Many people do, often in considerable detail. But what about the second day? Probably not. The reason for this is that day one at school is a special day: you may have looked forward to it, or dreaded it; you may have a had a wonderful or an awful time. The teacher may have been really kind or expected you to be able to do things that you had not yet learnt. The playground may have been a great place to run around in or a terrifying place where giants a whole year older than you rushed past you and around you, yelling loudly and playing boisterously. There may have been a lot of feeling and strong feelings can make for vivid encoding.
Therefore, engage your feelings to make what you want to remember vivid.
Routes to lost information; some memory improvment skills:
1. One way to recover information is to recall the circumstances in which you first gained it. Maybe it was the name of someone at a party? Or something you heard on the radio? Remind yourself of s many details as you can of that party, involving information from all sensory systems. Who did you talk to? Where were you sitting, or standing? What music was playing? And so on. As you fill in the context, you may find the detail you want pops up or that search processes are triggered so that it pops up later.
2. Are you forgetting because you felt uncomfortable, uneasy or unhappy about something? If you need or wish to recover the information, pay attention to your feelings in the here-and-now and imagine they are like beads on a string. Very similar to the other times you have felt the same, feeling like this now is linked to all of the other times you have felt the same, feeling like this now is linked to all the other times and because the mind stores like things together, your attentiveness to these feelings now can lead you back along the string to the time and circumstances you forgot.
Paying attention as an integral part of your memory improvement skills:
From this day forward, think about how you encode every piece of information and how you experience life each day.
How much attention do you pay to the information you want to store? One of the most striking things about people who claim their memory is not very good is how good they are at remembering poorly! Suppose you are introduced to someone but as you are told their name you are pre-occupied. When later you try to remember their name all you can recall is what was bothering you then and what they looked like. In such circumstances there is nothing wrong with your memory. Your way of remembering the process of encoding that you employed has faithfully encoded exactly what was going on.
You were preoccupied and this meant you had your own internal dialogue running. So any additional auditory input like the persons name would be competing with your internally generated auditory signal. What they looked like is more memorable partly because visual data is generally easier to recall it is more vivid but also that element was less cluttered with internal signals at that moment.
What you attend to will affect what you actually commit to memory. So often, poor encoding is confused with poor memory. Be aware of this when looking to enhance those memory improvement skills.