How Your Memory Works and What You Can Do To Improve It Dramatically

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Upon experiencing a particular sensation, be it a pleasurable sound, sight or smell, the stimuli is flashed in the sensory regions of the brain.
If the brain focused on the stimuli consciously, mainly due to the activity in the thalamus, the sensations registered are then transferred to short term memory storage in the cerebral cortex.
The information that is stored in short term memory is simply a collection of electrochemical connections between neurons.
In order to make a permanent imprint into long term memory, it is necessary for the connections to remain during the transfer between the short term memory regions of the brain to the long term memory regions of the brain.
This transfer process is largely driven by the hippocampus and it was shown that sleep plays a major role in this consolidation.
Furthermore, recent studies employing neuroimaging suggest that certain brain activation patterns during sleep appear to be identical to those observed during the learning session that preceded it- propounding that the brain automatically performs a certain type of repetition during sleep in order to consolidate the memory.
To consciously keep the electrochemical connections active whilst the transfer between short to long term memory is taking place, requires a strategy- it commonly involves:
  1. Repetition- which re-enforces the electrochemical connections.
  2. Analysis- which forces one to create a logical link to information that is already in long term storage.
  3. Emotional reaction- the pathways are encoded much more strongly as the emotional response is included in the registered sensation.
  4. Mnemonic- an artificial link that tricks the brain into remembering, frequently combining the 3 factors above to provide a more powerful encoding approach.
These methods stimulate the frontal lobes and cause a protein synthesis in the neural connections which then fixes the information in long term storage.
The education system tends to focus on using Repetition and Analysis though with some experimentation it becomes evident that these methods are slow and dull- thus making the whole learning experience sub-optimal and less enjoyable.
Mnemonics and memory systems have been used to assist learning as far back as the days of Simonides of Ceos and possibly even before that in ancient Egypt.
The techniques have evolved substantially over time and applications were developed to suite new data types; however, the underlying principles remain the same.
The key to such systems is to use creativity and imagination in a very specific manner- combining information that is unknown with something that is already known.
The technique demonstrated below is the most basic application of such systems yet it is extremely powerful and effective.
As an example, say one wishes to apply the memory principles to remember foreign language vocabulary.
The steps of the technique are as follows:
  1. Convert the foreign language word to something you can visualise- this involves finding a similar sounding word (or words) that you already know.
  2. Convert the translation word into an item you can visualise- if it is an object then this is easy, if it not, one can find a similar sounding word as above or use an object that reminds you of the word.
  3. Then in your mind's eye, combine the two images using exaggeration or nonsensical action- the key here is to make the resulting image something absurd that you would not expect to encounter in reality.
Example: The Chinese word for Apple is píng guo;
  1. The Chinese word can be substituted with "Ping Goal"- "Ping" can be visualised as a Ping-Pong ball whilst "Goal" can be visualised as a soccer goal.
  2. The translation word, apple, is simple to visualise- just think of the last time you have eaten this fruit.
  3. To combine the images, begin by visualising a gigantic green apple (try to sense how crunchy it feels); then proceed by visualising that apple on a soccer field kicking a Ping Pong ball and scoring a Goal.
    Exaggerate the image making sure that the apple and the ping pong ball are out of proportion compared to the way that they exist in reality.
    Hold that image in your mind, ensuring colour and feelings are incorporated into the scene; it should be an image that arouses emotion- in the example above it should make you lightly amused or even laugh.
In order to recall the information, all that is required is that you let the image pop to your mind as you hear either the foreign word or its translation.
For instance, as you are crossing China-Town you hear a street vendor calling out "ping guo", what image comes to your mind? If you followed the steps above you should see an apple kicking the ping pong ball- thus reminding you that the meaning of píng guo is apple.
This is a very fast, simple, enjoyable and effective way of instantly storing new information.
With some modifications, these simple concepts can be applied to memorizing any type of information.
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