memory empowerment

~ Article co-written by L. Michael Hall PhD and Shawn Dwyer ~

By understanding memory as a dynamic process intimately related to thinking, there are actually lots of things you can do to develop a richer and more robust memory. In the last article I wrote about two things- encoding your data to make it more memorable and organizing so that you can easily retrieve what you want to remember. 

Semanticize the Data – Make it Meaningful

A great way to frustrate yourself is to take material that is random, meaningless, and irrelevant and try to memorize a list like that! This is what memory researchers often do; they ask college students to memorize meaningless lists of things. Yet what do people do in such experiments?
They try to find, create, or impose meaning on what’s essentially meaningless. They intuitively know that memory is enhanced by making something meaningful. The more meaning you give to something, the easier to remember.

There’s lots of ways to semanticize data.

The most common for almost everyone is to match what you are learning with what you already know. You do that to see if it fits into your knowledge bank. This is especially useful for material that you are familiar with and/or understanding  [The problem is using this approach when learning something new. It then activates your Confirmation Bias so that you project what you already know onto what’s new. You then only confirm your biases and blind-spots. Then you don’t learn anything.]  Otherwise, especially if you are not learning something new, connecting information with your knowledge base gives it a place (category) to put it in and a network of associations. And that makes retrieval easier.

You can make it meaningful by creating a list of reasons why the information is important or that it is important to code it the way you are coding it.
Each reason gives more significance to the data. And more significance makes it more emotionally energized. By way of contrast, when something is trivial, menial, non-sensical- it is hard to remember. Semanticize the data by giving it lots of rich meanings.

Believe in Your Memory

A cultural frame about memory is that “As you get older, you begin to forget a lot and your memory becomes weaker.” Believe that and you send messages and commands to your nervous system that will dis-empower your memory functions. So, do the opposite. Set a belief that “As I get old, my memory is getting better.” That was the belief I set in 1999. I set it because I had learned that memory is strongly affected by our beliefs and I did not want to send dis-empowering messages to my memory functions.

Neurons which fire together, wire together.

Another belief that dis-empowers is “Memory is automatic so I don’t need to do anything about it, in fact, I can’t do anything to improve it.” Believe that and you won’t take the time and effort to rehearse the information you want to remember. Yet rehearsing is a fundamental memory skill. Look for and rehearse similarities, rehearse links and associations. You’ve heard that “Repetition is the mother of all learning.” Repetition is also the mother of memory! So, cultivate the habit of repeating data. I do that in multiple ways. When reading, I use a special marking system, I create my own personalize index, I take notes, I type out the notes, I review the
notes, etc. Repetition, as a mnemonic process, strengthens your mind- that is, your thinking capacity due to the Hobbs’ neurological principle, “Neurons which fire together, wire together.”
Especially do not give yourself such suggestions as, “I’ll probably forget this.” “I don’t have a good memory, I’m terrible with names (numbers, statistics, dates, etc.).” “I’m getting more and more absent-minded.” If you’re going to give yourself suggestions, suggest this: “I’ll think of it in a moment.”

Use your Lazer-Beam Focus to Eliminate Distractions

When you are not “all there,” but are diverting your attention to other things, your focus weakens so that your encoding will be less robust.
Multi-tracking can reduce your competency in learning, remembering, and developing by as much as 30%. Being distracted undermines memory as it contaminates focus. The same thing happens with stress and anxiety and nearly every negative emotional state. These states interfere with focus and so lessens the ability to focus and remember.

The right state for enhancing your memory functions is a focused state of high intentionality. That is, the genius state. Memory, after all, is state-dependent. It works according to the mind-body state that you’re in when you are encoding, which is why to re-access that same state helps with retrieval. So, step out of any negative emotional state, take a deep breath, refresh your intentions and purposes, and then for the moments that you are concentrating your focus- be fully present in a calm, delightful, and playful state.

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