Memory can be an incredibly important asset in life. Despite this, we often experience moments where our memory abandons us. Having forgotten where we left our wallet, or losing your direction because you don’t remember which way you came from are all scenarios that are familiar to most of us. I am ure you can remember many personal examples from your student lives where you wished you just had a bit better memory.
Well it turns out our memory can actually be improved by utilizing some smart habits in our daily routines. I am not talking about setting reminders on your phone for certain events. I am talking about using your amazing brains to simple retain information better!
There are 2 main ways of memory, short term and long term memory. Both require different strategies to be able to improve them. Let’s start out by discussing what short term memory is and how we can improve it!
Short term memory
Short term memory is our ability to store information for a short period of time, usually between 20 to 30 seconds. It is a very brief kind of memory. It will disappear in seconds if the information is not repeated and maintained. On top of that, our brains storage capacity for short term memory turns out to be quite small! It is said that we can hold on to about 7 items in our short term memory. Not enough to carry you through an exam for example!
Before we go into detail on ways to improve short term memory, we should discuss the reasons why our short term memory can often times be worse than normal. Often times distractions will severely limit our ability to retain information in the short term. This is closely linked with a lack of focus, which is also a contributing factor to poor short term memory!
The main goal of most individuals is to move the information we have acquired in our short term memory over to our long term memory. Whenever we are trying to learn a new skill, we want that information to be stored for a longer time than 30 seconds.
Long Term Memory
In contrast to short term memory, long term memory is our ability to store learned information for extended periods of time. This can range from a couple of days to a lifetime! It is our long term memory that will cause us to succeed in this world, and we should pay extra attention to it to ensure it is working at maximum efficiency.
Often times what dictates the strength of a certain memory is how well we were able to transfer that piece of information from our short term memory to our long term memory. Similar to short term memory, lack of focus and distractions during learn can be a root cause for a shortcoming in memory!
Let’s get into some things you can do to help your memory!
1. Draw And Doodle
As I have mentioned before, a lack of focus is one of the main contributing factors to a bad short term memory. While doodling and drawing might seem like the most inattentive tasks, the are actually exceptionally good ways to help ingrain information into our brain.
I mentioned before that distractions are one of the main reasons why our memory can suck. This is because your brain is overloaded with information, and the focus on the actual important stuff is lost in the jumble of the distraction.
Drawing and doodling actually causes us to lose focus on our surroundings and environment, and hence they limit our exposure to distractions.
On top of that, they are a sort of “time out” for our brain, since we do not have to think hard about the task at hand (since we are just doodling). We can be in a state of daydreaming and absent mindedness, which has actually shown to help our brains memorize information better!
It doesn’t matter whether you are a great artist or not, simply letting your mind go blank is all that is required to remember information better.
Make sure to give this a try!
2. Chew Gum
This might sound like an odd one, but hear me out. Chewing has been shown to increase brain activity in the hippocampus, which has been directly linked to memory. Seeing more activity in a part of our brain that is (partially) responsible for memory can only mean good things.
Whenever you are finding difficulty in getting a piece of information into your head, consider chewing a piece of gum next time you sit down to try and learn!
Chewing gum has many additional benefits too, such as increasing your reaction times for example. This makes you more attentive in class and will allow you to focus better. Continue reading to see why that is a crucial point in helping develop your memory!
3. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is one of the only ways that our brain is able to rest and organize it self. If you are not sleeping enough, you are simply not allowing your brain to process all the information that you are trying to cram into it! Studies of the brain have actually shown physical changes happen to our brains once we sleep after learning new information. Our brain is creating neural pathways that allow us to recall a certain piece of information.
A lot of people struggle with sleeping the recommended 7-9 hours, especially students. I fully understand these struggles, but there are some ways you can maximize your sleep. Let’s go into some of the right now!
When it comes to sleeping and letting our brain process all our learned information, consistency ranks as the most important. We have to let our body know what to expect, it simply works the best that way. Make sure that you go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday. If you need 8 hours of sleep, then go to bed at midnight if you have to wake up at 8 in the morning!
Now here comes the catch. Notice that I said you have to stick to these timings every day of the week. That means you have to adhere to this schedule in the weekend as well! Now you can go to bed later than midnight for one day, and you won’t be affected much if you are on point for the rest of the week. But consistency is absolutely key here!
Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, And Heavy Meals Before Bedtime
Caffeinated drinks like coffee and energy drinks is a great way to get an extra energy boost when we need to cram in work. That being said, they have a severely negative impact on our night time sleep. Caffeine stays in our blood for around 6 hours. So if your bedtime i at midnight, you should not be consuming any caffeinated drinks after 6pm!
Alcohol has shown to decrease the amount of REM sleep that we get. It is this type of sleep that is responsible for our brains true rest and progression. When you want to increase your memory, you want to increase the amount of REM sleep you have as much as possible! Now for alcohol, the time it stays in your blood reduces to around 4-5 hours. This means that in an ideal world you will not drink any more alcoholic drinks after 8pm!
For food, particularly heavy meals that include a lot of carbohydrates and sugars, we want to eat them 3 hours before we go to bed. If you feel hungry before you go to bed, have a light, low calorie snack, as these will hinder your sleep the least!
I have written a much more detailed article about methods you can use to sleep better. If you feel like thi could be of use to you, make sure you check out that article here!
4. Learn To Focus
Learning to focus is a very important skill that can be a deciding factor in how well learned information is stored. If we are not really paying attention to that which we are trying to learn, then the chances it will stick in our memory will be quite small, so we have to ensure that we are able to focus in the right moments.
A lot of people struggle with their focus, so lets go over some ways you can increase it!
As you can probably tell from reading this article, sleep is a major deciding factor in our ability to remember things. If you are unable to get your recommended 7-9 hours of sleep every night your productivity, and hence your focus, will see a dramatic decrease!
Focusing requires a lot of energy from our brain, and if you don’t give it the chance to recover that energy at night, then you simply won’t be able to work at a level that you are capable. Make sure you sleep!
In case you skipped the previous section, make sure to check out how you can get the most out of your sleep!
Distractions are one of the main ways why we are actually not as focused as we think we are. Have you ever read a page of, and then realize you have had no idea what you read for the past 5 minutes. You now have to go back and reread everything. It’s not time efficient at all and it is clear you have lost focus. Another classic example is students who are supposedly studying but spend over half their time looking at their phones.
We have this idea we are working, but if we do a quick mental exercise we realize that we are simply lying to ourselves.
Distractions can come in all form. You can lose your focus by daydreaming, scrolling on social media, or your friends inviting you for a coffee when you really should be working.
It is important that we learn to limit these distractions in our lives, because ultimately they are eating away at our future success and goals!