Our memory’s and how we store the information in them is one of the most complicated things we can ever even start to comprehend. It’s been complicated to study and to fully understand. Basically, our memory is a process of coding the things we do, learn and experience into an internal storage area of the mind, where this is stored and then retrieved when needed. Our memories are vital to who we are and how we learn and develop as people. How can we know who we are, if we can’t remember what we have experienced? Also, if we can’t recall what we have done how can we learn tasks and automate the things we do in life like walking, talking and driving. As we store more information, knowledge and experiences we learn from these and that influences our actions as we move forward through life. It’s mind blowing to think isn’t it? Every mille second of waking life is creating another memory- that’s a lot of filing to do in our vast library of ours.
Our memory is made up into several different sections, we have sensory processor, short-term memory (often called working memory) and long-term memory. The sensory processor allows information from the outside world to be sensed in the form of chemical and physical stimuli and it’s how we can look at something in a split second and remember it.
Short term / working memory serves as a encoding and retrieval processor. Information is encoded and stored this time for several seconds not just a split second. This is why we often remember long numbers like mobile numbers in chunks, as it’s easier for our mind to remember it like 0800 567 7178 instead of 08005677178. Even just looking at it in the broken down way, for many of us, can make it easier to remember it. The working memory also retrieves information from previously stored material and when we regularly store something over time this will then transfer into long term memory.
Finally, the function of long-term memory is to store data through various modes such as what, where and when. The emotional sides of your mind are essentially responsible for doing this. If I asked you to remember what you had for lunch a month ago, for many of us, we would find this very hard to recall, but if a month ago was your birthday you would more then likely remember it. If a month ago you had another significant event like an accident, or something out of the ordinary happening you would more than likely be able to follow that memory and recall what you had for lunch as this will have been stored in a more accessible part of your mind. Whereas the days that have no significance are often all stored together in a melting pot of memories and of course these are much hard to remember on an individual basis.
Memory is not a perfect processor and it is affected by many factors. The manner information is encoded, stored, and retrieved can all be corrupted quite easily. The amount of attention given to a new stimulus/experience can change the amount of information that becomes encoded for storage. Also, the storage process can become corrupted by physical damage to areas of the brain that are associated with memory storage, such as the hippocampus part of the brain, which when not functioning correctly can be responsible for horrible on conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Finally, the retrieval of information from long-term memory can be disrupted because of decay within long-term memory which is often linked to general old age or brain damage caused by an accident etc. It’s easily for memories to get lost and corrupted we have looked at this a little in the blog PTSD which is an extreme corruption, but there can be lots of small things that can also make a big impact on our ability to remember things.
I get asked this quite a lot from people: why can’t I remember what I just did? This is often the case for many of us that are stressed. If we’re doing two things at once i.e. the habit of worrying which has been embedded into the long-term memory and then trying to remember someone’s name you have just met. How does your mind decide how to code and store this? Is it a short-term memory of a new person, let’s call that person John? Or is it in the long-term habitual memory of worrying? If we are stressed and worried when we meet John, maybe it’s our first day at work or we’re in a meeting or life outside of work is causing us lots of stress this will impact our memory. You can see how this can play out in our minds and that the worries will get coded as the pattern has already formed and the memory of John name will be harder to code as the code will be easily corrupted by all the other worry information in your mind at that time. We looked at this in the blog Focus which explains in more detail about being in the moment and that is what you would need to do to easily remember Johns name, we need to have a clear mind and be in the moment to store and code the new information correctly.
So, you can see there’s nothing wrong with your mind, you’re not losing it, or going mad, or getting a health condition your just trying to do to many things at once and this is of course affecting how your memory works. It’s the same when someone wants to talk to you and you’re on the phone trying to listen to both people and answering them both becomes near impossible and you end up with pauses as your mind is rushing to catch up processing all this information your receiving. In that moment, nothing is fully clear and often we have to stop one person talking, as it get too hard to even focus on any of the information, as with both people talking at the same time our minds get confused and overloaded.
What we need to do to enhance our memory, is to be more focused and chunk the information down into bit sized pieces which can be more easily coded. When things are properly coded it makes it easier for your mind to store this correctly and it can retrieve the information easier. If we do this, then Johns name will now get stored in the short-term memory and over time when we meet him again and again, this will move into the long-term memory storage area. If you want to be better at remembering things then stop the worry and doing two things at once and concentrate on the moment.
Thanks for dropping by Sara x