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Thanks for the memories

Steps to Success: ‘Daaahlings!' I once worked with a theatre director who called everyone darling, but said in that wonderfully pretentious way that only true luvvies can pull off.

I assumed it was affectation but she later confided, “I couldn't possibly remember what everyone's actually called.”

Now I only wish I could get away with the same. I'm terrible with names! Although very aware how rude it must seem.

Perhaps I'm just meeting more people these days, or could it be some dreaded age-related ‘absent-mindedness' setting in? If memory is, as some suggest, like a muscle then mine has become rather flabby.

So this week I have peeked into the enigma that is our memory, in hopes of finding strategies, tools and tips for improving it.

Hundreds of fascinating experiments have been carried out to determine what memory is and how it functions.

While they begin to build a picture, it seems science is still only scratching the surface when it comes to fully understanding its complexity as just one aspect of our wonderful and mind-bogglingly complicated human brains.

The strength of our memories depends on at what level we process them, also known as encoding, according to one seminal study in the seventies.

For Shallow processing, participants were shown a word and asked to think about the font it was written in.

For Intermediate processing, they were shown a word and asked to think of rhyming words for it.

Deep processing involved being shown a word and associating it more with its meaning. They were asked to think about using it in a sentence or categorising it.

Later in a surprise test, those who had processed more deeply, remembered more words — the trade off being that it had taken longer to process them in the first place. Other factors which assist in the deep encoding of information are said to include:

Expending Mental Effort — learning from trial and error, making mistakes and having to work a bit to gain the information gives it greater distinctiveness and meaning in our memory bank and is therefore processed more deeply than information we passively read or that is just delivered to us. Perhaps when we meet people, we should make them guess our names.

Making Connections — connecting new information to things we already know boosts the likelihood of its retrievability.

That Bermudian tradition of categorising people they meet in relation to their ‘people' or others they already know is in fact strengthening their ability to remember them.

Emotion — this makes sense as we often can easily recall memories of emotional moments in our lives, be they positive or negative. Some sort of emotional outburst being introduced to someone could mean I'll be more likely to remember their name. (And them mine no doubt!)

Interest — similarly, we are more likely to remember things we are interested by. This is perhaps why names seem to go in one ear and out the other for me.

I've always been more interested in what people have to say, than what they are called, but perhaps generating more interest and attention to the name itself, it'll be more likely to stick.

Memory is a function of concentration so ‘attention' is crucial.

Multitasking, overstimulation or feelings of stress or anxiety are just some of the factors that can throw off our concentration and therefore our recall ability.

This could explain my running back into the house often three times before I've remembered everything we need when we're running late in the morning.

Some strategies for assisting in recall include:

Chunking — breaking information down into smaller pieces.

A long number like 8097954723 for example, might seem daunting to remember until it is broken down into smaller parts: 809 795 47 23.

Then by attaching some significance or pattern to the smaller groups, either individually or in relation to each other, will strengthen the processing.

Like: 8 hugs (0) 9 in the number line, a fabulous gal turns 79, 5 times (before she goes 80) and 47 is twice 23 plus 1 and it is 1 group ahead of it.

Okay, I may have lost you there, but in my head those images make some sense. It'll be interesting if I can remember that random number tomorrow.

Using our visual memory greatly improves our ability to remember. Attaching mental pictures to whatever we want to recall aids us in retrieving it.

One suggestion I read for remembering names is to take a distinguishing visual characteristic of the person and connect it through imagery to their name.

I meet someone called Sandra who say has red hair. I visualise her hair like fire. To extinguish a fire, throw sand on it … if I did, she'd be Sandy.

I am yet to test this. It seems fun and the psychologist who suggested it promises it does get quicker and easier with practice, because staring in deep thought at someone I've just met as I try to conjure creative image associations, might be a little awkward.

Visual memory can also be activated for remembering where we put things.

For example, take a mental picture when we place our keys down and expand that picture in our mind's eye for a moment.

This image will imprint stronger on our memory and help locate our keys more quickly when we need them.

However visual memory can catch us out when it comes to our ‘prospective memory' (the remembering of things we've got to do in the future).

Imagining something doesn't mean we've actually done it (sent that e-mail or booked those tickets) though we can be convinced we did. This is where post-it notes and reminders still come in handy.

More interesting tips for improving our memory:

Doodle — in studies, doodlers retrained thirty percent more information than non-doodlers. Go figure. It's speculated that doodling keeps us in ‘the present' and helps with concentration.

Drink Coffee — “In this study, we demonstrated that caffeine may help strengthen long-term memory or make it more resistant to forgetting,” says neuroscientist Daniel Borota of his work with Michael Yassa, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins.

But Not Too Much — adequate sleep is crucial for consolidating and retaining memory.

Do it in the Afternoon — whether we're a morning person or night owls, certain studies show that either way, afternoon studying seems to be the best time of day for memory retention.

Eat Fish (or flaxseed) — Neurology studies showed that individuals with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids have larger brain volumes in their old age, effectively delaying the normal age-related loss of brain cells.

Practice — The retrieval and rehearsal of memories has been shown to enhance their storage. Use it or lose it, some suggest.

So darlings, I'm off to grab a latte, pop some Omegas and get busy memory making.

Julia Pitt is a trained Success Coach and certified NLP practitioner on the team at Benedict Associates. For further information contact Julia on (441) 705-7488, www.juliapittcoaching.com.

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Published March 04, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated March 03, 2014 at 7:41 pm)

Thanks for the memories

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