Memory is a treasure and the guardian of all things – Cicero.
Today we’re going to talk a little bit about building memory. In the last episode, we talked about how to learn new things. But one of the critical parts about learning something is memory on both ends of it. First, you have to memorize certain aspects to learn something new. But then, once you’ve learned something new, it needs to stay in your memory full time. So now we’re going to talk a little bit about what is memory? And how can we memorize things easier?
The first thing to know about memory is that there are a few different kinds of memory. There’s Declarative Memory. And that means just pulling out facts that happened on this date. It occurred in this location. It’s very straightforward, then there’s recognition. Oh, I’ve seen that thing before. I’ve noticed that person before. I remember them, you might not know a lot of details about them. But you at least acknowledge that you have seen this person or this thing or this concept before. Recall is just dredging up memory so that we’re pulling it out of the vast storage of our brain and trying to get it out so that we can use the memory. Procedural Memory is about remembering processes. This is where I actually come in. I am terrible at Declarative Memory. This happened on this date. And this happened in this location. I can’t remember it. As soon as you put it in part of a procedure or process, I will remember it forever. Putting facts into a story is Procedural Memory because now you’ve made it part of a process. So now, instead of these random, raw facts that I could never remember, in a million years, with a story built around it, I can remember it forever. So I have great procedural memory.
Psychology Today lists their types of memory and a little bit different framework than that list of memory,
- Episodic Memory is someone being can remember something in a series of things. I wonder if that’s similar to Procedural Memory? First, they went here, and then they went there. And then they did that. It says that it’s what a person recalls at a particular event or episode. So that means the emotions that were there, the surrounding that was there, the noises that were there, episodic memory,
- Semantic Memory is a long-term store of knowledge. And that just has to do with definitions. And then it’s like all the different facts of things. One may remember the details of a party, what date it was.
- Procedural Memory is a memory of how to do things, either mentally or physically. That means that you remember how to ride a bike, remember how to sail on a boat, and remember how to tie your shoes. These are all things that we go through step by step. And that’s a procedural memory that you have,
- Short-term Memory and Working Memory. And the Psychology Today article suggests that those are sometimes used interchangeably.
- Working Memory is something that is right there. And so we’re listening to a lecture, and he’ll say, so just remember that a beetle is a bug. , okay, a beetle is a bug. And then he’ll say bugs tend to have these characteristics. It’s not in your deep memory yet. You’re just listening to a lecture. But that working memory is you storing it in a close place so that you can use it right away. Think about when you’re cooking, and you chop up little bowls of onions and mushrooms, and you put them in all tiny bowls in front of you so that you’re readily able to use them as you’re cooking your meal. That’s what working memory is
- Short-term Memory is maybe like a new acquaintance, someone you just met, don’t forget to go get the thing out of your car right away. So even though they’re a little bit similar, they do have some distinct characteristics that are different from each other.
The example of Psychology Today article gave is that short-term memory is remembering someone you just met. Whatever the current temperature is. What happened in a movie you saw a moment ago. But working memory is something that you calculated as part of a math problem. So you’re trying to figure out a tip, and you say, Okay, so the meal came to $100. That’s the working memory. Working memory is whoever was named at the beginning of a sentence. Bob went to the store, wait, who went to the store? Bob did. That’s Working Memory.
Sensory Memory is from stimulus sounds and noises and smells and anything that you use to your senses. You hear people tell stories where they’ll say, oh, it is a beautiful day. I could hear the birds chirping. That’s sensory memory. I think some people are really attuned to certain senses. Some people are great at remembering smells, while other people are great at remembering what music was playing at that time.
Prospective Memory is forward-thinking memory. So that means that you’re trying to recall something from the past in order so that you can do so something in the future. So I’m going to get in my car. And now I have to remember, well, first I turn the keys, then I’ll lock the door, then I’ll put my seatbelt on. So you’re dredging up a prospective memory quickly so that you can put it into action, So you know how to drive the car. Or maybe it’s how to drive home from work. Or perhaps it’s how to walk to the local library. It’s a quick memory that you’re recalling so that you can make use of it.
And so those are the memory types that Psychology Today mentions in their article. So things that we do know about memory is they talk about attention. That we have to know when we’re trying to remember something, what it is we have to pay attention to, at any given moment, we have a ton of things coming at us. Even right now, as I’m recording this podcast, I hear my cat’s out in the hallway, the software is running that’s recording this podcast, I’m looking at my notes. And I’m also trying to think about what the tone of my voice is, all sorts of things going on. The same thing when you’re trying to learn something in a classroom, the windows open over there, the professor’s talking in front of you, the people behind you are talking. Being able to focus your attention and pay attention to the right thing. That’s the first step when it comes to both learning and improving your memory.
And then there’s this concept of elaboration, which means that you create these ties to it. So you’re listening to a lecture, and the person is talking about the history of literature. And they say something like this is Greek mythology, and people read it as classical literature. And so now, when you’re trying to remember this, you’re thinking about Greece, you’re thinking about Athens. You’re trying to tie it back into your memory. So you’re pulling all these things in to try to elaborate whatever is being said or taught to you so that it creates ties in your brain.
Jim Kwik, if you don’t know him is an expert on the mental game of almost everything. He’s great about learning new things, mental tricks on how to memorize things. And he really gives a lot of his time to try to help people to better their brainpower. He’s written a book and has a podcast. So if you’re interested in this kind of thing, I have those listed in my show notes as smallstepspod.com. So first of all, he talks about when you’re trying to remember things, you try to remember his acronym called MOM. The funny thing about Jim Kwik is every time he tells you to remember something for your own good, it always is a mnemonic. He’s always trying to follow his best advice.
So M in MOM stands for M for motivation. And he said that a lot of times, our problems with memory have to do with motivation. And he suggests that if there was a suitcase next to you with $100,000 in it, and all you had to do was remember the name of the next person you met, you’d probably do it because that motivation is there. Often, we won’t remember something, or we say, Oh, I’m really terrible at names. Because you’re not very motivated to learn that name. So motivation is everything. That has nothing to do with capability. It has nothing to do with your age. It has nothing to do with how good your memory is. It has everything to do with how much we care that we learned the thing that we’re trying to learn. So he suggests if you have struggles remembering someone’s name, and then you meet somebody new, ask yourself, “why do I want to remember that person’s name?” And so you remember it because you gave yourself that reason or that million-dollar suitcase? In front of you so that you would learn it?
The “O” in MOM stands for Observation. So how are you going to learn this thing? You know, in the case of an introduction, someone’s going to introduce you to Barb, and you’re going to remember her. In cases of other things. You have to remember, like a speech or something that you’re trying to learn, what method are you going to use to learn it?
And then the last M in MOM is Mechanics. What technique are you going to use to try to remember this thing? But some of them are the memory palace, chain linking, and rewarding yourself for actually pulling off remembering things. If you reward yourself when you actually succeed at something, you will be more likely to succeed in the future.
He suggests a challenge that you should have a friend, a spouse, a roommate, someone close to you, every day, you each give each other 10 words to remember or 10 concepts to remember. And then you challenge each other at the end of the day to see if you remember them. Practice makes you better. Practice, as we learned in the last podcast, When you learn something, it actually changes the structure of your brain. You become better at learning something the next time. The same thing with memory, as you remember things and then you recall them. A memory gets better, too. Not just on the thing you memorize, but on everything.
The other question, he says, is that distraction is bad. As we distract ourselves with our phones and our iPads and our computers and the television and the squirrel over there, it makes it impossible for us to learn things. Interestingly, in the book we talked about last time, How We Learn, he said distraction wasn’t bad because it is going to make us learn things that we can dredge up out of our memory in the real world. When we go to the real world, there are going to be TVs and computers and phones. And so as we learn things in the position that we memorize them in if we vary that, and we have all sorts of distractions, it helps us to learn. Jim Kwik thinks that distractions are terrible for our memory and that it is impossible to learn things. So that’s an argument there between distractions are not distractions. I find distractions helpful to me. Perhaps you don’t. So I think this is a case where you have to know yourself.
So the technique that we talked about first was memory palace, and the memory palace is a fascinating thing. And so what he does is a strategy for memorizing things is you put everything into a story. And it is a ridiculous story. So the first thing that you do when you’re trying to do that is, let’s say that I’m trying to memorize a grocery list. So I want to buy lettuce, eggs, fish, flour, sugar, and coffee. Okay, so those are six random things that I want to remember. So what you would do is, first of all, come up with this very vivid image of these things. You know, so it’s not just an egg. It is a six-pound egg, a giant add the size of what you think a dinosaur would lay. And when you’re looking at the fish, the fish is colorful and full of pink and green speckles. You take those individual items, and you blow them up into big imagery.
The second thing that you do is put them in a particular location. So in this article that talks about it, the researcher who looked into it said, the weirder, the better. So he talks about making this memory in a bizarre location. So you could say something like I was walking through a gigantic lettuce patch. And in the middle of the lettuce patch was this enormous pink egg. And when I cracked open the enormous pink egg, I saw pink and green speckled fish, and I took them out of there. And I decided to dry them off with flour, hoping that that would get rid of all the slimy stuff inside the egg. And what happened was suddenly, the fish became sugar, and they turn into little pink and green sugar cubes. And then I ended up putting it into my giant cup of coffee that I brought with me on my hike. I might not be that great at it. But you can kind of see how that went. So now, as you remember the story, to somehow get you to remember the same. And again, he says, the crazier, the better.
Then he says that what you should do is pay attention and keep repeating to yourself this mantra, “I want to memorize this, I want to memorize this.” And then keep doing that. Because if you make up this goofy story, and then you’re not really paying attention to it, it won’t help you remember it. So you have to make sure that as you’re creating the story, you make sure that you pay attention.
He then talks about if it’s an extensive group of items, you have to make sure that you break it up into chunks. In the learning podcast, we talked about chunking, breaking things up into smaller bits, like phone numbers. I gave myself a relatively shortlist that was here. But imagine if this was a 50 item grocery list. So maybe I’d want to chunk it up by the aisles that these things are actually in. So I would have a dairy story. I would have a vegetable story and so on. So being able to break your story up into smaller pieces will help you remember it. And then he said to review it, make sure that you can go through that same story again. If you can then spit that story out and successfully get that list out, you got it.
The next thing that they talk about is chain linking memories. And chain linking memories means that you will remember a list by putting two pieces of things together. Let’s take a look at my six-item list that I said about grocery shopping. You would say I need to buy lettuce-eggs, eggs-fish, fish-flour, flour-sugar, and sugar-coffee. It makes it easier to remember because now you’ve paired things together. And so if you forget one thing, the other piece of it will help you remember it, and it’s even easier than if you can somehow categorize them together. That’ll make it even better. So I think the sugar -coffee and the flour-sugar make some sense together because they’re always put sugar and coffee, and you always have flour and sugar. So that helps make it even better. Even if you can make it a little bit more interesting how you chain these things together, the easier it will be to Remember those things.
And then the next thing is called peg listing. Peg listing has to do with associating a list of items with something you already know and never forget. The 10 fingers on your hands, the alphabet, A to Z, counting one to 20. Those are all things that you will always remember. You assign an item to each finger or each letter. I have a friend who does that. She has a really interesting technique, but she will give each finger a thing. And so you can see her when she’s trying to remember something going through her fingers. You’ll say, as per Apple is for lettuce, and you’ll go through the alphabet by putting the things you want to remember in the list into something you know. So you would say A is for Apple, B is for bananas, C is for coupons. D is for dog food, E is for eggs. And so you would keep that list by tagging it to something that you already know. I did it so that the letter actually matches the things. You don’t necessarily have to do it that way. But I think if you can do it that way, it makes it easier, although it may make your grocery shopping a little confusing. These are some examples that were in Jim Kwik’s book and on a website that talked about memory strategies that will be listed in my show notes again.
The next step is chunking. You want to break things into smaller groups. We mentioned that as part of one of the techniques that are there. But chunking in memory can help you break things up into smaller pieces. Just putting it into something like the phone number, that’s one step. But there are some other ways that you can chunk memory up so that it makes sense. Try and remember your points for a debate. You can say pros or cons, or maybe it’s a theory, its evidence, its reasons, or if this is a process, step by step. So as I was trying to put my snowblower together, I first went to the handle, then went to the chute, then went to gas, then went to the chain. And so you’re doing it step by step because it makes logical sense.
And then the last method they talk about is the hamburger method. And that means that you sort of put all the facts or all the things in somewhat of a hamburger. You could probably even use it as a grocery store list. So the first thing is the bun, the top bun, those items, then comes the next layer or the supporting details, and that’s going to be the tomato or the vegetable layer. Then the meat layer, then the other vegetable layer, and then the other bun. And so what you’re doing is you’re just basically putting things into a category of something recognizable to you. So those are some quick techniques, helping you to review items.
One thing is that when you remember something, it’s because it has exceptional value to you. A little bit about what Jim Kwik was talking about when it comes to motivation. But it’s even beyond that. He mentioned that if you ever got into a car accident, you probably remember every detail of that. But you may not even remember what it is you had for dinner last night. And that’s because one thing was exceptional and rare. And the other thing was mundane. And so it’s harder to get everyday things stored in your long-term memory. And so that way, as much as you can make something and experience it, you’ll be able to remember it better. And there are things that I remember, just because they were such unique experiences. And I want to remember these things time and time again. Being able to build that as a unique experience. Using your visualization skills, remembering it as it looked, remembering what it smelled like, and it sounded like those will help make those things more unique and vital. That will make it easier for us to remember. So he says on this website that he always has in mind the basic rule: unique experience + strong association = increased memory capacity. That’s where you want to make something unique, with strong associations
- Remember, when you need to remember something, you have to have the motivation to remember it. Ask yourself, why am I remembering it?
- Figure out how you’re going to learn or memorize this thing?
- What type of technique Are you going to use the memory palace, the chain linking, the pegged listing? Whatever it is. What are you going to do to learn this thing better?
- Come up with a reward strategy so that if you do start remembering people’s names, maybe you get an extra treat at the conference. Make sure you reward yourself.
- Come up with a mechanic that you’re going to use to help you remember things. That might be memory palace, chain linking, peg listing, chunking things up, and shorter bits.
- Always remember that unique experiences with strong associations tied to them will still help you in recalling things when it’s tough
- I think I’m going to jump on the back of Jim Kwik’s challenge and say find one person who you can spend time with, hopefully, every day. You can each challenge each other to remember 10 different things. So in the morning, you each give yourself 10 objects, and then you recite them back to each other at the end of the day. That’s a great challenge from an expert on memory, So try that out.
And now for our fun quote of the day, and this comes from the TV show on Disney plus called WandaVision. And if you’ve never seen that show, and you like Marvel things, that is an exciting place to go,
Why it’d be nice if we were incapable of forgetfulness and that we could remember everything. I wonder if that would make our lives better? I suspect it will make our lives worse. I remember a time when we had a community online and a message board where the people kept fighting with each other all the time. And what would happen is the software we used was so terrible that the whole message board would eventually break. And we would have to go to a new message board. And you know what, in some ways, all the old fights and all the old arguments went away, as soon as the message board broke. ‘it cleaned out all the rafters, and suddenly people were able to forgive each other. I wonder if sometimes if the internet being such a great memory tool is maybe the thing that’s tearing us apart because we can go back to when you’re three and a half years old and figure out what that awful thing you said to us was when typically would have just forgotten it.