Last week we talked about how we learn, and why it’s wrong. If you think your memory is bad and there’s no way to improve it, think again. Most of us have been taught to retain information by repetition. Looking at the information over and over again until we think it’s been memorized. But now we know, rote memorization is a faulty way to learn. Sure, the information you “memorized” will stick in your brain long enough to pass a test. Long term, you can kiss that information goodbye. There is a better way!
In this week’s blog, let’s really evaluate the way that our mind works. That way, you’ll really understand how your brain stores information. Plus, when we get around to new ways to memorize information it will make much more sense.
The Starting Point
To properly evaluate your memory, think about where you’re starting from. If you had a list of 20 different items, how well do you think you could remember everything on the list? Go ahead, try it out. Write out a list or use ours:
| a unicorn | chopsticks
| an electrical outlet | a rose>
| a tricycle | a black cat
| a truck | gold
| a hand | a dollar sign
| a can of beer | a candle
| a hockey stick | a wizard
| a spider | a golf green
| a baseball | a sauna
| a dime | a dartboard
Take about 5 minutes to slowly look over this list. Really study it and try to memorize all the things on the list. Don’t cheat, no writing things down. Use only your mind and take no longer than the 5 minute time span. Now, without looking at the list can you write everything down that you just studied? Probably not. Even if you didn’t do so well, don’t worry. This is simply a test to see where you started from.
The Rule of 7
Most people don’t have a specific system for remembering things. As a result, our brains can only remember about 7 things, (plus or minus 2). Sometimes, that number is even less than 7, around 3 to 5. When trying to memorize the list above, you may have noticed that you struggled around the 7th item or so. If you were able to memorize more, it’s likely that you were using a system other than rote memorization.
Primacy and Recency
When dealing with large lists of information, the brain tends to commit the top of the list and the bottom of the list to memory the best. The middle, however, doesn’t have the same luck. This isn’t a bad thing, primacy and recency are just the way that our brains naturally work. Knowing this we can manipulate it to work better for us. For example, take the list above and break the items into lists of five items. If you were to try and memorize the four lists of five items, I bet you’d have better luck this time around.
Now that you understand a little bit about how the mind stores information, it will be easier to do the exercises in the coming weeks.