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Memory retention… what the heck is it? Is it worth worrying about? If so, can it be improved?
We’re going to cover memory retention on this page and give you three blazing fast ways you can increase your ability to retain information.
The Simplest Definition Of Memory Retention
Overall, this term from the world of memory science is simply defined:
It is the ability to keep any information for different periods of time for the purpose of using it in the future.
But retain information for what exactly?
According to memory experts like Endel Tulving, it comes down to pattern recognition based on:
Now, some people will say that recognition and recall are two different things
But I don’t think that makes sense.
For example, if someone gives you their name, but you can’t use their name in a conversation, you haven’t retained it.
Same thing if you can’t recognize the name in the first place, or have forgotten that you’ve heard it before. Such widespread instances suggest that recognition and recall are tied at the hip.
Now, if you really want to keep abreast of contemporary trends in this area of science, you need to be reading the Journal of Learning & Memory.
What you’ll discover is that exactly why we retain some things and not others remains a mystery. The final definition of “memory retention” is still being worked on.
Nonetheless, you might be wondering about the differences between short term memory and long term memory when it comes to memory retention.
You might even be wondering about how working memory plays into the mix when it comes to learning faster and remembering more.
What Kind Of Retention Do You Mean?
For now, it appears that we need to get more granular on exactly what the brain is trying to retain.
Take physical learning, for example. Even if the brain functions aren’t well understood, it is clear that exercise that impacts motor function increases the learning of physical skills.
What about learning new information based in words and numbers? That’s semantic memory, and much has been understood about how we retain information through a process called active recall.
Now, another question people ask is…
Why Is Memory Retention Important?
In addition to practical matters like remembering names, passing exams and learning new languages, memory retention helps you connect with yourself.
Think about it:
Every time you can’t recall information about your own life… it feels kind of weird, if not outright painful.
Self-punishment ensues and usually that only exacerbates the memory problems you might be facing.
Plus, we need memory to learn languages, music, the names of people we meet, instructions at work and speeches we want to give, etc. Spiritual progress relies upon remembering the principles of your tradition, and the same factors play in learning about philosophy, history, psychology and every other topic.
So with an eye to helping you feel more connected with yourself, let’s dive into three rapid ways you can increase retention.
How to Increase Memory Retention in 3 Steps
1. Take Better Care Of Your Body And Your Brain
Look, I know everyone wants memory techniques that are easy and fun to use.
However, it only makes sense to care for the engine that makes memory possible in the first place.
For example, many people who complain of brain fog don’t need memory techniques on their own. They simply aren’t eating well.
Although diet is a tricky matter, you’ll find certain foods help improve memory better than others.
Diet has been a huge problem for me throughout my life, but I’ve one a lot to fix it and experienced much better memory as a result.
In my case, chronic pain has been the most mentally taxing and distracting problem.
Pain makes paying attention difficult.
When you can’t pay attention to information, retention goes out the window.
Reduce the pain, and your ability to pay attention and retain information in memory automatically goes up.
And no, in case you’re wondering, these memory improvement vitamins are unlikely to help.
However, scientists have discovered parts of our brain chemistry involved in chronic pain and are using memory-based approaches to solve it. Famous actor George Clooney shared with GQ how some therapy has helped his body “forget” his chronic pain so he can lead a normal life.
Of course, it’s better not to lead yourself into pain in the first place. But if you do find yourself suffering in a way that interrupts your learning abilities, it’s good to know you have options.
Sleep Secrets for Better Memory Few People Consider
Next, we have sleep.
Although you might not normally think of it this way, not having enough sleep also creates pain the interrupts the ability to pay attention.
Being groggy and irritated, for example, is a kind of pain.
Plus, the brain simply cannot perform as well unrested as it can when you’re getting enough sleep.
What are the secrets?
- Computer curfew
- Journaling by hand, including gratitude journaling
- Planning the next day’s activities
- Bedtime rituals
- Morning memory fitness activities, such as dream recall
Just by attending to diet and sleep (and stopping smoking), you can improve your retention, and it will happen faster than you might think.
2. Get Regular Memory Exercise
One of the easiest ways to improve memory retention is to regularly use your memory.
There are at least two kinds of memory exercise:
Active and passive.
I’ve got a wide variety of brain exercises you can play with, and here’s a condensed version of my favorite from the passive category.
It’s called The Four Details Exercise. All you do is notice 4 details about a person.
Don’t use any memory techniques. Just observe.
Later in the day, ask yourself to recall those details.
No Need To Give Yourself A Grade
It’s not a right or wrong retention test. It’s just a quick jog to make sure that you’re giving your memory regular exercise.
Active memory exercises for increasing retention might include using memory techniques. Here’s where “right and wrong” comes into play, and that’s all part of the fun.
For example, you can memorize a deck of cards and work on increasing either your speed of encoding, or the volume you can encode. Test yourself for accuracy of retention over different stretches of time (5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days, etc).
You can increase speed and volume with names, vocabulary, abstract shapes, numbers and even verbatim texts like song lyrics or poems.
Likewise, you can actively memorize vocabulary, historical dates, or the names of everyone in a company you want to work for (or already do).
3. Have A Long Term Learning Project
Okay, I know this doesn’t sound like a “blazing fast” tactic. But in reality, it is.
Learning a language or memorizing large texts that you focus on over the long term produces incredible short term benefits when it comes to retention.
Improvements will happen for you because, as you use memory techniques consistently, you’ll build up something called “memory reserve.”
This term means that the more you know, the more you can know.
Why You Should Learn A Language To Increase Your Ability To Retain Information
Take language learning, for example.
As soon as you know about 850 words, you have all the building blocks you need to snap on more and more vocabulary and phrases.
Each new word and phrase you add builds up your memory reserve.
And this memory reserve helps explain why many people find it easier to pick up their next language. They’ve become good at the skill of building their memory reserve.
When it comes to memorizing large texts, I’ve been doing this with some scriptures written in Sanskrit.
The more I memorize, the easier it becomes to memorize even more due to this effect of memory reserve.
For example, the pool of Magnetic Imagery grows. Having more to draw upon means fewer Magnetic Images are fired off with less effort.
You’ll find this is also true when memorizing texts in your mother tongue. The more you do it, the greater ease with which you can move through words, expressions, ideas and more.
And again, you don’t have to wait forever for the retention benefits to kick in.
How To Start Investing In Your Brain (And Keep Consistent)
Just get started.
I know that sounds simplistic, but how else would you do it?
Next, be consistent. That means showing up at least a little.
Ideally, you’ll train your brain every day, but four times a week is a bare minimum.
Before you know it, you’ll feel like you have a completely revived brain that can conquer the world of information overwhelm with ease.
Again, we’ll talk in the future more about things like short term, long term and working memory, but the reality is that all these aspects of memory work together.
By following the 3 simple tips in the following video companion to this post, you’ll be working them comprehensively, holistically, and, dare I say, Magnetically.
I think another great brain exercise is learn to read music. I compare it to using the major method in the sense that you have to decode the “meaning” of every note on the music sheet and transpose it to your instrument.
Music is definitely great brain exercise, Dexter. If one uses mnemonics as part of the process, all the better.