19 November 2017

How To Increase Memory Retention

It’s a beautiful Spring day today in Perth, so I was out weeding the garden. As I was pulling the weeds I had a vivid flashback to pulling weeds with Dad in the vegie patch when I was about 7 years old.

Back then, I had a habit of pulling out the larger weeds and leaving the smaller ones behind. Dad always made sure I focused on the details and we got rid of them all. I remember all the details and can take you to the exact spot in my parents’ house where it happened, even though it happened 20 years ago. It’s a memory I’ll always have and cherish.

What has this got to do with increasing your memory retention?

We as humans are programed to remember stories and episodes more than any other form of memory. Before writing existed or was common, stories were the only form of history. Just imagine our ancestors, after a hard day hunting deer and gathering berries, gathering around the fire to tell stories.

Think of all the heroes (Hercules, Cincinatus, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Odysseus…) who have shaped our culture. Most of these we know about because generation upon generation told their story. Each culture has it’s own unique stories that shapes its identity, but the mode is common to everyone. Stories, rather than dry facts, are far better for remembering.

I’m probably not telling you anything new, but perhaps reminding you of something you may have forgotten (see what I did there? 🙂 )

If you want to strengthen your memory, find a way of incorporating a story into whatever it is you’re trying to remember.

How good are you at remembering stories? Can you tell complex jokes without ruining the punch line? How about an important story from when you were a child? When someone asks you what you did on the weekend, do you recount facts or tell the story?

I’ve seen it time and time again – people who complain of having a bad memory are usually pretty bad at telling stories. And vice versa.

Ask someone else for their honest feedback. Or watch a group of people when you tell a story. Have you ever held a room spellbound? I mean people who have the option of not listening to you. Or are people just polite because they like you?

It’s really important to use stories everywhere possible. Practice at every opportunity. If you have children (or know someone who does), go and tell them a story. Kids love good stories and tend to be very forgiving if it’s kind of lame.

Read a few interesting stories and tell them to a few people at appropriate times. Once you start getting good at telling stories, you’ll become pretty popular at dinner parties. Having a few stories up your sleeve are great for potentially awkward moments on a date or at a dinner party.

Why should you do all this?

It will massively help your memory in lots of other areas. By practicing, you strengthen your episodic memory. After a while, you get used to thinking in a certain way; looking for the story in everything. You’ll remember movies and books and be able to talk about them intelligently. It’ll be a lot easier to keep up with the news because you won’t be relearning the back story each time. All of a sudden, you won’t be some boring person that never has any fun, you’ll be the life of the party!

Oh and kids young and old will love listening to you 🙂

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