What is memory?

Simply put, memory is the mental activity of recalling information

that you have learned or experienced.

That simple definition, though, covers a complex process that involves

many different parts of the brain

and serves us in disparate ways.


Brain exercises

Memory, like muscular strength, is a "use it or lose it" proposition. The more you work out your brain, the better you will be able to process and remember information. Novelty and sensory stimulation are the foundation of brain exercise. If you break your routine in a challenging way, you are using brain pathways you were not using before. This can involve something as simple as brushing your teeth with your nondominant hand, which activates little-used connections on the nondominant side of your brain. Or try a "neurobic" exercise, an aerobic exercise for your brain, that forces you to use your faculties in unusual ways, like showering and getting dressed with your eyes closed. Take a course in a subject you do not know much about, learn a new game of strategy, or cook up some recipes in an unfamiliar cuisine. That is the most effective way to keep your synapses firing.


1. Pay attention. You cannot remember something if you never learned it, and you cannot learn something, that is, encode it into your brain, if you do not pay enough attention to it. It takes about eight seconds of intent focus to process a piece of information through your hippocampus and into the appropriate memory center. So, no multitasking when you need to concentrate! If you distract easily, try to receive information in a quiet place where you will not be interrupted.

2. Tailor information acquisition to your learning style. Most people are visual learners; they learn best by reading or otherwise seeing what it is they have to know. But some are auditory learners who learn better by listening. They might benefit by recording information they need and listening to it until they remember it.

3. Involve as many senses as possible. Even if you are a visual learner, read out loud what you want to remember. If you can recite it rhythmically, even better. Try to relate information to colors, textures, smells and tastes. The physical act of rewriting information can help imprint it onto your brain.

4. Relate information to what you already know. Connect new data to information you already remember, whether it is new material that builds on previous knowledge, or something as simple as an address of someone who lives on a street where you already know someone.

5. Organize information. Write things down in address books and datebooks and on calendars; take notes on more complex material and reorganize the notes into categories later. Use both words and pictures in learning information.

6. Understand and be able to interpret complex material. For more complex material, focus on understanding basic ideas rather than memorizing isolated details. Be able to explain it to someone else in your own words.

7. Rehearse information frequently and "over-learn". Review what you have learned the same day you learn it, and at intervals thereafter. What researchers call "spaced rehearsal" is more effective than "cramming2. If you are able to "over-learn" information so that recalling it becomes second nature, so much the better.

8. Be motivated and keep a positive attitude. Tell yourself that you want to learn what you need to remember, and that you can learn and remember it. Telling yourself you have a bad memory actually hampers the ability of your brain to remember, while positive mental feedback sets up an expectation of success.

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