If someone was to read a list of words to you, it’s most unlikely that you will remember all the words in the list. You’ll be able to recall most of the words at the beginning, some at the middle, and a few at the end. These effects are known as primacy (words at the beginning) and recency (words at the end).
The only way that a normal person can effectively recall all of the words in the list, is if he applies a mnemonic technique to help him remember. You’ll also find that it’s easier to recall a word if it’s repeated several times in the list, or if it’s related to the other words in any way, or if it stands out among the other words (for example, the word “ruby” will stand out from a list of vegetables).
To take advantage of your primacy and recency, you must find a middle ground. If you are doing something that requires a lot of thinking and you do this non-stop for hours, you’ll find that the dip in the recall between the primacy and recency can be quite considerable.
If, on the other hand, you stop to take breaks too often, your brain will not really reach its primacy because it keeps on getting interrupted. In a more practical application, instead of continuously studying or working for hours, you might want to try pausing and resting after 30-50 minutes of working, just to give your brain time to refresh itself and to maximize the time when your primacy and recency are balanced.
Contrary to popular belief, being smart is not synonymous to having a good memory or good retention. You don’t have to force yourself to study and understand more in order to improve your memory; the key is actually in your lifestyle, your attitude, your diet, and your habits.
You Are What You Eat
It is often said that your brain is probably the greediest organ in your body, and it requires a very specific type of nutrition from your diet. It shouldn’t be surprising then that your diet affects how your brain performs, and it performs well with a steady supply of glucose. Before you go out of your house in the morning, it would be great if you can give your brain the fuel it needs by eating a hearty breakfast. A salad packed full of antioxidants, including beta-carotene and vitamins C and E, should also help keep your brain in tip-top condition by helping to reduce damaging free radicals (damaging molecules). As you grow older, your brain has lesser capacity to defend itself from daily threats like free radicals, inflammation, and oxidation. That’s why aging people need more nutrition than younger ones.
Free radicals are like cavities to your teeth; they slowly build up if they’re not cleaned out. As the brain cells grow older, they sometimes stop communicating with each other. As an effect, it slows down essential processes like thinking, short-term memory retrieval, and regenerating new cells. Therefore, anti-oxidants are essential to maintain not only good health, but a good memory as well. Good sources of anti-oxidants are:
- Vitamin A and beta-carotene: Carrots, spinach, cantaloupe, winter squash
- Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, broccoli, strawberries, tomatoes
- Vitamin E: Nuts, seeds, vegetable oil, wheat germ
Studies show that fatty food that causes artheosclerosis (clogging of arteries) are also the same type of food that disrupts neural activities. Cut back on the fat and replace it with foods rich in anti-oxidants. Nothing will replace a well-balanced meal, but to make sure that your body doesn’t lack any of its nutritional needs, it would be a good idea to take food supplements. As the name implies, they’re supplements, and not replacements.
Scientific research also indicates that eating fish can indeed sharpen your memory. Most fish fat contains the polyunsaturated fatty acid DHA, which performs a significant part in the brain development of young children. Tests show that kids who consume adequate foods containing DHA score better on IQ tests than those who take lesser amounts of DHA. Fish also contains omega-3 fatty acids which opens up new communication centers in the brain’s neurons. This allows your mind to operate at its peak performance.
Another significant finding suggests that smoking can affect the ability of the brain to process information properly. Chain smokers have higher risks of impairing their visual and verbal memories. So the next time you think of smoking, remember that it’s not only dangerous to your health, but you are sacrificing your memory functions as well.
Caffeine and alcohol causes anxiety and nervousness. This may hamper information from properly entering your mind because memory works best when you are relaxed and focused.
Medical researches show that people who are always anxious produce “stress hormones” like cortisol, which damages brain cells. Make it a point to do something that will relax you everyday. Try meditating, yoga, drinking tea, taking a long bath … whatever works for you. A very effective method to reduce stress is deep breathing and visualizing the expected outcome of any situation to turn out well. Don’t forget to get enough rest.
Poor memory is often a result of poor self-image. After all, it all starts and ends in the mind. So to have a healthy mind, believe that you can achieve anything you desire. Boost your self-esteem and be confident in your abilities. Your attitude should be supportive of your goals.
Cardiovascular exercises like walking improves blood circulation and are good for the heart and brain. Research also indicates that walking helps release hormones that aid in regenerating new brain cells. If you’re bored with just plain walking, engage into sports that you love. Play basketball, volleyball, tennis, or anything that excites you. By exercising, you can lessen your chances of developing high blood pressure which contributes to memory loss when you get older. So get up and get moving. Not only will you be getting a fit and healthy body, but you’ll also sharpen your memory and improve your creativity. Not to mention the fun and camaraderie you’ll be getting with your teammates and competitors.
Just like any muscle, you also need to exercise your brain so that it doesn’t deteriorate. Engage in games that will help you think. Talk to people, read informational books, listen to educational tapes, and make it a habit to continuously learn and experience new things. Remember that when your neurons die, they don’t come back to life anymore. So you better use them, or you’ll lose them.
If you feel that your memory really isn’t how it used to be, go and see a physician. Sometimes, memory loss can be a symptom of more serious diseases and can go undetected for years because you don’t really feel anything else other than memory loss.
Music and Memory
Elderly people suffering from dementia were said to have better reasoning about their backgrounds and personal history when there was music playing in the clinical area than in silence, during an experiment conducted by Elizabeth Valentine, a psychologist at the University of London and co-author of new research on music and memory.
Increasingly, music is accompanying traditional medical therapies to help people heal faster. Experts say music has the power to calm and to energize the spirit.
The British researchers conducted a test on 23 people (ages 68 to 90) with mild dementia. The test was done with different sounds playing in the background.
While asking the questions, the researchers either played: a familiar tune (Winter, from Vivaldi's Four Seasons), novel music (Hook, by Fitkin), or pre-recorded cafeteria noise - or asked the questions in stillness. Over four weeks, each person was tested in all four situations.
The participants answered more questions correctly with sound in the background rather than in silence, and they scored even better when music was playing.
“Whether the music was familiar or new did not seem to matter. The music probably aroused the participants and helped them focus,” the researchers said.
Sleep and Memory
Research indicates that you can better remember the information you are reading if you will go to sleep right after learning it. But there are two limits:
- The material that you intend to recall should be easy to understand, or you should already have a fair amount of knowledge or experience in the topic being discussed.
- You must not be too tired or exhausted when reading the material.
The next time you need to learn something, try this procedure and see if it works for you. It worked for me!
Learning and Emotions
As discussed earlier, emotions and feelings play a very important role in the process of learning and memory retention. Music has been said to affect learning and memory in psychologically-challenged patients. On the other hand, internal factors such as feelings and emotions should also be considered in retrieving data or in decoding stored information in your brain.
The creation of a good mood in producing better temper, positive outlooks, or even in relaxation are very popular nowadays in creating a holistic approach in wellness and mental health. The balance between mind and body and the conditioning that happens inside your brain may affect your acquisition of knowledge and information. That is why, it is very important to have a good mood in perceiving, receiving, and retrieving emotional as well as mental information.
Here are some of the valuable tips or techniques in mood conditioning that will definitely help you improve your mental capacities.
- Close your eyes and repeat a chant that will help you recall a picture, a scenario or a very relevant experience. You can also do this by repeating a very positive statement like: “No matter what you say or do to me, I’m still a worthwhile person!” Remembering such words can also boost confidence during exams or in periods of learning or even in daily struggles. By saying positive things regarding your life, you are increasing the chances of associating your experience with pleasant feeling, and this would help you remember more of the good things than the bad ones that could lead you down.
- Imagine a face of someone who has put you down in some ways in the past (e.g. a family member, a teacher, a friend, or an ex lover). After getting the picture of his or her face, say, “No matter what you say or do to me, I’m still a worthwhile person!” This would relieve you and put you into a positive consciousness in dealing with people or strangers. Mental pictures can also relieve you from the stress brought about by bad or traumatic experiences.
- There are physical ways of improving mood or the place where learning has to take place. Scented candles, aromatic objects, or the creation of illusion of relaxation (with the use of verdant or calmed colors such as pastel, earth tones, or non-solid shades) are some of the practical ways in helping you to relax while learning or acquiring knowledge or information. In uncontrolled environments which require spontaneous reaction, it would still be best to create mental pictures (imagining the blueness and calmness of the sea, or the very refreshing scene of a green countryside) while undertaking learning tasks or actions.