If someone asked us what we had for dinner last night, we likely would not remember. Similarly, if they asked us what we did last Thursday, we might also not remember. It seems that when those around us ask us the bigger details of our lives, about our friends, work, milestone memories etc. we can easily recall these memories of the most enjoyable parts of our lives. But when it comes to minute details like what we had for our meals or what we wore to a specific event, our memory often fails us. Why can’t we remember these small details? In order to examine this phenomenon, we must dive into how our brain creates memories in the first place.
Memories can evolve and change over time. Have you ever reminisced with an old friend and remembered the same event in quite different ways? This is an example of this aspect of memory. Researchers at McGill University discovered that every time you recall a memory, your brain has to rebuild it in order to store it again. Each time your brain has to rebuild a memory, the details can easily be misinterpreted and change. We can see this most commonly in our vivid memories of recent events compared to our foggy memories of events that happened long in the past.
Feelings are built into memories. When considering highly emotional moments in our past, we can often be brought back to those moments and pulled back into those emotions. The brain stores feelings as a distinct part of memories, which can be a good thing, but also can warp your memory. In one study, 73% of people had incorrect memories of the 9/11 attacks because their brains struggled to deal with such a traumatic event. From this, we can takeaway that we need to think twice about our memories from particularly emotional events to be sure they are correct.
Knowing these two important aspects of memory can help us to not only understand memories but also improve them. Here are some other tricks for keeping our memories intact:
Live a busy life. Although this sounds counterintuitive, a Harvard study found that being busy boosts your memory. This is because engaging in lots of different activities increases your mental stimulation. Think of this as essentially exercise for the brain. However, like physical exercise, there is a point where one passed through productive exercise to exhaustion.
Go for walks. In addition to keeping ourselves busy, we must also keep up physical exercise, as the link between mental health and physical health is a strong one. Research has found that people who exercise on a regular basis, even if that exercise is leisurely walking, have better memories than those who do not exercise regularly.
Enlist the help of other people. Talking it out with friends or colleagues can help our memory more than we may think. Several studies have found that when you discuss information with other people and ask them to give you reminders, you remember more than when you try to memorize information on your own.
Stay well rested. Sleep is the brain’s way of recharging. While recharging, the brain sorts through the memories of the day and categorizes them into important details you need to remember for the future and details that might not be as necessary. Although getting enough sleep may not always be easy, it is essentian to help your brain function at full capacity and remember things.
Handwrite everything. In our digital age of technology, taking notes on a laptop or smartphone may seem faster. However, studies show that you remember more when you handwrite information. Handwriting, unlike typing, reinforces the message you’re writing in your brain, making it easier to recall later.
“Memory is deceptive because it is colored by today’s events.” – Albert Einstein