Why memory techniques are not just a gimmick | Anastasia Woolmer

Why memory techniques are not just a gimmick

July 24, 2018

Memory athletes and the one year itch.

Argh! Did I do this all for nothing?

When I first started memory training I felt exhilarated. Suddenly I knew how to quickly remember large amounts of data of any type. Enter the “I’m a genius” honeymoon period. I could remember a lot, but it didn’t impact on my daily memory much. It just made me a pain in the arse.

Then something strange happened.

As I started to teach people how to learn these techniques something in my gut worried me. Maybe these techniques were not improving my memory or cognitive abilities but were more like a trick. There are studies showing that such training is working your cognitive skills and hence you are getting sharper, which is why we are told to do Sudoku puzzles to ward off mental aging. But studies showed mixed results when testing if your ‘memory’ actually improves. Why was I doing all this work again?

Enter the one year memory athlete slump period, with lower motivation and reduced training for about a year.

Recently though, I have a new found vigour. Why?

I started a new job. One where results are easily measurable and a lot of information picked up quickly means you succeed. I did this consciously, such as remembering every phone number as I dialed clients the first time. But I was surprised to find I also remembered many more details subconsciously. I know the past me did not have this ability to retain details so quickly, and without trying.

Why the improvement in the subconscious learning?

  • Memory training makes you focus on detail.

If you don’t see the image clearly in your head you don’t remember it. The more detail you add (eg smell/touch/sound /atmosphere /making a story for the image) the more likely it will stick. You get good at visualising information in detail.

  • Memory training teaches you how you as an individual learn.

When you are continuously trying to remember what you have just seen in training you better understand your own learning requirements. Memory training forces you to continually assess why you forgot something and how you won’t forget it next time.

All mental athletes know that feeling in recall of “Why the *%!@ can’t I remember this image!” And then the epiphany afterwards when checking your errors…oh, I did that again.

Over time, you naturally fix it. This learning how you learn is from the work your head does after recall when you are checking your errors.

  • Memory training forces you to continuously try to remember something.

The last point was how we remember things better by understanding why we forget. But you also get good at retracing your thoughts in your head to remember what you have almost forgotten.

This is from the work your head does during recall – you get terribly good at practicing how to recall information you have tried to remember.

  • Confidence

This is the elephant in the room. When we are not confident in our abilities we tend to panic when trying to remember what someone is saying. When you know you can remember you can relax. Surprise, you do remember.

It all adds up – memory training improves your ability to remember even when you are not trying. Yay, it was all worth it!

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