Wouldn’t it be great if we could upgrade our memory in the same way that installing an extra chip adds resources to a computer?
Unfortunately, the human brain is rather more complicated. Memory is not a switch, but a way of processing thoughts and retrieving them efficiently.
In this article, we’re going to look at one of the most simple methods of improving your short term memory.
We will be quite literally upgrading your brain, by communicating with it on a level that produces results.
A Quick Experiment to Test Your Memory
Take a look at the list below and give yourself 40 seconds to memorise the words and the order in which they appear.
Once you’re finished, minimise this window and write the sequence as you remember it in to Notepad (or on a piece of paper).
|1. Red||2. Bus|
|3. Apples||4. Music|
|5. Sun||6. Dance|
|7. Tree||8. Bullet|
|9. Water||10. Child|
|11. Coconut||12. Plane|
|13. Flag||14. Gold|
|15. Pear||16. Smile|
|17. Dog||18. Flower|
Good job. If you conspired to cheat, congratulations, you’ve probably wasted your time. Now, compare your list with the sequence above to see how many items you remembered correctly.
If your brain is taken from the ordinary human mould, you should be able to remember roughly the first seven words in order.
Anything beyond this and our thought patterns begin to trail off, perhaps remembering the words but jumbling the order. Some words disappear from our memory completely until we take another look.
It’s a strange phenomenon, but we tend to memorise clearly in batches of seven. Beyond seven items and the typical brain begins to lag, just like my old piece-of-crap laptop in need of a memory upgrade.
Many people are happy to accept these limitations – some presumably delighted to be labelled ‘average’ rather than sub-standard. There’s no greater music to my ears that being told I’m ‘normal’ after a visit to the doctors, so I can see where they’re coming from.
But wouldn’t it be nice to enhance our memories to a point where we are capable of memorising lots of information at once? Such a skill would be desirable for many exploits far outweighing the potential of remembering our list above.
Thankfully, the human brain is perfectly ‘upgradeable’. You can indeed learn to memorise considerably more than the average person, and it’s actually very easy to do. You can see amazing results in the space of just ten minutes if you follow the classic visualisation technique.
Using the Visualisation Technique to Improve Memory
A great way to improve memory is to feed the brain language and imagery that it understands.
When you first approached the list of items, how did you attempt to remember them? Some readers may be familiar with the following technique, but a large majority would have focused intently on soaking up the sequence like a sponge.
Our brains are optimised to retain information when we associate it with vivid imagery and strong emotion. This is one of many mnemonic devices, which is the fancy term for tools that aid the memory.
Instead of attempting to remember every item in the list, a more effective technique is to create a vivid story in our imaginations, using each element of the list to lead us on to the next.
Here’s what I created in my head:
“I’m standing in a pool of red paint, when I see my bus pulling up towards me. The doors open and apples come rolling out having been stacked a meter high next to the driver. I shake my head at the mess on the road, then board the bus. A chav sitting in the front seat turns his music up as I pass him and I hear Rick Astley pumping through the headphones. There’s a loud explosion and we look outside to see that the sun has just erupted. Everybody jumps out of their seats and starts doing a Graeme Swann style ‘Sprinker’ dance to stay heated. Suddenly the bus is hurtling off the road and with an almighty crash, it plows directly in to a huge tree trunk. I wonder how the driver could be so erratic, passing up the bus only to find that he has a bullet between his eyes.”
“I exit the bus in a hurry only to find a tsunami of water approaching the shore. A child is laughing at the sight and throwing coconuts at the empty seabed. Just as the waves are drawing in, a plane swoops down to rescue the child. I look on in amazement as the pilot waves a flag out of the window. The plane passes over me and I’m temporarily blinded by a series of gold sparks. I open my eyes to find a pear shaped woman waddling away from the arriving tsunami with an oblivious smile on her face. Without any warning, a large dog bounds in from the beach, wrestles her on to his back and carries her to safety through a wall of ten meter high flowers.”
Pretty crazy story, huh? Tsunamis, bullets, bus crashes and near death experiences. I guess my imagination is pretty grim. There’s a reason I’ve chosen such strong imagery, and that’s because the brain tends to remember it clearly.
After committing the sequence of events to my memory, I have no problem retracing all 18 items in order. You will find that doing so can actually store the list in your memory for days, weeks, and even months and years.
Try it yourself. Read over my bizarre story, or create your own, and then recall the 18 items. You should have no problem remembering them from 1 to 18, which is a remarkable improvement over the first effort.
It is, however, a very basic technique. There are obvious limitations to how this kind of visualisation can be applied in the real world.
Fortunately, there are other powerful mnemonic devices that really can harness the natural capabilities of your brain, and provide some much more exciting benefits. If you’re intrigued by what an ‘upgraded memory’ would do for you, you’ll definitely want to check back to see those techniques when they’re posted!
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