Total Recall 2.0: How to Be a Superhero Using Your Memory
Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders.
– Friedrich Nietzsche
Mr. Nietzsche’s quote is, without a doubt, pregnant with solid philosophical value. But what would happen to you if you were in the position of being oblivious to the blunders you make? Well, chances are, they will haunt you back one way or another, and you will have to pay the price of your stupidity. Lost keys, missed deadlines, flunked exams- being forgetful has done us no good, and the results make sure we sulk over them for a while, let alone forget them. But what if I tell you that there are methods, which can make you not only remember things (and your past mistakes- lest you repeat them) and recall them at your whim? What will I tell you, in this era of scantily attentive minds, you can literally become a superhero with nothing but your memory? Let’s dive in.
What is Memory?
Have you ever formatted your hard drive on your laptop or factory reset your phone? Click on the button, and everything that the storage device held vanishes. All your data, photos, videos, documents are gone. Without our memory, we are also an empty drive- a clean slate. Everything that we do, no matter how inconsequential the task is, requires memory to function. But surprisingly, we are only able to observe the workings of memory and justify them with known wisdom, but nothing has yet been established to answer the basic questions- what memory is and how our brain stores it. It is indeed a conundrum that despite being such an essential part of our being, we are far from understanding memory in depth.
But scientists love mysteries. To find the answers, they probed deep into the realm of memory in the past decades. Their findings, although can not be considered a breakthrough, are extremely fascinating as they directly contradict some well-known myths. But first, let’s refresh our memory on- what is memory.
In simple terms, memory is the registration, storage, and retrieval of past experiences. Memory is both a product of and a contributor to perception, concentration, and education. You can look at it like a muscle; the more you employ it, the stronger it gets. The Multi-Store Model of memory proposed by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin had categorized memory into three types-
- Sensory memory: Memory acquired and registered solely by our sensory organs
- Short-Term Memory: Memory held for a moment and time-specific purpose
- Long term memory: Memory nurtured and retained for a long period of time
Based on our approach to memorizing different information, a different categorization of memory is available-
- Semantic Memory- Memory of Factual Knowledge
- Episodic Memory: Memory of personal events
- Procedural Memory: Memory of acquired skills
The following chart sums up the varieties of memory classifications-
How to memorize?
Put on your thinking hat and imagine a scenario. You are walking down the street, and suddenly you see a dog across the street, approaching you wearing – wait for it- a spacesuit. A chuckle appeared in your face as the owner’s voice reached you- “Come on, Laika!” Of course, its name is Laika, the dog in the spacesuit, you muttered to yourself. Now, do you think it would be possible for you to forget the dog or the incident? You would have had a hard time remembering the names of each dog you have ever met, but not this one. But why is that? You see, studies have shown that the ridiculousness of an event reinforces its stay in our memory with much more prominence than regular events, especially if the incident associates with something that you are familiar with. And this is the cornerstone of memory- Association, and Absurdness. As a species, we are programmed to spot irregularities and act on them; our survival depended on it during the hunter-gatherer era. A lump of meat tasted sour, the jungle was quieter, a foul stench lingered- and we knew something was not right. And that is why the absurdity of the events captures our attention quickly and aids our memory in storing it with more precision.
But you would think this is not true! I always forget the name of my yoga instructor, and Mr. Papadopoulos indeed sounds funny to me! So, what’s going on? Here the second tool of memory comes in handy, and that is ‘Association.’ Next time you meet your instructor, imagine him guiding your father (papa) one-on-one while wearing a polo T-shirt that says Dope! on it. You will see how hard it is to forget the name and hide the smile when you visualize this. It becomes easy as you have just deconstructed the unfamiliar name and associated it with a funny imagination containing familiar elements- your dad and graphic Polo shirts. The preposterousness of an image assists our mind in etching it on our memory, and the association techniques help us to recall it.
Though not scientifically proven, it is a widely claimed fact in the memory circuit that our memory capacity is practically limitless. People have been observed to perfectly recall incidents that occurred when they were infants- even after 30 years. You can think of it like a deep, deep well. All that we experience becomes a memory and gets thrown all the well to get stored. But when it is time to recall the memory, to retrieve it from the well, it can get extremely hard to find that memory from a plethora of others unless we have set up and linked the memory with a thread. That thread is these memory techniques. There are multiple tools available to hone your skills in different departments of memory. Link system, major system, method of loci are some of the well-known techniques.
Now let’s address the elephant in the room. It’s all fun and games when trying to memorize your grocery list, but would it be as effective for something substantial, such as a textbook? More than that, why would anyone even care about memory when all the answers are just a click away? Well, let the researchers assure you that training your memory is the best reward you can gift to yourself. All these techniques are nothing but tools to make your attention razor-sharp. Mindfulness is a rare feat today, and empowering your memory game will make you stand apart from the crowd.
To echo the wise, Knowledge is Power, and knowing is futile unless you remember it when needed. Those who remember can master anything, anytime and anywhere. The former GE chief Jack Welch was known for his legendary memory skills. Countless others who have attained phenomenal success in their respective fields involving cerebral tasks attribute memory as one of the key elements driving the zenith of their achievement.
With practice and patience, building a strong memory is possible. And with so many people living their life wrapped in forgetfulness, having a great memory would elevate you to the next level, both personally and professionally. For us mere mortals, those skills will appear almost inhuman. So, ready to be a superhero?