I already covered the topic of short-term memory and how to improve it but is the process different when we try to remember things for more than a few weeks? According to psychology and neuroscience – yes, it is a different process but still widely connected and dependant on the short-term memory routes our brain uses. In this article I wanted to dive deeper into the topic of memory and show you how to improve long-term memory and more importantly, what exactly it is.
One of the best techniques for improving one’s long-term memory is the so-called memory palace. It consists of taking a familiar environment and embedding the things you need to remember into it just as you would hang new pictures on the walls of a house. It takes training but it is proven to be one of the best techniques out there for deeply embedding memories into your mind and is used by some of the best mind athletes in the world.
Having a good memory isn’t something that people lack but being stressed out and disorganized prevents our brains for handling information optimally. A debunked myth is that age is a playing factor in memory and more and more old people have proven that this is true. There are brain exercises for seniors which allow them to stand toe to toe with the memory of a much younger person. Our brains are a direct reflection of what we do, so the first step towards a good memory, be it short or long-termed, should be trying to live a healthier life.
What Exactly Is Long-Term Memory?
I always like using the analogy of the brain to a modern-day computer. The short-term memory is like your brain’s RAM memory providing enough computation capabilities for it to function properly and fast enough. The long-term memory is the hard drive where all the information is stored.
Once stored in there, it can stay there theoretically indefinitely. Still, the information that we store there is only the information that we determine to have significant value. The filter is exactly our short-term memories. Everything that ends up there either gets embedded deeper into our brains (by our own will) or is dumped again under our control, by not thinking about it. This is valid for any kind of information from scents, colors, emotions, and words. Remembering these things is done through the sensory memory which then moves on to short-term and ends in the long-term brain silos. I have a great diagram describing that in the next chapter!
So, How Does It Work?
I’ve made a diagram to showcase exactly how and where long-term memory fits into our remembering process.
This is the process our brains undergo every time new information goes our way. It doesn’t matter whether we register this signal with our skin, ears, eyes, nose, or other body part, it still goes through the same chain of command. First, there is a sensory input be it any kind of external signal. Then our nerve system registers it and either stores it for more than just a moment or deems it useless and forgets it almost immediately. A lot of times we experience exactly that – a person tells us his or her name and we forget it almost instantly due to the lack of concentration and/or desire to remember it (or move it to the short-term memory storage).
Next, as shown, is the short-term memory part of the brain where information stands on yet another crossroad. Should it be stored or forgotten? Well, that is entirely up to you. You can either repeat it, use techniques to remember it or just let go and forget it, literally.
If the initial sensory input survives through all these stages it will get to the final stop of its journey – the section of the brain responsible for the long-term memory. Speaking of brains, let’s take a look at what exactly is going on inside our heads, from a more scientific point of view.
The Anatomy Of Long-Term Memory
When it comes to the actual anatomical structure which is responsible for memory itself, I don’t really have to persuade you that modern neuroscience is still struggling to find a definitive proof of how memory works and figure out an exact model. Still, through an MRI scanner we can figure out which parts take role in the process of remembering.
The cerebral cortex of our brain plays perhaps the most important role when it comes to:
- Perceptual awareness
- Language skills
It has four regions (lobes) which are responsible for different tasks. The one responsible for storing all your memories is the prefrontal part of the cortex. It processes short-term memories and helps the brain retain them for longer periods of time. Another part of the brain responsible for memory is the hippocampus. Its job is to transfer memories from short to long-term memory. It also controls the spatial memory and awareness of a person, as well as the behavior.
Fun fact, the hippocampus is one of the few regions of our nervous system that is capable of creating new neurons and regenerating old ones. This quality is called neuroplasticity.
Now that we are already familiar with what memories are broadly speaking, and where they form and are stored in the brain, let’s move on to the actual way and technique used to store them better…
So, How To Remember?
The answer to this question can be either very simple or very hard. The thing is that, once again, we haven’t evolved to deal with that much information and from that many abstract sources. This is why the modern human needs the help of different techniques to remember, called mnemonics.
Mnemonics, in their most basic form, are something that helps you remember something else. For example, the mnemonic:
“Super Man Helps Every One”
is used by students to remember the Great Lakes listing them from West to East. The first letter of this phrase is also the first letter of the lakes:
- Erie, and
One of the techniques I love the most and also use the most often is called “The mind palace”.
Your Mind Palace
The mind palace technique has been known to scholars for more than two thousand years now. It is one of the fundamental techniques used by memory champions and mental athletes throughout the world.
This method is created by the Greek author Simonides who amidst the rubble of the Greek national bank managed to recreate the whole building and the positions of the people inside of it moments before it collapsed. Then, by carefully guiding the relatives to the places of their loved ones he set the start of a whole new group of people devoting their minds and careers to furthering the methods described as memory techniques in the following decades.
The simplicity of the method is what makes it so convenient and easily accessible by everyone. It consists of having a mind palace which can be anything from a building to a place you are very familiar with, let’s say your childhood’s home. Here is an example of how it works. Let’s say you have a shopping list like this one:
- 1 garlic bread
- Cottage cheese
- Smoked fish
- Canned pickles
- Orange juice
The way our memories work is they embed certain signals further and deeper than others. Simply hearing something might make you remember it but also seeing it, tasting it, smelling it will allow you to create a deeper connection inside your hippocampus. What is even better is that the weirder a memory is and the more it stands out, the more likely it is that you will remember it better. Let me show you what I mean by all this…
So, imagine you walk to your childhood home and at the bottom of the front door you see the garlic bread. You take it in your hands and take a good sniff and later on a small bite from it. You can taste it in your mouth, as it is freshly made and still warm. You then enter the house and see a bucket of cottage cheese but the cheese is pink and the bucket is yellow. Next, you enter the living room and on the table there are lying 3 smoked fish which smell very strong. So strong that you can almost taste the smell in your mouth. On the chair next to the cable you see a broken jar with the pickles being scattered everywhere. A very sad mouse is mourning the loss of so many brave pickles right next to them.
Last and surely not least, you see a tub of orange juice right in the middle of your room once you enter it. It is so big that you easily can fit into it.
Now, tell me… walking back through your apartment, do you see and know where everything is? This is the whole technique. There isn’t anything special to it and memory athletes use it at every competition.
The Right Mind Palace For You
When it comes to the actual mind palace as I said, it can be anything. The more mind palaces you have the better since you will have more places to store your memories. You can create a huge mind palace with different layers of rooms/places in it for some big project of yours.
Remember, the only requirement is that you know the place in great detail and can navigate through it in your mind with ease. If the place isn’t crystal clear to your mind you might lose things you place into it.
Now, let me share a few words on what are perhaps the enemies of your long-term memory.
The Enemies Of Long-Term Memory
Now, I won’t dive into great detail about what and why is just plain damaging to your brain and its capabilities but I feel obliged to at least give you a list of things most people do without realising they are handicapping their brain’s memory strength. Some of those things are:
- Smoking (vaping isn’t shown to be that damaging)
- Drinking excessively (chronic alcoholism)
- Not exercising
- Eating foods with a lot of sugars and having a diet poor on fats
- Not getting enough sleep
Each of these things impairs your ability to think properly and remember things. This is why your first “baby steps” should be towards rectifying your every day life. Once you are done with that, you can move on to actually use mnemonics and techniques to remember more information better.
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What Is The Best Supplement For Short-Term Memory Loss?
Some of the best nootropic supplements one can take to cure or prevent short-term memory loss are:
- Fish Oils
- Ginkgo Biloba
- Bacopa Monnieri
What Vitamins Are Good For memory And Concentration?
Some of the main vitamins which improve brain performance and health are Vitamin B1, B2, B9, B12, C, and D. Those can be either supplemented additionally or taken within a healthy diet. I’ve covered this topic in great detail. You can visit my article by clicking here.
Learning how to improve your long-term memory can be a long process but it will all be worth it in the end. With better memories, our lives seem more full of joy and happy moments as we tend to populate the elapsed time with those exact memories that we would otherwise lose if not using the proper techniques to remember them or we treat our brains badly.