Don’t you wish you could have a personal assistant to help you remember the things you need? Though, it is likely that technology will continue to develop in such a fashion that eventually, we may have an electronic assistant in the future. For example, imagine the stress and frustration of misplacing your keys. In the near future, all you may need to do is shout-out in your ‘smart house’, “Alexia where are my keys?”
As we continue to create devices to help improve our lives, I am curious about the implications of outsourcing our brain’s ability to think and remember.
Our brain is the most important and complex organ in our body. It is the instrument that receives information about the physical environment, then the brain stores this material, and creates a perception of ourselves and the world. This skill is mostly performed unconsciously, without our awareness of the complexity of neurochemical signals and relays that occur throughout our brain. Also, you need your brain to focus on what is important, such as doing a great job at work, pushing oneself to complete a difficult hike or run, or play a challenging piece of music. In these skills, the brain needs the ability to focus and become aware and conscious. So, the brain naturally functions between different states of awareness and alertness from consciousness attention to unconscious activities.
In psychology and counseling psychology, there are skills and practices that you can cultivate to enhance your memory and the brain’s thinking power. (Also, you can perform these skills without ‘memory enhancing drugs’.) There are some psychological methods to assist us to become better learners. These life-skills are especially important for many of my clients, who are working professionals, and want to develop methods of personal improvement.
Psychologists look at memory and memory research as a process system that encodes, stores and retrieves information which is very similar to and analogous with computer systems. For instance, let’s look at encoding. Encoding is a process of sending information into memory. Encoding is also the term used by cognitive psychologists to define and describe the process of receiving information from our environment (through our thoughts and senses) and translating this information through a network of neurological codes which your brain processes.
It has been shown through good research that the more effective we are at encoding, there is an increased likelihood of retrieving information when we need it. The key ingredient that facilitates memory is meaningfulness, also referred to as effortful processing. In other words, you are intentionally encoding. To encode and remember, you need conscious attention- the ability to think.
So, when you need to memorize something, before you hunker down and work - stop - then, take note of your sensory experiences. Specifically, what do you see . . . what do you hear? Pause, note the sounds, and the environmental surroundings of the place you are in.
Or, if you are a thinking or feeling type, become aware of what a recent thought, or your feeling state.
These techniques are based on what is referred to as the encoding specificity principal which states that memory is enhanced when conditions presented during retrieval, matches those that were present during encoding (Tulving & Thomson 1973).
So next time you need to recall and remember something important, take a moment to stop, or pause. Then, note the context, the environment, your mood, and thoughts. Think about where you were when you encoded the information, the sights, sounds, the space, all the sensory details. This psychological technique may assist you during times when you are having trouble with recalling something particular.
Also, when you stop, think, remember, you are engaging a part of the neo cortex, the part of the brain which holds the executive function. This is the part of the brain has the ability to express oneself in a coherent, centered, and holistic manner.
Tulving, E., &Thomson, D. M. (1973). Encoding specificity and retrieval processes in episodic memory. Psychological Review, 80, 352–373.
Image: “A woman writing about memories of places visited.” (1850). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.