Updated: Jan 31
"Oh, when I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Yeah, I'd always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life”
Summer of 69 by Bryan Adams (click here for the song)
It is definitely an understatement to say that 2020 may not be described as “the best days of our lives”, but what exactly do you remember? Regular readers know that our memories are not like a live 360 video of our day, so what impacts what we recall of the past? As I wrote in a blog a few years ago, (click here for the blog) to remember something you need to:
Hear, see, taste or smell it,
Remember it and
Recall it at a relevant moment.
Why do we sometimes seem to forget things?
“Can it be that it was all so simple then? Or has time re-written every line?”
The Way We Were by Barbara Streisand (click here for the song)
A common reason why we don't remember information is because we didn’t concentrate enough to store it in long term memory. Assuming we have stored the information, forgetting can be the result of different memories interfering with one another. The more similar two or more events are to one another, the more likely interference will occur. In effect the newly acquired information interferes with old memories, or the previously learned information makes it more difficult to form new memories. Finally, information that is actually present in memory, but cannot be recalled unless the right retrieval cues are present. These cues are the elements that were present at the time that the actual memory was encoded.
What can we do to improve our memories?
1. Repeat repeat repeat As with everything there are no silver bullets, never the less, assuming that you have paid adequate attention, one of the best things you can do is rehearse new information in order to better commit it to memory.
“So take the photographs And still frames in your mind Hang it on a shelf In good health and good time”
Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) by Green Day (click here for the song)
Findings show that sleep, promotes memory consolidation, which is associated with information transfer from the hippocampus to the neocortex during sleep. So, a good night sleep after you learn something new is one of the best ways to turn new memories into lasting ones.
3. Write it down
Take a pen and write down what you want to remember, in your own words with your own thoughts, feelings and opinions. Psychologists have found that the physical act of writing things down enhances memory by combining semantic and procedural memory. The greater the cognitive engagement during note taking leads to deeper processing, encoding and better retrieval.
4. Make an emotional connection
“Memory, all alone in the moonlight I can dream of the old days Life was beautiful then I remember the time I knew what happiness was Let the memory live again”
Memory by Barbra Streisand (click here for the song)
Researchers have found that emotional information tends to be easier to recall than neutral information. Regular readers would be aware that savouring an experience strengthens the positive emotional connection with the information. (Click here for the blog on savouring moments).
5. Tell someone else
“Do you remember the time?.. Those sweet memories Will always be dear to me”
Remember The Time by Michael Jackson (click here for the song)
At the beginning of my very first psychology lecture the professor told us that if we take the time to explain the content of every lecture to another person we won’t need to study much at the end of the term. On reflection it seems that he was teaching us about memory, and also about forging connections. Regular readers would also know that appropriately sharing something important is an excellent way to strengthen a relationship. 6. All of the above? Whilst it is not always possible to do everything on this list, sometimes the opportunity presents it self. Coincidently yesterday a client said to me "As I crafted a note to a colleague thanking them for their support at a board meeting I found myself feeling intense joy at both the memory of the experience itself and the opportunity to express my gratitude. This interconnection of gratitude, connection, emotion and achievement will motivate me to be more politely assertive in the future."
A blog on memory would be remiss if it ignored the interference of mental mistakes that impact both our thinking and actions. These “cognitive biases" can lead to us extrapolating information from the wrong sources, seeking to confirm existing beliefs, or failing to remember events the way they actually happened. Awareness of the taxonomy of biases, as well as keeping an open curious perspective will minimise the impact. Whilst it is beneficial to fill our minds with positive memories, especially about 2020, rose coloured glasses and excess optimism is especially problematic in complex business decisions. For a reminder of realistic optimism click here to read my earlier blog.
"When the night has come And the land is dark And the moon is the only light we'll see No I won't be afraid Oh, I won't be afraid Just as long as you stand, stand by me"
Stand By Me by Ben E King (click here for the song)
My memories of 2020 encompass the inspiring achievements of my clients, and the unwavering support of my readers, colleagues, friends and family.
Please email me and tell me how you will remember 2020?
References Baddeley, A. (2012). Working Memory: Theories, Models, and Controversies. Annual Review of Psychology, 63(1), pp.1–29. Nashiro, K., Sakaki, M. and Mather, M. (2012). Age Differences in Brain Activity during Emotion Processing: Reflections of Age-Related Decline or Increased Emotion Regulation? Gerontology, 58(2), pp.156–163. Mueller, P.A. and Oppenheimer, D.M. (2014). The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard. Psychological Science, 25(6), pp.1159–1168. Jonker TR, Seli P, Macleod CM. Less we forget: retrieval cues and release from retrieval-induced forgetting. Mem Cognit. 2012;40(8):1236–1245. doi:10.3758/s13421-012-0224-2 Verywell Mind. (n.d.). The Psychology of Forgetting and Why Memory Fails. [online] Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/forgetting-about-psychology-2795034#citation-11 [Accessed 7 Dec. 2020]. Darby KP, Sloutsky VM. The cost of learning: Interference effects in memory development. J Exp Psychol. 2015;144(2):410–431. doi:10.1037/xge0000051 Gui, W., Wang, P., Lei, X., Lin, T., Horta, M., Liu, X. and Yu, J. (2018). Sleep facilitates consolidation of positive emotional memory in healthy older adults. Memory, 27(3), pp.387–396. Rasch B, Born J. About sleep's role in memory. Physiol Rev. 2013;93(2):681-766. doi:10.1152/physrev.00032.2012 Sparrow, B., Liu, J. and Wegner, D.M. (2011). Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips. Science, [online] 333(6043), pp.776–778. Available at: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2011/07/13/science.1207745 [Accessed 3 Apr. 2019].