It is said that at any one time the conscious mind can only retain seven plus or minus two bits of information. This means that for most of us remembering a list of five items is relatively easy, seven items is a little more challenging, and nine items is likely quite difficult. It is for this reason that if you already know the area code, remembering a phone number can be straight forward, but if you don’t, and the number is 10 digits, it can get tricky.
But of course that’s just one form of memory, conscious memory, short-term storage, the human equivalent of a computer’s RAM. Our short-term memory, like the RAM of a computer is designed to fulfill a specific purpose, ultimately to remember that which is most important for us to remember right now. It means that when more important information comes to mind that the less important information, like the area code of that phone number, is discarded.
Our long-term memory, however, the human equivalent of a computer’s permanent storage, the hard disk, is a different concept altogether. As far as we know, unlike that hard disk that has a limited storage capacity, our long-term memory’s are thought to have limitless capacity. This means that once information has been stored, it is stored indefinitely. But unlike short-term memory which when stored is easy to recall (it’s only 5-9 bits), the challenge with long-term memory is being able to access that information when we need it.
Now. While most of us understand these concepts too few of us are ever taught ways to utilize our memories. When we understand the basis of memory there are simple concepts that we can utilize to manage our minds. Based on this one principle alone – that our short- memories have limited capacity and our long-term memories are infinite – here are three simple concepts that you can utilize to improve your life.
- Memory: The trick to retaining short-term information is to convert it to a form that shifts the association to long-term memory. For instance, simple memory tricks such as creating acronyms (e.g. NAMBLA) to remember a short-list or creating a linking list (or song) to say remember how many days are in each month or creating a list of memory pegs to attach to a list of items. These are simple memory techniques you can easily learn and practice. They’ll help you in your life and people will think you’re a genius.
- Reading: They say that three weeks after reading the average person recalls only five percent of a book. Why? Because the average person reads in such a way that only a small portion of the book is ever processed from short-term to long-term memory. Why? Because memories are encoded according to interest and most people read so slowly that their minds get bored and wander. You can get serious about improving your reading recall by learning to read (e.g. studying reading systems) or practice on your own simply by reading with intent, attention, focus, concentration.
- Change work, changing behaviors: Emotional trauma is often associated to events that we don’t remember consciously, but with timeless clarity we remember unconsciously in our long-term memories. Take phobias, for instance. While many of us are aware we are afraid of heights, elves, aliens, spiders, flying, etc. it is often the case that we don’t remember the event that led to the phobia. Why? Because memories are not encoded according to events, but according to emotional associations with those events. So, how do we change? We can re-remember the event and bring the pain of the trauma back into our conscious minds, as traditional therapy might do, or we can make it easy and leave it unconscious and change the emotional association to the memory, as a hypnotist might do.