Tips on how to maintain your memory


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Keeping a diary not only helps you process the things that happen to you, but also helps keep your memories more active in your mind. — dpa

Passwords, birthdays, memories: Our brain stores countless pieces of information every day.

But where does it actually end up?

While some experiences, names and dates seem to disappear forever, there are some things we just can’t get out of our heads.

So why do we remember some things, but forget others? How do you manage to keep a new PIN in your head?

To better understand memory and be able to train yourself to forget less, it helps to know that there are two types of memory.

Most people tend to distinguish between short and long-term memory.

And that’s basically how it’s done in science, except that short-term memory is referred to as working memory.

Information is stored for up to 30 seconds, explains Karl-Heinz Baeuml, Professor of Developmental and Cognitive Psychology at the University of Regensburg in Germany.

Anything beyond these 30 seconds falls into long-term memory.

“It’s helpful to imagine long-term memory as a memory with millions of entries,” explains Prof Baeuml.

What is retrieved from it at a certain point in time depends on external factors, e.g. where you are, and internal factors, such as your emotional state.

Whether we can remember something well or not depends on whether it seems relevant to us and whether it touches us emotionally.

For example, someone who’s interested in physics and already knows a thing or two about it will find it easier to remember new information on the subject than someone who has no idea about physics.

According to the professor, memories can “disappear”, although this is rather rare.

“The vast majority of entries haven’t been deleted, just switched to passive mode,” he says.

They might be able to be found again with certain key stimuli, as he explains.

Music, for example, often awakens memories, or smells can bring back what is supposedly forgotten.

“The best tip is to try to refresh the contents of your memory from time to time,” advises Prof Baeuml, “by trying to remember them yourself.”

Writing a diary, sharing your experiences with friends, looking at photo albums – this all helps to keep memories “active”.

Conversations with others are of course not well-suited to remembering sensitive data such as the PIN to your bank card.

But there are other tricks you can use, as Margit Ahrens from the German Association for Memory Training explains.

With such important information, you need to be able to anchor the memory entry so that you can always actively access it.

“The brain thinks in pictures,” she explains.

She advises storing symbols in your memory for the numbers zero to nine and to remember your PIN with a story.

The expert explains this using the PIN 1234 as an example.

The number one is stored as a lighthouse, two as a swan, three as a tricycle and four as a cloverleaf.

These stored symbols are then combined into a story to help remember the PIN, e.g. the swan circles around the lighthouse on the tricycle with a cloverleaf in its mouth.

“Everything I want to keep, I have to connect with a picture,” says Ahrens.

But that’s not always possible, e.g. when learning new words.

Here, the memory trainer advises you to use one of your other senses.

So, instead of just reading the words silently, you should also say them out loud.

“It works even better if you take the book in your hand and walk around the room with it,” she says. – dpa

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