Manage your way to better information recall


POSTED: Monday, February 08, 2010

How is your memory? When was the last time you forgot something important? Are you having more “;senior moments”;?

In today's fast-paced world, “;senior moments”; don't happen only to the elderly. With so much going on and so much to remember, even young adults and children are prone to forgetfulness.

The good news, according to Harold Taylor, time management expert and author of “;Managing Your Memory,”; is that most people don't have poor memories—they simply fail to use the memory capacity with which they were born. They fail to manage their memories.

To better manage memory, Taylor offers the acronym “;A.I.R.”;—attention, interest and repetition.

ATTENTION: The first step is to acquire the power of observation. At a workshop I attended, the audience was asked what color the common “;Yield”; road sign was. I (and most of the audience) thought it was red and white. The correct answer: yellow and black! I have seen that sign hundreds of times, but I obviously wasn't paying full attention. We cannot remember what we don't observe!

Paying attention also applies to listening. Active listening is vital to good memory.

INTEREST: Taylor writes that we must be interested in things we need to remember. In “;Brain Rules”; author John Medina says, “;we don't pay attention to boring things.”; If something is important for you to remember, think of a way to make it interesting to you. If you are a teacher or speaker, your presentation must be interesting for it to be remembered.

REPETITION: There are two types of memory: Short term and long term. It takes effort and repetition to convert short-term to long-term memory. Medina devotes two brain rules to repetition: “;Repeat to remember”; and “;Remember to repeat.”;

He writes that people usually forget 90 percent of what they learn in a class within 30 days, and the majority of this forgetting occurs within the first few hours after class. The good news is that we can increase the life span of a memory simply by repeating the information at timed intervals. And spaced learning is greatly superior to massed (crammed) learning.

I remember seeing one of my sons, then in eighth grade, cramming for an exam the next day. I suggested that next time he start studying earlier because, as I put it, “;the more times the information flies by your brain, the more sinks in.”;

He didn't listen, but later, when I saw him studying for a different exam, I asked, “;Do you have a test tomorrow?”; He said, “;No, it's not until next week, but the teacher said that we should start studying now because the more times we review it, the more we'll remember.”; He didn't remember me telling him that!

Studies show that if you hear something three times a day for eight days, after 30 days, 90 percent is retained. That seems like an easy, painless way to learn!

About 20 years ago I used to jog three miles along the Pearl Harbor bike path, and I set a goal to memorize a verse or verses from every chapter of Psalms. So I combined jogging with memorizing. I ran carrying index cards bearing the verses. I had memorized verses from 46 chapters when I stopped jogging. I stopped memorizing, too, but recently wondered how many verses I could still remember. To my surprise, I could recite verses from the first 34 chapters! All that repetition had seared them into long-term memory!

In my next column, I'll share some tips to help you memorize smarter, not harder. Meanwhile, don't forget to “;A.I.R.”;! See you in two weeks!