Do you want to improve your memory? Well, you should. It could actually mean that you do better in your studies and in your career. Are you tired of constantly flicking back through the chapter you’re reading or the notes you’ve taken to look up something you can’t quite remember?
That kind of backtracking can feel like a waste of precious time. Luckily, if you find yourself struggling to recall details of meetings or the coursework you studied the day before, there’s no need to despair. With patience and practice you can radically improve your memory by using cognitive behavioural therapy to replace bad learning habits with good ones.
To get started let’s talk about how memory works. Having a poor memory isn’t necessarily an innate biological flaw, it has a lot to do with habit. It requires concerted effort to effectively store information in your long-term memory. There are three stages of memory: encoding, storage and retrieval. The first stage, encoding, is of the utmost importance. Just like there are three stages of memory, there are three ways new information is processed: visually, acoustically and semantically.
For example, if a man named John introduces himself to me I am more likely to remember his name if I repeat it out loud, utilising the acoustic form of processing. Simultaneously, I can look at John while I repeat his name to myself, thus attaching a visual memory to the name. Finally, I silently note that he has the same name as my grandfather and this gives the memory meaning by using semantic coding. I use these memory skills constantly, often with very little effort.
However, by becoming conscious of this process and making a habit of carefully encoding new information it is possible for me to greatly improve my memory. Read Study Smarter, Not Harder: How to Retain More Info In Less Time for more tips.
Try sticking a note on your desk with the words ‘VISUAL, ACOUSTIC, SEMANTIC’ and as you read your textbook make an effort to use all three types of processing to encode what you’re learning.
Good and bad habits
We’ve discussed how memories are encoded. But many students fail to set aside enough time to process and store all this new information. Put simply, learning and memorising takes time and repetition. This is much easier if your study routine becomes habit rather than chore. Every student wants to be that classmate who somehow finds the time to study daily.
But what if rather than being exceptionally driven, they’ve just made studying a habit? A lot of students start a course with the correct intentions, they may even write a weekly schedule that maps out when they will study and for how long. However, a schedule means nothing unless it is adhered to and becomes habit.
It’s common sense that studying regularly and reviewing your progress as you go will lead to improved memory retention. But putting that routine into practice is easier said than done because it will require breaking bad study habits, and putting new habits in place.
A bad habit, for example, is deciding you will study after you’ve watched an episode of your favourite show, which more often than not means getting no work done at all or commencing a study session late at night when you’re already tired. Replace the habit of putting study off with the habit of getting it out of the way. When you arrive home and feel the impulse to sit down in front of the TV for an hour, let that urge remind you that you need to do 20 minutes of reading, writing or reviewing first.
Replacing habits to strengthen memory
Dr Bernard Luskin writes in his article The Habit Replacement Loop: “Habits such as procrastination, absence of focus, impatience or lack of motivation can be intentionally replaced. The fact is, research reveals that our bad habits are most effectively eliminated when replaced by new and different learning habits.”
Poor habits are hard to replace because they’re etched into our neural pathways. So, poor study habits like procrastination and bad habits regarding the encoding of memories will take time to change. Below are some strategies to help you stay committed to the task of improving your memory and replacing bad study habits.
Strategies to improve your memory
Find a buddy: This way you can hold each other accountable.
Reinforcement notes: Write yourself notes reminding yourself of what it is you’re trying to achieve, how you’re going to achieve it and why it’s important. This acting of writing helps reinforce memory.
Find the time: Try choosing a time and a place to practice memory techniques and habit replacement.
Pat yourself on the back: Keep track of your progress and reward yourself!
Daydream: Psycho-visualisation is a useful reinforcement. Closing your eyes and imagining a situation in which you are performing good study habits and embellishing them with enough detail that they are vivid and real will reinforce the imagined scenario as a memory and thus habit.
Commit! At the beginning of a new year a lot of people make commitments and resolutions to be a better person or do things differently in the coming year. Improving your memory is possible, and by replacing bad study habits.
Make your 2019 your year to shine
Be mindful of the psychology of encoding memories you can transform your relationship with learning. Let 2019 be the year you put in the work to replace some bad study habits and utilise your memory as a powerful tool! Keep your brain active by online learning. Check out Upskilled's FAQs section for more information on how online study works, and if it owuld be right for you.