I recently had a fascinating conversation with Tansel Ali, a renowned memory expert and the author of The Yellow Elephant: Improve Your Memory and Learn More, Faster, Better, on the impact of memory on stress management.
We explored the intricate relationship between stress and memory and how they complement each other. What kind of impact does stress have on our memory? Many people mistakenly believe that memorization involves repetitive and stressful practices, unaware of alternative approaches. This is where memory techniques play a vital role, in providing effective solutions.
Utilizing the Power of Storytelling for Memory Enhancement
In essence, memory techniques operate as a narrative tool. For instance, when faced with the task of remembering the name “Tansel,” one might create an association by visualizing tinsel wrapped around his head, thereby constructing a memorable image and a brief story. Such vivid imagery tends to leave a lasting imprint. Similarly, someone might remember my name by connecting “Barbara” with “barbed wire,” employing these visual cues as memory triggers. Memory techniques function by linking these triggers to narratives. But how does this relate to stress?
During times of stress, our ability to concentrate can falter due to anxiety and nervousness. Memory techniques can effectively address this issue. By attaching stories to our memories, we naturally develop narratives that are often stress-inducing for negative experiences. However, employing the right techniques allows us to alter these narratives. The key is to weaken the negative story while simultaneously connecting a more positive and future-focused story to our memories. By utilizing appropriate memory techniques, we can substitute negative narratives with positive ones. It is even possible to use memory techniques to intentionally forget certain things.
Reframing Negative Memories
When an individual experiences PTSD, they often attach highly negative narratives to visual cues. However, memory techniques offer a way to weaken the association between these triggers and the accompanying story. Tansel provided an excellent example to illustrate this concept.
Imagine you break your arm. The memory of the activity leading to the fracture, along with the pain and discomfort, naturally forms a negative story. Employing memory techniques can help diminish the impact of this story. One approach is to visualize everything associated with the memory in shades of grey, gradually reducing the size of the mental image. Eventually, the visual recollection of the activity becomes minuscule and fades into insignificance, making the visual triggers connected to the story weaker.
Next, it’s important to identify your priorities, whether they involve work, personal life, or any other aspect. Now, when you think about these priorities, vividly visualize them in vibrant colors. Essentially, you are reversing the process used with the negative triggers. Through this practice, you will notice a significant shift in your mindset, subsequently influencing your actions and thoughts. With consistent effort, you not only enhance your memory but also transform negative stories into positive ones.
Secrets of the Mind
The technique known as the Method of Loci, commonly referred to as the Memory Palace, is a powerful cognitive strategy that enhances memory retention. This method involves mentally traversing a designated path from one location to another while associating specific items or information with each location. For instance, you can imagine yourself navigating through your house, assigning each area along the route as a location. Starting at the front fence, you progress to the front door, and then proceed to the couch, sequentially connecting items to these locations. The key is to choose locations in a systematic order and personalize them according to your preferences. Tansel, for instance, has around 60 locations within his home as part of his Memory Palace, but you can adapt the number of locations to suit your needs.
Once you establish the locations within your Memory Palace, you can then link and memorize items or concepts to each location. For example, if you have a speech to deliver, you can create imaginative stories associated with each location to represent different aspects of your talk. For instance, you may visualize yourself engaging in conversation with your front fence or shaking its hand. The more vivid and eccentric the stories, the easier they are to recall. By attaching these visual narratives to specific locations in your Memory Palace, you effectively anchor the elements of your speech within the corresponding locations.
To maximize the effectiveness of this technique for memory improvement, imagination plays a crucial role. Allow yourself to generate extraordinary and graphic stories that connect to the locations within your Memory Palace. By associating the items you need to remember with these imaginative stories, you create a memorable link that enhances recall. Generic or mundane stories are less likely to be retained in memory.
In practice, you simply revisit the locations within your Memory Palace to retrieve the associated stories and, consequently, the information you wish to remember. The locations act as triggers, facilitating the recollection of the specific items or concepts assigned to them. This method operates similar to organizing files in folders on a computer—you know which files are stored in each folder. Similarly, in your mental routes or Memory Palaces, you organize and retrieve information.
According to Tansel, the Memory Palace technique is more reliable than attempting to create a single continuous story to remember multiple items. If you forget a particular link or segment in a story, you may struggle to recall the remaining parts. In contrast, within a Memory Palace, you can assign multiple items to a single location. Therefore, even if you forget the stories associated with a particular location, you can still remember the items connected to subsequent locations. Tansel believes that with practice, the utilization of a Memory Palace enhances problem-solving skills and decision-making abilities over time.
Recently, I came across an intriguing article that delved into the stress we experience when we forget everyday things. One example cited was the frustration of locating our parked car in a large parking lot. The article suggested that our lack of mindfulness and observation skills contributes to these forgetful moments. We often fail to utilize visual cues and create memorable stories that would help us remember important details. As a result, we struggle to retain information that will serve us later.
When discussing this topic with Tansel, he wholeheartedly agreed. He believes that memory is closely linked to mindfulness. By cultivating greater awareness of our surroundings and being observant, we activate our ability to employ memory techniques effectively. Research indicates that we check our phones approximately every 7 minutes.
Unfortunately, this constant phone usage detracts from our mindfulness. When boredom sets in, we instinctively seek distractions to escape it, often without considering the mindful alternative. These distractions have become increasingly automated and less conducive to being present in the moment. This is a pattern we must change.
It’s important to note that even if someone possesses a wealth of memory-enhancing techniques, their effectiveness will be limited if they lack mindfulness and observation skills. Therefore, to truly benefit from memory techniques, we must cultivate a mindful and observant mindset.
Embracing Memory Freedom
You don’t have to bear the weight of remembering everything on your own. There are various tools available to assist you in remembering important information, allowing you to free up valuable brain space for more significant matters. Utilizing tools such as your phone’s reminder feature can be helpful for setting alerts for tasks like bill payments, doctor’s appointments, and more. By offloading these memory tasks to external aids, you can reserve your mental energy for more essential endeavours.
When discussing this perspective with Tansel, he emphasizes that it’s essential to prioritize and allocate your attention appropriately. Each person has their own preferred methods for managing information effectively. Tansel suggests that while memorization can be time-consuming, it should be considered a last resort. He doesn’t rely on memory techniques daily, but finds them particularly useful in specific situations, such as memorizing a book. He also acknowledges that there are alternative skills that can be just as effective as memory techniques.
Ultimately, Tansel believes that your approach to memory should align with your specific goals, the capacity of your brain, and your energy management. Understanding how memory fits into your daily life and optimizing its usage is key. In fact, some memory techniques can be counterproductive if not applied correctly. Overusing these techniques in an attempt to enhance memory can hinder your overall cognitive function. Tansel emphasizes the importance of allowing your mind to relax and not overwhelming it with an excessive number of thoughts. Don’t let the memories you’re trying to carry become burdensome.
Strategies for Enhancing Memory
Tansel began his journey into memory improvement in 2002, starting with a simple Google search. He discovered a plethora of memory techniques and information online, including his own videos and articles on the topic. However, simply learning these techniques is not enough. It’s crucial to put them into practice and embrace the learning process, even if you encounter failures along the way. Through consistent effort, you’ll witness a noticeable difference in your memory.
One effective approach is to convert the things you want to learn into engaging stories. By connecting specific words or details to different parts of the story, you create associations that aid in memory retention. Another helpful tip is to link important words to the concepts you want to remember.
By exploring online resources, practicing regularly, and employing storytelling techniques, you can unlock the full potential of your memory. Enjoy the journey as your memory becomes sharper and more reliable.
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About the Author
Her professional experience has included contracts with small business, Not For Profits, Aboriginal Organisations, Media, Marketing, Aged Care, Universities, Health Services and Cruise Ships