How Memory Works

And 3 Tips to Improve Your Memory Quickly

The Science of How Memory Works
The Science of How Memory Works

Memories make us truly human. Memories make us who we are. Though some of the physiology and neurology in the processes of memory are highly complex, the more you know about it, the better you'll understand how you can improve it. Here's an overview of how your memory functions:

How do we form memories? There are three main stages involved in memory: encoding, storage, and recall. Your senses — taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing — linked with emotion are the raw ingredients for making memories. When we have experiences, our mind processes these raw ingredients to form memories, whether it be through consciously focusing on something (like studying) or subconsciously creating neurological associations (your brain attaching emotional significance to new information).

When your brain processes experiences, it creates new neuronal connections throughout the brain. These neurons communicate through synaptic connections by sending electrical pulses between cells. This is where all the activity in your brain happens. These are the building blocks of how memory works.

When these connections are made between brain cells, they aren't set in stone — they change constantly. With each new experience, your brain forms new connections and your brain slightly rewires. The brain’s ability to change its actual physical structure is called “brain plasticity” or neuroplasticity.

Encoding is the first step to creating a memory. Encoding is when your brain attaches meaning or factual knowledge to any of the sensory inputs. Studies show that we remember things better and retain them longer when we associate meaning to them. There are three main ways in which events and new information can be encoded: visual (picture), acoustic (sound), and semantic (meaning).

Storage is the next step in memory. Research suggests that our brain doesn’t store memories in complete, exact recollections that it can simply retrieve, but stores memories in small bits scattered in different areas of the brain.

Recall is when your brain retrieves a memory. During recall your brain reconstructs the memory from the smaller stored pieces. When you remember something, it's not an exact “replay” of the experience. It’s more like a creative reimagination. That's why memories can change over time. When your brain recalls the memory it stimulates nerve pathways created when the memory was formed. Repeatedly recalling information helps strengthen those connections and memories.

Now that we have an understanding of how memory works, we can use that understanding to help improve your memory with easy-to-implement lifestyle changes. Below are three tips to improve your memory.

#1 The Power of Music on the Brain

Music is one of the easiest activities that you can do to stimulate every part of the brain. Research has shown that music can improve sleep, enhance mood, foster learning, help manage stress, and strengthen memory. It’s even been shown to reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and even physical pain. One study finds that Mozart enhances the activity of genes involved in memory. Music can even help dementia patients recall memories and emotions, according to a study by Music and Memory. For more brain enhancing music options, check out, The Brain Warrior’s Way Music Program by Barry Goldstein.

#2 Regular Physical Exercise Boosts the Brain

Nothing promotes neuronal growth more than exercise. Research shows that exercise preserves and grows brain matter. Multiple studies show that exercise can help reduce the risk of developing memory problems, prevent cognitive decline and stave off dementia, while helping improve memory, thinking, attention, accuracy, and how quickly you process information.

But not all activities are created equal. The best brain exercises break your routine, teach you something new, and challenge you to use and develop new brain pathways. Only the correct exercises increase your chances of improving cognitive functions within parameters, including time of exercise and style of exercise.

#3 Improve Your Memory by Eating Right

What we eat and don’t eat, not only directly affects our bodies, but has a direct affect on our brains. Of course, some foods are better for your brain than others. To help keep your brain healthy, I recommend fresh foods like: fruits, vegetables, fish whole grains, nuts and heart-healthy fats like avocados or olive oil. For general guidelines also increase your fiber intake, eliminate sugar and foods that quickly turn to sugar, avoid meats raised with hormones and antibiotics, and for great recipes check out my wife Tana’s website

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