Human memory is known to be unreliable – even if you think you remember the details correctly, it can still let you down at the most inappropriate moment.
We rely on our short-term and long-term memory in almost everything, but it’s not as consistent as we’d like it to be. Its capabilities are very limited, and it gets worse over time. But thanks to science, we have ways to better memorize information and not forget what’s important to us.
We always forget according to a certain pattern. We will not remember much of what we read, watch, think and meet in the world around us.
Research shows that in just one hour we forget about 50% of new information if we do nothing with it. In 24 hours we won’t remember 70%, and if a week passes and knowledge is not used, 90% will be lost.
But sometimes the brain forgets intentionally. It is used to take away what is important and ignore the rest. It sounds illogical, but the mechanism of forgetting is important for the active work of the brain and memory.
In most cases, it is part of the healthy functioning of memory. Scientists assume that forgetting plays a positive role in the brain. It actually contributes to the long-term preservation of information, its extraction and use.
At the end of the XIX century psychologist Hermann Ebbingauz was the first to systematically analyze memory. His contribution to the science of memory was the “curve of forgetfulness”, which explains how, over time, knowledge is less and less held in the brain.
Change memory with time. Vertical axis – hold percentage, horizontal axis – time. Infographics: Knowable Magazine.
Over time, memories may change spontaneously. You may have learned something and then forgotten after a few hours, although you have spent enough time doing it.
Without forgetting, we wouldn’t have any memory at all,” says Oliver Hardt, who studies memory and forgetting at McGill University in Montreal. – It acts like a filter. It sifts out anything the brain thinks is irrelevant.
But we can change the “forget curve” to remember more of what we teach. To do this you have to convince your brain that this is important information, especially if it is a new skill or field of knowledge.
The authors of the Waterloo University report on forgetfulness claim that when you consciously remember something you learned or saw not so long ago, you send a signal to your brain to keep that knowledge. They explain, “When the same thing happens again, your brain says, ‘Oh, again, it is better for me to keep it. When you constantly encounter the same information, it takes less and less time to ‘activate’ it in long-term memory, and it becomes easier for you to extract it when you need it.
By repeating the data you need, you can cope with the “forget curve”. When you quickly review the material several times, pieces of stored information are fixed, not disappear.
Use a spatial effect
One of the methods that can significantly improve information retention is segregated repetition. The method implies that after a while you repeat what you are trying to remember.
For example, when you read a book and you really like it, instead of postponing it, reread it again after a month, then after three months, after six months, and after a year.
By repeating what we learned after a while, we amplify the spatial effect, a phenomenon that describes how our brain learns better when it gets new portions.
“Time-dispersed information is better memorized than the same amount of information read in a row,” say researchers in neurogenesis and spatial effect.
Studying something new displaces the old information if not enough time is allocated to fix the new neural connection. Hermann Ebbingauz once said: “For any significant number of repetitions, the correct distribution of these repetitions over time is definitely more advantageous than their accumulation at one time.
If you spend time every day remembering information, it will significantly reduce the effect of the “forget curve”. This conscious effort will remind your brain that you want to enshrine knowledge in long-term memory.
Use a 50/50 rule
This is another approach to overcoming the “forget curve”. Dedicate 50% of your time to learning something new, and another 50% to sharing that information with others. Research shows that the best way to learn something is to tell it to another person.
Rule 50/50 helps you learn, process, store and memorize information. For example, don’t read the whole book, but go to the middle and remember, tell someone or write down key ideas from it before continuing. Or, even better, share this new knowledge with your audience.
Our brain is more busy now than ever before. We are constantly confronted with facts, pseudo-facts, notifications and rumors. Information overload means we are processing more data than ever before.
The brain constantly determines what to save and what to forget. If you want to increase retention of information, control it and deliberately consolidate new knowledge.