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How to Make Things Stick: The Science of Memory

Working Memory vs. Long Term Memory

We have two types of memory: working memory and long term memory. Working memory deals with things that are currently in our conscious mind, such as the words we are reading at any given moment. On the other hand, long term memory is for remembering things in the long run. Remembering something means that you can recall it from your long term memory.

The Specificity Effect

In all learning, there is a specificity effect. This means that you develop or learn what you practice. Our biggest mistake in learning is thinking that long term memory develops by simply putting something in memory. Yes, we can get something in our working memory by reading or watching, but this doesn’t mean that it will be stored in our long term memory. Long term memory develops by actively recalling something from memory, not just by putting something in.

The Importance of Active Recall

Learning requires effort, and the best way to remember something is through active recall. Just reading something and nodding along doesn’t mean that you will actually remember it without effort. The best way to do active recall is to explain a concept out loud without relying on notes or materials. This requires effort, but it makes the information stick better. Another option is to ask a friend to listen and evaluate if your explanation makes sense or to record yourself with a mobile phone. Simply thinking about how you would explain something is too vague and doesn’t provide the same results.

Association and Stories in Memory

Memory works by association. If we activate a node in our memory, it will activate associated nodes. The more associations we have to something, the easier it is to remember. Another key to making things stick is through stories. Our unconsciousness gives meaning to things through stories. Stories are part of human evolution, and the basic structure of a story has helped us survive. A good story has a subject that we can identify with, a threat that creates tension and grabs our attention, and a resolution that intensifies the tension before releasing it. Stories are efficiently stored in our memory because they give us a powerful emotional lesson about how to manage external threats and get away from them.

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Published in Living Start Writings


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