"How memories are made in brain -
 and how to use it to your advantage"

By Preeti Narayan
Co-author, Success MindwareTM


How does brain remember what you ate for breakfast this morning? Or what you read yesterday?

Well, there are two parts of the brain that play major role in making and storing memories - the hippocampus and the cortex.

The neurons in hippocampus make short term memories while the cortex makes long term memories. What is short term and long term memory?

Short term memories are like passing clouds

Any thing that you remember for 15 or 30 seconds is short term memory. It’s like RAM in computer terminology.

Short-term memory holds the information which we currently use for cognitive tasks such as thinking.  This can be new information delivered by our senses, for example, weather is hot, or it can be old information retrieved from the long-term memory, for example, Ohm’s law that you studied yesterday.

Long term memories are like hard disk

Any memory that can be recalled after 30 seconds is a long-term memory.

This is like the hard disk of the computer which holds information right from your childhood to what you did few minutes back.

Unlike short-term memories, long-term memories have a physical presence in the brain.

Neurons, the brain cells, make new physical connections with each other when a new long-term memory is formed. This connection lasts for longer duration and becomes stronger with repeated use.

Brain makes two copies of memory

Earlier it was thought that first short-term memories are formed, which are then slowly converted into long-term memory.

But research team from US and Japan who conducted research on mice were surprised by a new discovery. (Oh, yeah mice. It has been found that human neural circuit are similar to that of mice. Hence many studies done on mice have been proved applicable to humans also.) They found that memory is made in hippocampus and cortex region simultaneously.

This means, our brain instantly makes two copies of memory for each event - one for the present and another for long term use.

That’s why when you sit out to solve that trigonometry, you remember what you did few seconds back and will also remember it tomorrow… well at least some of it.

Memory does not mean a single ‘thing’

It is made of many elements- smell, images, time, location, sound, touch and feelings.  It’s like a combination of information received from all the senses. These elements of memory are stored in different parts of the brain.

The context of memory such as location and time at which the event took place is stored in hippocampus. Emotions linked to that memory is stored in amagydala.

Similar memories tend to be stored together – visual memories near the visual cortex region of the brain, spoken memories near the language centres and so on. Hence memories are spread in the various parts of the brain just like internet is spread across the world.

This takes us to one more important thing…

Not all information is important in the eyes of your brain

Your brain is very busy and hence it is selective. “Important” things are recorded more readily than routine or incomprehensible things, like an uneventful walk to a shop, or dialogues of a movie in a language you don’t understand.

So if you want top rank in studies, start considering your studies as very important part of your life. Then any activity you do related to studies will be more effectively recorded by your brain

Similarly, if being fit and healthy is your goal then think of it as top priority in your life. Then you will remember to eat on time, exercise regularly.

Are memories permanent?

No. Memories can change over time. Some memories are like hard wired into the brain and they stay with us all our life. Such as the memory of how to move, how to walk, talk, etc. This is due to the fact that we repeatedly used those memories since the time we were babies.

Hence the secret to strong memory is to use it often. Try to recall what is important for you repeatedly or do it often. 

This is how student becomes expert at solving problems - by solving it often. This is also how a person becomes an expert at driving - by driving frequently.

If you give a long gap, your memories become like ‘dusted’ and take longer time to recall.

Here’s one more interesting thing about memory... we all often believe our memories are accurate. But the fact is:

Memories change with time and situation

Take for example, the memory of happy days spent with your neighbour change when you fight with him. 

Memories are flexible, changeable. This nature of memory is used by psychotherapists to cure patients suffering from traumatic injury.  

It is possible to change the memory of an event by going back to that event and changing the way we look at it.

Say once while returning home late at night, you were followed by two evil looking men. You were scared, walked fast and somehow managed to reach a crowded area and escape from those men. Now the memory of this event scares you each time you are alone, especially at night.

You can try to forget it by diverting your attention to something else or you can deal with it head on.

Mentally go back to that night and that place where you were followed. Now instead of feeling scared about what if those men had caught hold of you, think differently. No evil or loss can happen to you because you have protection of God over you. That night also, the hand of God had guided you away from that place. Mentally see that ‘hand’ and feel that there never was any need to get scared during that night. You were never alone. Feel this sense of security.

This kind of repeated ‘rewiring’ of past event can change the memory of that event.

Even students who suffer from exam fear can use this technique

For some students, the mind goes blank when they enter exam hall or see the question paper.

This happens because such students automatically play in their mind the past memories of the time when they could not write answers or when they failed in exam.

Instead of focussing on such negative memories, you can go back to the memory of the time when you solved some questions nicely or some exam in which you performed better. Then in your mind, tell yourself, “See I had written well before, I had passed exams too. If I can do it once, I can do it again.” Feel that sense of victory. When you repeatedly think like this, your exam fear will become weak. You will definitely score more.

To recap it, get the best out of your memory by recalling what you want repeatedly. Think of that task or thing as very important for you. Travel back in your mind to rewire and erase harmful memory which may hold you back from success. Good luck to you!



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