Working memory is like a white board in your head. It’s a workspace, populated by new information we are learning, and old information we are currently using.  We pull together all the stuff we need for the problem at hand, into one place in our head.  So the question at hand is this – how do we make sure that the stuff on the whiteboard doesn’t get erased?

What helps us convert our short-term memory into long-term storage? There are a few ways to help make lasting memories:

  • Repetition is one of the mainstays of creating long-term memories. It’s also the technique most of us are familiar with – from late night cram sessions at school.  For those who struggle with remembering the names of people they have just met, repetition of the name can move it from short term to long-term memory.
  • The presence of strong emotion helps create memory. If we can infuse the situation with emotion (any emotion other than anger will do the trick) we can remember more. Studies show that the process of anger actually interferes with our ability to listen, and form memories.
  • Patterns are helpful. Most of us can sing songs we learned in childhood, even if we have not heard them in decades. The music and rhyme are patterns that trigger memory.
  • If you link new information you are learning to old information you already know the odds of improving retention go up.  The greatest impediment to memory is the lack of context. If we add the context of already remembered data, and we can rapidly assimilate new information.

Creating long-term memories from our working memory requires a little work, but if we know more about the process we can improve our performance.  Let’s make a few memories this weekend!