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Preserving Memory: A 20 Minute Trick to Keep Your Memory Sharp

Darren is an aspiring writer who wishes to share or create stories to the world and bring humanity together as one. A massive Star Wars nerd and history buff, he finds enjoyable, heart-warming or interesting subjects in any written media.
Published: May 5, 2022
Train your brain to remember almost anything. While complicated and mysterious, the mind is capable of more than you might imagine. (Image: Helena Lopes via Pexels)

Memory is essential for learning, connecting with the past, and basically getting through the day. If your memory is not sharp, you might miss out on so many things; but that’s not to say you can’t fix it. Preserving memory may be as simple as a weekly routine.

Memories naturally fade with time if they are not used, yet a century-old trick has recently surfaced that enables one to refresh and preserve the memory continuously; with a simple 20 minute habit.

The Forgetting Curve

To learn the trick of remembrance, we should take a look at the process of forgetting. One scientist was able to conceptualize a graph that showcases how much we forget through the passage of time.

German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909) experimented on the ability to remember, using himself as a subject. Citing several “nonsense syllables,” he tried to remember them after varied lengths of time. From his findings, Ebbinghaus created a graph dubbed the Forgetting Curve. 

preserving-memory-wikimedia-commons
A week-based interpretation of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve, estimating the rate of memory loss. Based on this chart, a simple trick was developed for preserving memory. (Image: Educ320 via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

The chart documents how quickly memories wither. When something is not reviewed shortly after learning it, we forget more and more with the passage of time. 

There is a sharp drop at the beginning of the Forgetting Curve, which only happens if we fail to review the content, a key factor in memory loss. If you complete a lesson, but don’t take the time to look back at what you learned; soon enough, the content will become more and more difficult to recall.

Ebbinghaus also found that things are much easier to remember if they have meaning. Those nonsensical syllables were a good test to determine whether interest played any role in remembering. Things that don’t hold your interest or that don’t make sense to you, may be very difficult to retain.

Here, Ebbinghaus found that presentation can help you overcome this hurdle. If something does not interest you, but the topic is presented to you in a meaningful way, it can capture your attention, and aid your memory. A lingering business presentation may be dull to listen to, but presentation slides and charts can make the information easier to grasp.

Other factors are physiological, such as stress and sleep. The more stressed you are, the harder it is to remember things, potentially causing more stress. With sleep and relaxation, your mind will be at ease and the brain will be better able to process information.

Remembering everything

In short, we tend to forget things if we do not look back at them soon after experiencing them. The longer the delay, the sooner those things are forgotten completely.

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Ebbinghaus’s curve inspired a practice that can help one remember things faster and more effectively. 

The practice is called spaced intervals. This is when you look back at what you have learned in a unique pattern that allows us to remember things with less and less time.

Within 24 hours after learning something, you should take ten minutes to review the content. This will help raise the curve in the graph back up to the top. After a week, take about five minutes to “reactivate” the same subject and you will get the curve back up again. At the end of the month, you will be able to “reactivate” the subject with far less time.

After a month, you will be able to remember your subject with great ease. Repeat the process again and you will continue to keep it in your head for a long time.

Taking notes is the first step to remembering. If you have nothing to review, the content will eventually be lost. (Image: hdptcar via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Does it work?

In an article on GetPocket, Scott Mautz tells how he tested the practice with material from a keynote conference. 

In one keynote that Mautz attended, he took no notes, and thus had nothing to review. Eventually, he started to forget everything from the conference—even though the subject interested him. But with his second keynote, at which he took copious notes, he adhered to the spaced interval review pattern; and managed to remember almost everything about it.

Mautz advised his readers not to “cram” for knowledge. Instead, they should use the spaced intervals trick and retain the information over time.

So, if you have an upcoming exam that you need to prepare for, or you need to make a presentation without notes, give the spaced interval practice a try. Review your notes in consistent, well-spaced times, and your mind will be able to process and retain information for when you need it.