• Woman holds round chips in front of her eyes.

    Forget me not – How we can train our memory.

    In the forgetful century, brain jogging and other tricks are lending the memory a helping hand.

    Text: Claudio Rimmele

Ask Google.

We’re all familiar with the scenario: a group of friends are sat around the table merrily chatting away. Until suddenly one of them asks: “What’s the name of that actor who was in the film with the iceberg?” Without hesitation, one of the group pulls out their smartphone, Googles the question and has the answer in no time at all. And no-one in the group had to dig deep into their memory to find the answer.

Woman does memory training with smartphone.
Woman playing with smartphone.

Do we still need our memory?

This everyday occurrence is now known as the Google effect or digital amnesia. Fewer and fewer people are memorising actual facts, telephone numbers and addresses that they do not need every day; instead, they just know where the required information can be found when needed. The cause of this trend, say scientists, is the everyday use of smartphones, combined with the internet and readily available information. Results of surveys show, for example, that half of all 16- to 34-year-olds have all their important information stored on their phone or can retrieve it via their phone. It seems as if there is virtually no reason to memorise anything any more. Welcome to the forgetful 21st century! Many studies indicate that the digital revolution has fundamentally changed our thought patterns – and consequently our memories too. But what do we mean by the term “memory” and why is the memory so important for our general well-being?

Identity-forming function.

Memory is one of the key cornerstones of human consciousness and personality. Without memory, past, present and future become blurred, real experiences indistinct from dreamed ones. So it’s no surprise that memory research is one of the most important fields of research in psychology and neurology. Investigations focus on the different types of memory: short- and long-term memory, auditory, visual and motor memory as well as procedural and episodic memory. A distinction is even made between the memory for the past, the retrospective memory, and the prospective memory for the future. Only in this way are we able to tell whether an event is yet to take place or whether it has already been and gone.

Woman does memory training with book.
Woman does memory training with book.

A boost for self-confidence.

Whilst the health aspects of physical activity are obvious, training for our mental performance and powers of concentration is often underrated. However, a good memory is a crucial resource in many areas of life. Remembering the birthdays of family and friends on time, recognising the face of a distant acquaintance or even effortlessly linking back to the last discussion you had with a business contact are all conducive to an active social life.

A sense of control and order.

Having a good memory also gives us a sense of control and order. For example, if you know where the tax documents are that you haven’t needed for the last six months, you will be less stressed and situations encountered in your day-to-day life will be less frustrating. When it comes to professional success, having a good memory could even be said to be indispensable. Hurdles that have been encountered previously are anticipated the next time round and years of professional experience ensure better foresight and decision-making ability. Last but not least, a good memory boosts our personality structure and our self-confidence. Instead of being unnerved over and over again by challenges, we remember vividly which hurdles we have already overcome and face new tasks with more self-confidence.

A woman trains her memory on a blackboard.
  • Woman does memory training.

Tips for amnesiacs.

The starting point for a better memory is a healthy brain and an accompanying healthy lifestyle. Having a balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts and fish is just as important for a healthy brain as it is for a healthy body. But if you’d like to do more, why not try committing the following advice to memory:

- Creative hobbies: learn new languages, a musical instrument or perhaps an exotic dancing style. They are all challenges which are fun to do and which enhance both our motor memory and our visual and verbal memory in different ways.

- Sleep smart: people who do not sleep well can also lose memory recall capacity. Doctors recommend at least seven hours of sleep per night and regular sleep times to allow the short- and long-term memory to recover.

- Diversity in social contact: having a variety of different social contacts keeps your mind fit. Especially if you actively interact with different groups of friends.

A diverse range of opinions, thoughts and lifestyles takes our retentiveness to the next level.

- Sport is also good for the mind: studies have proven that a regular workout also has a knock-on effect on memory performance. Happily, though, you do not need to run a marathon to feel the benefits. Just a 30-minute walk is enough to rejuvenate both mind and body.
- Brain jogging on the move: a number of good brain jogging apps, such as Peak or Elevate, can now be downloaded to a smartphone or tablet. Their game-like features ensure that the good old memory gets a fun workout.
- Discover your own tricks: unless it’s a genuinely fun thing to do, you soon lose motivation to do memory training. So it’s worthwhile defining which challenges you personally find enjoyable. Rather than brain jogging, would you instead prefer to memorise the telephone numbers of your best friends, for example? If so, then why not?
Woman does memory training with book.

The memory mystery.

For many researchers, our memory remains a great mystery. Why is it that some people can memorise entire city skylines at one glance and produce detailed drawings of them afterwards, while others have trouble remembering their partner’s birthday? One thing is certain: the memory works like a muscle. With the aid of training, challenges, good nutrition and sleep, it will grow and can perform true miracles. So it’s worth resisting the temptations of Google and your smartphone every now and then, instead favouring a rummage around in your own memory. Even if it’s just for trivial things. Incidentally, it was Leonardo DiCaprio who played the lead role in “Titanic” – something that cannot be easily forgotten. Especially by the generation that grew up without mobile phones.