Memories are in a constant state of change, they start to corrode as soon as they begin to formulate. You can’t count your memories, but if there was a way that you could, then you would find that more than half of the things that happen to you are no longer accessible after an hour. This is why when you learn, you must constantly and continuously go over the information as you progress.
It has been found that memories, while hardly set in stone, can be retained. All memories grow weaker as time goes on, but the more you review them the more that the rate of degeneration lessens. The best time to review a memory is right before it disappears. Since your memory tends to get stronger each time you go over information, the times you need to review will increase rampantly. To improve your memory, you should review immediately after reading or studying material, then again in a few minutes, an hour or two later, a week, a month, then three months, etc. Spaced repetition is an extremely effective way to learn and retain new materials.
This time frame of forgetfulness, is helpful in explaining why we will most times forget everything we went over while cramming for a test. Since all the learning you have done for the exam took place in a week or so, and is not then reviewed it will start to disappear from your memory after a month.
A great memory improvement tip is to be practice retrieving them. Active testing is a helpful way to ensure that you retain your memories, it solidifies them in your mind, strengthening the memories much more than passively reviewing materials. You would think that someone telling you that George Bush was the 41st president would be an effective way of keeping that information, but someone asking the question “Who was the 41st president of the United States?”, causes a chain reaction causing you to help cement the pathways to the material in question. Actively retrieving the answer is more effective than just reviewing something already written down in front of you.
When your brain searches for a memory while you are being tested you will rediscover that memory in a way that reinforces it. Think of it like climbing the stairs to the top of a building vs. taking an elevator. You still get to enjoy the view, but by climbing you have actually accomplished something. Neuroscience most recent findings suggest that when you fall asleep, the brain uses this time to select what you will be able to recall in the long term. This makes studying right before bedtimes the most effective means of extending memories.
A good memory technique to practice is one that will let you “find” knowledge that seems to have gone missing. We have all experience the problem of trying to access what should be a familiar memory, such as a book title or the name of an actor and come up with nothing and confused about why. Interestingly enough, this is prone to occur with information or material that we KNOW that we know.
You have to remember that your memory is a constant jumbled chaotic web of information. Crisscrossed, intermixed superimposed images and experiences thrown together like a tangled, wild jungle. The real miracle is that you remember anything at all. There are ways however, that you can be able to locate these missing memories. Memories are not individual units of information, there are many facets to a memory, who was there, the time, what you were doing when you obtained the information and so on. These are all ways of prodding your brain into regurgitating the whole story as a fully coherent memory. Utilizing the smaller details that occurred when you first retained the memory you can rediscover the information you are searching for.
There are many ways to develop a long lasting memory. The most important thing is not to let the memories slip away. Actively reinforcing your memories will let you retain them for longer, reviewing and being quizzed on information periodically decreases the likelihood of memories disappearing. Knowing how to retrieve these “lost” memories is a great tool to have as well.