Let’s quickly look at what memory essentially is: The process of learning info, storing it and then having the ability to recall it when you need it (whether to solve problems, tell stories or save yourself on the witness stand).
Learning begins with those power connections in your brain: neurons firing messages to one another. The spaces between neurons (synapses) determine your ability to process info. As you use your brain cells, it strengthens how your cells talk to one another. The more you use the synapses, the stronger they get and more they proliferate. That’s why you may have strong neural pathways for your family history or weaker ones for eighties music trivia.
This gives you some insight into how you remember things. If something’s exciting to you, you’ll learn it faster, training your synapses to make strong connections. But if the info seems boring, you can still learn and build these connections with repeated use.
Problems arise when synapses lie dormant: The less you use certain connections, the greater chance they have of falling into disrepair (like losing fluency in a foreign language if you don’t use it for a long time). Technically, we actually learn by weakening underutilized synapses and repairing and strengthening the synapses we commonly use. So if you cook a lot and enjoy it, you’ll learn the recipes by heart—and fast, because it’s enjoyable. You build a large connecting wire, which allows for faster flow of info.
By contrast, lesser-used pathways fall into disrepair, so you lose or disable those connections. If you haven’t exercised your 1970s TV trivia synapses in a long time, you’re not going to remember the name of the kid who played Bobby on “The Brady Bunch. “
To keep your memory functioning at optimum power, you’ll need to focus on three aspects of your biology.
Your brain has 100 billion nerve cells, and each cell receives one hundred messages per second. In the time it takes to read this sentence, your cells have been doing more processing than the IRS’s computer server in April!
Your neurons look like mops with shaggy strings that reach out to one another, while the handles act like cables that carry the info. These neurons talk to each other at a rapid rate. The hippocampus (shaped like a seahorse and buried in your brain) is the main memory driver. The other two memory-related areas of the brain: the prefrontal cortex, which controls the executive function of your brain. Also, the cerebellum, which controls balance.
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