To me memory is a fascinating aspect of the human experience. It’s the facility of the mind that allows information to be encoded, stored and retrieved when needed in the future. This ability underpins our ability to learn skills, language and communication as well as reasoning and logic.

Memory is the brain process that stores what we learnt, be it information, experiences or feelings, for future use.  Memory has three main processes – encoding, storing and retrieving. Encoding is getting the information into our memory. Storage is retention of the information and retrieval is getting information out of storage into our conscious mind through recall, recognition and relearning. As David Suzuki (Canadian Academic, Broadcaster, and Environmental Activist) put it, “The future doesn’t exist. The only thing that exists is now and our memory of what happened in the past. But because we invented the idea of a future, we’re the only animal that realized we can affect the future by what we do today”.

Our memory evolved to allow us to store information that would be useful to us in the future. And knowing this explains a few features of how our memories work. Firstly, the physical or emotional context is likely to trigger memories from the same context. So, if you return to a place your mind will recall other times you were there as this might be useful. Also, leaving a place (room or location) is likely to clear the short term memory as that information is no longer needed. The flip side of this is if you misplace something (keys, etc.) then retracing your steps will help you remember where you put them.

This context awareness also applies to emotional states. So if you are depressed you are likely to recall other depressing things. What’s more criticism or unhappy memories and experiences contain lessons to be learnt and so are more likely to be remembered than praise or rewards.

But memory is no perfect or infallible. We experience the world subjectively and so we remember subjective representations of our experience through the prism of bias, emotional state and other influences. Also, memories can degrade with the passing of time. This occurs in the storage stage of memory – after the information has been stored and before it’s retrieved.

Other factors than can effect memory are stress and a lack of sleep. Stress can have a significant effect on memory formation and thus learning. In response to stressful situations, the brain releases hormones and neurotransmitters which affect the memory encoding process. During sleep the neural connections in the brain are strengthened. Several studies have shown that sleep improves the retention of memory, as memories are enhanced by active consolidation while we sleep.

While short term memory and retention appears limited. It is thought that long term memory has a practically limitless capacity. So, you can recall anything you have experienced from any point in your life. It may take a technique such as Hypnotherapy’s Regression to retrieve it though.

If you need help to with insomnia, stress, improving your memory or think a regression session could help you then contact me.

Comments are closed.