Memory is something we deal with every moment of the day, even when it seems like we’re not actively using it. Right now, I’m using my memory of the keyboard to type the words I’m writing. My brain focuses on the content, but while I’m doing that, I’m also remembering what keys to hit in order to make words appear on the screen in front of me. Of course, while I type, I’m not recalling how to type on a conscious level. It’s a part of my implicit memory. Today I’m going to talk about memory recall and how you can use the two types of memory to help yourself stay organized.
Memory plays a big role in our life. It allows us to remember skills that we’ve learned, or retrieve information that is stored in the brain, or recall a precious moment that occurred in the past. Memory also organizes information so that when we retrieve it, we can apply that information in the proper context and use it in the current activity we are involved in. In general, we use short term memory to recall information we’ve learned very recently. Long term memory is used to recall information that we’ve learned anytime in the recent past to childhood. In neuroscience, there are some fascinating studies about the types of memory we have access to as well as how memory contributes to the sense of self a person has.
Implicit memory is when you learn things without really thinking about it. You can also think of it as body memory. Breathing is an implicit memory. No one taught you to breathe, you just do it when you are born. As we grow older, the things we learned in our youth (like riding a bike or writing) become an implicit memory trait. You use implicit memory every time you drive your car, ride a bike, write a note on a piece of paper or do any other kind of action that involves some form of coordination. The reason a person can ride a bike again even if he or she hasn’t ridden it in years is because of implicit memory. Your body remembers how you do complicated activities like driving or bike riding because those motor skills get imprinted in the autonomic portion of the brain.
The second type of memory is known as explicit memory. This memory occurs when you try and consciously recall specific things. We use this type of memory daily on a conscious level. You use this memory when you try and remember exactly what you did and ate last year at Auntie Mildred’s holiday party. You use it when you scramble around the house, looking for the last time you placed your keys. You use it when you try and remember when and where you were supposed to hook up with that hot date. Explicit memory helps you recall specific details. Explicit memory is also what you use when you are trying to remember what tasks to write down in your planner.
My articles, thus far, have focused around concepts and ways for you to help organize yourself. For example, my article on using bullets, is one example of a memory aide that you can use to jog your memory when you look at your planner to see what the next activity is. It’s a simple method that only takes a few words per bullet. However, there are other methods that can help you recall what you need to do. For instance, you can draw a symbol in your planner that represents a specific concept or task. This method is great for those of you who are visual learners or like to doodle and draw. This image can be anything you want, as it is personalized to suit your needs. You can use pen and paper to draw the image, or MS Wordart, or even Photoshop– whatever is most comfortable to you. Images are an important memory aide because many people think in images. The symbol, then, reminds you of what you were going to work because it represents a condensed statement about the task.
This image, made in word art and saved as a jpg file, is an example of a symbol I drew. It may not mean anything to you but to me, it is represents a specific emotion of joy in the context of my spiritual beliefs. Seeing that symbol reminds me of that joy and the spiritual beliefs associated with it. It’s a trigger to experience those feelings. You can create a symbol to embody any kind of concept. You could use a symbol to represent a meeting, a work project, or anything else important to you. A good example of a symbol many of us recognize is that of a stop sign. The octagonal shape and the color red as well as the word stop tells us that we need to stop at the intersection before continuing to drive.
Other memory jogging techniques such as mnemonics and acronyms can also be used as a way of sparking your explicit memory about a specific task. For example, an acronym such as GTS could represent Go To Store. Make sure that the acronyms are only three letters long if possible, as three letters is something your short term memory can easily handle.
All you really need is one reminder to get your memory jogged. Once you have that reminder, it can be much easier to remember everything else you have associated with that task. By using a memory aide in your planner you can work with your explicit memory and get all the information you need from it. Your memory, after all, is the original biological planner. It organizes everything that’s occurred to you so that you can access it provided you use the right cue.