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Learning about Brain Activity

What was I writing this blog post about again. . ? Common forgetting happens to the best of us, and often quite regularly. While it isn't possible to remember every single thing that occurs in our lives, today we're going to dive into the mind so that we can learn and hopefully remember some things about how stimuli and experience are retained in our heads.

The truth is that we know very little about the mechanics of how individual memories are recorded and stored because unlike a computer with its magnetic domains, we don't have zeros and ones that we can quickly identify as something that is storing information. If you think about it a bit as well, there must be some complex form of storage occurring in order to accommodate everything that we can remember and the detail in which we remember it. Try thinking specifically about your favourite food. I'm sure you are able to create a little picture in your head of what that food looks like, and you probably remember many more details about how it tastes. Now if this is one single object, think about how many things you encounter every single day and the details that you recognize about each of them. Take language as a second example. We speak our native tongue with ease, and yet there are so many words, each needing to be pronounced a specific way and fit together into the puzzle of a sentence which we remember the rules for making. A rough estimate of the storage capacity of the average brain is that it can hold 2.5 million gigabytes of storage. Now, this number isn't supported by research but it goes to show that the human brain is able to process a lot of information, and is quite impressive.

It was thought in the past that the brain left some sort of memory trace, but that is also hypothetical and hasn't received any research support either, so the best thing to do for understanding our own forgetfulness may be to stick to the fundamentals. We know that we remember, and we know that we also often forget. Even more so, we sometimes forget things that we wanted to remember! So what information do we have that can help us to remember the important things in our lives? One topic (that has been supported by research) is called the serial position effect, and it suggests that when given a list of information we tend to remember the first and last items most effectively. This is something that could be useful for long sessions of information. If you're going to take a few notes, why not take them from the middle of the lecture?

We have also learned recently that multitasking isn't really possible. You may think, "What? I'm talking to my kids while reading this article right now? Doesn't that prove that multitasking happens all the time?"

Realistically, no. What our minds are actually doing is switching our attention back and forth between topics very rapidly, so for menial tasks we can do multiple things at the same time with no problem but for larger tasks we may end up sacrificing our focus by trying to do too many things at once. The consequence of this is that we likely won't remember what we had been doing as well. While it can be difficult to avoid being distracted, practicing mindfulness and focusing on just the one important task that you need to accomplish can help you to improve your long term storage of that activity. Luckily for us at the WCHC, we have Jannah Tudiver to teach us about mindfulness and if you are interested I would encourage you to browse our website to find out more about her sessions. We also have a recording available of Robin Smart's seminar on memory which can be accessed here

Brains are similar to our muscles which we need to respect and continually work to stimulate if we want them to be strong, but that's not to say that we shouldn't use memory aids. I personally have a whiteboard where I keep a list of all the things I have to get done. Using this, or a calendar are good for making sure that the important things are not likely to be forgotten and make sure that you can triumph through the busy days!

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