You know when you are trying to remember something - maybe an idea you had earlier or a conversation with someone. The first thing you usually think about is where you were at the time. Maybe you were driving down the road, standing in line at the grocery store or walking in the park. Why do we remember where we were when it seems to have nothing to do with the memory we are trying to recall and how can you use that to your advantage?
Brain Cells and Memories
A recent issue of Scientific American Mind had an interesting article on things call ‘place cells’ and ‘grid cells’. We are programmed to associate places with experiences. We have special brain cells that have the job of keeping track of where we are at all times. These brain cells talk to other brain cells that have the job of evaluating what we are doing at the time – putting places into context.
This makes a lot of sense if you think back to our hunter-gatherer days. Finding food was one of the most important things we could do. We developed brains specialized to remember places where we found food to dig up or hunt. Today we just drive to the grocery store but this strongly specialized brain function remains. We associate places with what we see, hear, feel, smell, taste and think.
Use Your Equipment
Since this is true, why not use it to our advantage to remember things. If our brains use places to trigger memories, doesn't it make sense that if we paid more attention to our surroundings it would be easier to remember stuff? The more we keep our head up and stay in touch with what's going on around us, the more triggers we have to pull memories later.
Sometimes you know that you will need to remember something later. You make a deliberate attempt to drill it into your head – like a phone number or a name. Maybe you say it repeatedly. Other times you are having a conversation or a thought that might not seem that important at the time but you find yourself needing to recall it later. If you get into the habit of looking around you can actually improve your memory recall capabilities. Beyond the memory boost, paying more attention to your surroundings has all kinds of other benefits that come with ‘holding your head high’.
Hold your Head Up
Some people go through life literally looking down all the time. They look down when they talk to people, they look down when they are walking (I often catch myself doing this), they look down when they are sitting and thinking. Other folks are always looking around, constantly checking out everything in their environment. I'm not aware of any studies on this, but I'm betting that people always looking around have far better memory recall than people that always look down. It just makes sense knowing what we know about how memories are stored.
The more you are aware of your environment the more you send strong signals to the brain cells responsible for integrating and storing memories. So not only do you collect more experiences by paying attention to the world around you but you store and remember them better. This is probably one reason why some people seem to have years worth of experience way beyond their age.
So the bottom line is – hold your head up. Don't miss anything. And give your brain the best odds at helping you remember stuff when you need it.
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