Retrieving Memories

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gifele.gif (3048 bytes) The third part of the memory process is retrieval, or what most of us actually mean by 'remembering' gifele.gif (3048 bytes)

No-one can tell when meeting you whether you are being consciously aware of your surroundings or if you are storing memories successfully, but if you cannot remember your best friend's name when introducing him/her to someone else, then it is painfully and embarrassingly obvious that your powers of recall are less than perfect.
It is certainly true that there can be no recall without proper storage of a memory, but if the memory was laid down a long time ago, and has been perfectly accessible until the embarrassing moment, then initial storage was not the trouble.
So what is going wrong?  Just as important - is there anything we can do about it?
The answer to the problem could lie in any of a number of possibilities, or a mixture of several, and the good news is that there are many things you can do to help yourself to better recall.

  • Keep your brain well exercised
    This is the most important thing you can do to help yourself recall those long term memories which now seem so elusive.
    Our brains need to be kept in tip-top condition and as active now as they were in the days when we were laying down the memories we seek.
    Research has proved over and over again that the old adage 'use it or lose it' applies to brain power just as much as muscle power.  It is very easy to become mentally lazy without even realising we are letting anything go.
    We may feel as busy as ever, and not notice that we are doing increasingly unchallenging mental tasks.  We may feel that we have 'been there and done that' when it comes to challenging thinking and problem solving.   We relish the slower pace and not having to think so hard.
    Such a lotus eating life may be very enjoyable, but we pay a heavy price for it in decreasing mental agility and increasing memory lapses.

    Waking up your brain can be fun

    You don't have to go back to a 9 to 5 job and an irate boss to give your brain challenges and mental opportunities.  What about evening classes in a new subject you have never had time for previously, or crosswords, games such as chess or bridge, logic puzzles and lateral thinking games?
    You could study the memory process itself if it fascinates you and find out as much as you can about how your own and your friends' memories work.  It is always more fun if you can share the activity you choose with others, and making new friends and remembering all their names and interests is a challenge in itself.

  • Store memories efficiently
    As we saw in the section on Storage of  Memories, easy retrieval depends to a very large extent on efficient storage, so it is wise to work hard on the methods outlined there in order to find out the best methods for you.

  • Feed your brain the very best nutrients available
    To work properly brains need food and liquids which are ideally suited to keeping them working at peak performance.  See the section on Health for suggestions.

  • Make attempts to relieve stress and anxiety
    As well as being detrimental to awareness and storage skills, anxiety and too much stress are bad for retrieval of memories.
    Even normal socialising can be stressful if we are trying to make a good impression, and concentrating on the impression rather than on what we are trying to get across can end with our losing the thread of our remarks or forgetting what we were going to say.
    The trick is to speak more slowly and if the right word does escape, don't worry, just put another simpler word in its place and no-one will notice. Everyone sympathises with you and thinks more of their own lapses than of yours.
    As you exercise your brain more, the lapses will become less frequent.

    "It's a poor sort of memory that only works backward," said the Queen.
    Lewis Carroll, 'Through the Looking-Glass'.

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