- Memory doesn't always work as we'd like it to.
- We remember much less than we think and, above all, less than we'd like.
- Neuroscientist Amishi Jha explained the keys to remembering something successfully.
Memory doesn't always work the way you want it to — you remember less than you think and, often, less than you'd like.
"What we think is a memory problem is often actually an attention problem," Dr. Amishi Jha wrote for CNBC. She's a professor of psychology at the University of Miami and director and co-founder of Contemplative Neuroscience at the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative.
Fortunately, there are daily habits that help improve concentration.
"There are three critical things you must do to successfully remember something," Dr. Jha wrote.
"Use your attention to trace over the information," Jha advised.
Try to remember the details of a chat or a meeting or go over specific things that happened in your day, for example.
"Elaboration involves using attention to link new experiences or information to knowledge or memories you already have. You can store much richer memories by elaborating in this way," Jha explained.
If someone told you to think of an octopus and then told you that an octopus has three hearts, you can then link this new information to your mental image of an octopus, according to Jha.
The next time you come across one, you may suddenly remember this fact, she went on.
To achieve long-term memory, you need to consolidate the information.
"This involves forming connections between specific sets of neurons that code elements of the memory by replaying targeted brain activity. Repeated replays solidify the long-term memory trace," Jha wrote.
The mistake you should avoid to avoid damaging your memory
While it's important to be focused in life, you also shouldn't overdo it.
"Being too task-focused can harm our memory and creativity," Jha warned.
The brain needs breaks, too, and it's when we allow ourselves some mental downtime that we actually come up with some of our best and most creative ideas.
"Task-free downtime can lead to some of our most creative, generative moments — novel connections are made, new ideas are born, daydreams may appear that are not only satisfying, but also personally or professionally supportive. And this downtime has another important benefit, too: It supports memory consolidation," Jha wrote.
These moments of disconnection, also known as "non-time," are one of the techniques that have helped people like Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Charles Darwin to boost creativity and overcome mental blocks.