Hotel rooms and great memory – How Spaced Repetition supercharge your memory

Memory retention

In 1885 a German psychologist called Hermann Ebbinghaus became interested in human memory and our ability (or inability!) to hold onto new information. He wanted to know if there was a way to plot on a graph the rate at which we forget new information. The short and somewhat worrying answer is, yes there is a way to plot it and the results are not good. 

The rate at which we forget new information is frighteningly quick, unless you suffer from Hyperthymesia. You can forget up to 50% of new information within 3 days. Think of any training program you have participated in, what do you really remember?

You most likely spent hours sitting and listening to someone tell stories, use analogies, facts, figures and humour to get their point across. What happened after the session? Was there any follow up? Did you try and implement any of the training over a sustained period of time? The statistics suggest probably not. 

Memory fades with time

Without reinforcement from the trainer or deliberate practice on your part, the meat of the training session most likely evaporated from your memory within days never to trouble your mind ever again. Think about what you had for lunch this day last week. Chances are you have no idea. Why would you? Unless it was in some way spectacularly good or bad, there is just no reason to be able to recall it.

memory fades with time

Long term and sort term memory

Your inability to recall either the lunch or the training session are nothing to do with your cognitive abilities. It is to do with your strategy. Think of your memory like a hotel. When a guest (memory) comes into your hotel you greet them in the lobby (short term memory) you must then decide if this guest is worthy of a room (long term memory) in your hotel. The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve wants to kick that guest out of the hotel almost immediately. 

the forgetting curve and memory

The forgetting curve is fairly steep but there is a way to combat it. 

Repetition, repetition, repetition….. The key to activating your long term memory

One way to beat it is with repetition. Think of this scenario. It is 2004 and you have lost your mobile phone on a night out. Disaster. Not only do you need to get a new phone but you will need to get a new SIM card which if you are old enough to remember means a new number.

Knowing your own mobile number is a useful number to know so when you get the new one you look at it, maybe repeat it to yourself a few times, try to find some sort of sequence in it to help you recall it and then you put it away. But over the next few days, you glance at the number again, you check to see if your recall is correct.

You do this a few more times until you are confident you know it. Your instinct tells you that you will not remember the number looking at it once, you must make it a long term memory. So you intermittently look at it, building up the neural pathway to increase your ability to recall the number. 

The exact same thing needs to happen with training you participate in. You have little to no chance of remembering the content without repetition. Keep in mind that the repetition does not need to contain all of the information all over again. No, it simply needs to trigger a memory of the key takeaways. Once that happens, all the nuance from the session comes flooding back. 

Spaced repetition is your memory accelerator.

The best method for repetition is spaced repetition. This is where you remind yourself of the content at ever increasing intervals. So this might mean you remind yourself of the content 24hrs after first consuming it, then a week later, then 3 weeks later. This is how we build your summaries to accompany your Map’s.

Once you listen to a podcast you can go deeper and have the summaries of the key takeaways sent to you at ever increasing intervals. Think of your memory like a muscle, spacing out the repetitions is like making your memory do work before it is rewarded with the recalled memory.

Memories that come out of the blue

memory memories that come out of the blue Von restorff effect

There are other ways to bolster your recall. For example the Von restorff effect is where you will remember something out of the ordinary. An example might be meeting an old friend on the train during your commute to work. This is enough to separate that particular commute from all the rest because something different or unique happened. This can be used in training sessions to great effect. 

Another phenomenon that can be used is The Zeigarnik effect – people will better recall an unfinished task. (I once saw a t-shirt that said ‘Cliffhangers are..’, I think about that t-shirt all the time).

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