In this chapter we are going to examine some of the reasons for memory failure and suggest how these might be addressed. Starting with emotional factors.
Emotional problems like stress, agitation, fatigue, fear and anxiety can, in extreme cases, cause memory failure and a drop in mental agility.
There are a number of common-sense remedies, however, they may be a feature of a more general or significant personal problem that needs to be addressed first.
Our Exam Skills course outlines some useful ideas to help with examination nerves and they are equally relevant here.
It is interesting to note that we lose little information from our memories when sleeping and physical activities create little impact on memory retention. This all adds up to what we know already – a balance of sleep and exercise improves mental agility and memory retention.
Self-confidence encompasses many issues, and it is not realistic to provide a catch-all solution. Suffice to say that if you believe you will not remember something then you probably will not.
Self-confidence comes from preparation and belief built up over time with positive reinforcement. The most constructive way of achieving this is through practice and by following principles such as recitation and consolidation.
We have probably all experienced the so-called mental block that happens when we try to remember something – usually well known to us – but cannot. It is a normal occurrence – a bit like a minor air bubble.
If it happens, it is helpful to not worry and to try a memory technique like association or visualisation.
If you want to improve your mental agility and increase your memory capacity then, as we have pointed out above, you have to follow the guidance. Poor preparation suggests a lack of interest or attention and it is possible this needs to be addressed first.
Remember that our brains prioritise information for us according to meaning, relevance and value. Ultimately, you have to create these if you are going to remember.
Lack of Practice
We have already seen how the short-term memory behaves in relation to the long-term memory. If information is not transferred to the long-term memory, it will soon be lost. Once in the long-term memory it must be re-accessed in order to be reinforced and to stay there.
Interestingly enough, information that we have forgotten can be resurrected and reinstated in the long-term memory much more quickly than new information can be absorbed.
Sometimes when preparing for a presentation or an examination, we organise and access information in a particular way. Occasionally, a question might be framed in a way that is very different to how we have organised our information mentally.
We therefore find it tricky to tap into our memory even though we know the information is there.
This is common in exams where the examining body is constantly looking at ways of challenging candidates and getting them to apply knowledge to workplace scenarios.
If this happens, it is a good idea to take a moment to “re-frame” the question in terms that are familiar so that the information can be accessed. It is usually a very temporary problem and one you can solve for yourself by pausing and reacting positively.