There is more to memory than learning, and vice versa. Illustration: psychologist G Bower’s fine example of a phenomenon called state-dependent learning. Bower recalls a funny sequence from one of Charlie Chaplin’s masterpieces, City Lights. Chaplin, as usual, plays the little tramp, and he saves a drunk from leaping to his death. The drunk turns out to be a millionaire who befriends Charlie, and the two spend the evening together: drinking and partying.
The next day, when he’s sober, the rich man does not recognise Charlie, and he even snubs him. Later, the millionaire gets drunk again. When he spots Chaplin, he treats him as his long-lost companion. In the morning, of course, the sober millionaire does not recognise Charlie. He treats him as an intruder and has the butler kick him out by the seat of his pants. The scene ends as the diminutive tramp, with his famous tooth-brush moustache, tells the camera his opinion of high society and the evils of drunkenness.
The rich man, in the story, remembers Chaplin only when he is intoxicated: the state in which he originally met him. This brings us to the essence of the topic in hand: of learning, and memory. Memory, in simple terms, is the ability to recall or remember past events, or previously learned information, or skills. Clearly, we cannot remember something we have not already learned. There are three stages in the process: the sensory register, related to the initial coding and brief storage of stimuli; short-term memory; and, long-term memory. Long-term memory, by definition, is the mechanism that keeps a relatively permanent record of information.
Blessed are those who possess ‘god-given,’ or gifted memory: the ability to learn, absorb, retain, and recall, at will. Not all of us, however, have that talent. We tend to forget things, just like that — even conveniently, at times. Blame it on a habit not used or practised, or what you may. Research suggests that forgetting is, indeed, an inert phenomenon — of loss of memory due to amnesia, made disproportionately famous in films, soap operas etc.,
Memory problems generally happen due to a neural or hormonal change. Yet, the web of it all can be more than just disappointment alone. For students, in all stations of academic career, and ‘concerned’ parents, it could be the most annoying and/or frustrating experience — especially, in this age of stiff, monumental competition, and that great mad rush to succeed, come what may… most often with no concern whatsoever for quality.
There is no ‘cure-all’ to memory problems. Help? Yes. If only you have the patience. Let’s look at a simple, how-to, which you would well know: mnemonics. A mnemonic is a tool that promotes one’s memory, without hype or costly, time-consuming memory kits. This is something that any school/college-going student, for instance, can be asked to use by approaching a learning situation through a few logical steps:
- Step 1. Just relax. Try to break a given task on hand into small units
- Step 2. Try to quickly survey the material and question yourself about the most important aspects of what you’ve just scanned, within each unit
- Step 3. Set a pace. Read the material carefully
- Step 4. Try to recite the most important points aloud. Review your material. Next, try to promote, work, or even over-learn: to attain retention.
Simple? Yes. But, the whole idea is difficult to practice, initially. Ask yourself to, therefore, have patience, and the rewards will be enormous… if only you seek to master the following points:
- Relax. Adopt the supine position in bed, when you retire for the day. Take a few deep breaths. And, relax completely. Also, ask yourself to avoid going to sleep
- Recollect. Impress upon yourself the fact to try and remember what you’ve read/studied during the course of the day, till the point you are lying on bed
- Visualise. Ask yourself to visualise [that] you are sitting near your study table, and imagine the topics/subjects you’ve read/studied. Tell yourself to go to sleep. Slowly.
You will be amazed. When you wake up in the morning, you be able to report that you remember almost everything — as if you had it taped, or photographed, in your mind. The idea works. Because, you were relaxed. Because, you did not concentrate. It’s something similar to watching a movie in the comfort of your room, or theatre, where you are relaxed. You may, however, forget the movie, the next day. But, when you get to hear a song from the same movie being played, after a period of time, you’ll almost, at once, remember the tune, the sequence, even the artiste/s, the singer/s etc., You remember, because you were relaxed. This doesn’t mean you’ll remember everything. But, you remember, all the same. That’s magic: the magic of relaxation. Which is precisely the reason why psychologists tell us, or as we all know — that relaxation brings out the best in us all.
Don’t you agree? It is also, in more ways than one, a great idea to getting over examination blues, and nervousness. Yet, a little anxiety is good: to motivate oneself. But, too much anxiety would be detrimental to your performance, and success. Here’s a quick recap, to your study/work schedule: something that will help you in the long run to getting over that ‘butterflies-in-the-stomach’ feeling, for better results —
- Practice and distribute materials of study at regular intervals
- Follow the methods of survey, question, reading, and retention
- Retain ideas and visuals, through posters and diagrams, which you can constantly see from the comfort of your bed, or while doing exercises, or when studying and/or attending to work
- Have one’s own ‘acronyms’ for all difficult contextual forms, formulae etc., including passages that you may find too ‘heavy’ to digest
- Study methodically in a well-ventilated room with proper lighting
- Don’t fall into the ‘stress trap.’ You know what you are good at. Stick to it, with attentiveness and enthusiasm.
- Drink plenty of water and just 1-2 cups of filter coffee, every day: to activate your memory cells
- Have faith in yourself; and, the will to succeed
- Use Brahmi capsules. Also, almonds, gingko biloba. Something that is good. Or, something that comes straight from nature. You may also use a proven pharmaceutical speciality in consultation with your therapist.
USE BACKGROUND MUSIC
Also, switch onto good background music, whenever you can. To plug in to the power of sonic energy: to fine-tune your brain. Research suggests that soft, soulful music as a background element, with not more than 60 beats per minute, helps to improve one’s maths scores, for instance, and also promote neural priming, or combined left-right brain function. Next? Do aerobic exercises and practice yoga, meditation or pranayama, on a regular basis.
At the same time, ask yourself/others to try and develop self-discipline, and organise oneself to the best of one’s own ability — to please oneself, not somebody else. Remember, the good, old adage: one who tries to please all, pleases none.
And, last but not the least, you should persuade yourself/your children and others to remain focused, and relaxed. Also, tell yourself, and them, not to give up that noble path of doing one’s best to achieving excellence — and, not merely ‘fix’ a fixation to being just perfect.