Memory is a funny thing. Some people remember everything from a decade ago crystal clear. Others can’t remember where they parked their car an hour ago.
Of course a certain amount of memory can be trained. I read part of the book “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything“, where a journalist with an average memory spends a year training for the U.S. Memory Championship. It’s an incredible insight into what is possible if you have the right system – check out a Slate article he wrote for a quick overview.
But that’s only one type of memory and the author said he still loses his car keys. There is a completely different type of memory freaks that are even more interesting. There was an awesome 60 Minutes episode interviewing a handful of the rare people that have what they call “superior autobiographical memory.” If you ask them – “do you remember what you did on April 7th, 1973?” – they’ll be able to tell you exactly what they did that day, the day of the week, what they wore, and what they were thinking about.
Sleep is also crucial to your memory. I learned somewhere that the last few hours (5-8) of sleep are when most the transfer of memory from RAM (short-term) to hard-drive (long-term) happens. So if you don’t get a full 8 hours of sleep, you aren’t learning as effectively as you could be. The fact that people sleep less these days than a few decades ago can also be partially blamed for a whole bunch of other things, like getting fat. Maybe New York should mandate 8 hours of sleep a night rather than banning sugary sodas? Hard to tell which would be more effective, but one gets all the blame.
Inconsequential Childhood Memories
I got thinking about memory because of a couple memories I have from 4th and 5th grade. Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time with kids this age, so I’ve been going back into my past to see what I remember. Some of these things are so inconsequential, I have no idea why I remember them but not more important things:
- We did mental math problems every day in Ms. Barth’s class – “Start with 7 … multiply by 3 … add 4 … divide by 5 – what’s the number?” Well I remember one time we did it, we started with the number of hours you sleep in a night. So I started with 9. I got it wrong because we were supposed to start with 8.
- In Ms. Walker’s 5th grade class she read off everyone’s name and you were supposed to respond if you did your homework. One time I said “yes” and she thought I said “oven” (don’t ask me how). So from then on I would answer with a household appliance. But one time I didn’t do my reading and didn’t get to say an appliance. This was the start of my 15+ year run of becoming less cool every year.
- We read Babe – they sat us down to explain the word bitch and that we shouldn’t use it.
- The TV show South Park came out – I had a friend named Kenny and we thought it was funny he dies in every episode (even though we didn’t watch it, we just knew that it happened!)
- We had a Tic-Tac-Toe tournament in our class. I made the finals where I faced off on the overhead projector against someone that also figured out how to win or tie every time. After we tied a half dozen times I got bored and tried something different so we wouldn’t just tie for all of time. I lost.
Do you have any memories from 4th or 5th grade that are just as inconsequential?
Kickass quote from the author of Moonwalking with Einstein that can be applied to any skill you are learning:
The OK Plateau is that place we all get to where we just stop getting better at something. Take typing, for example. You might type and type and type all day long, but once you reach a certain level, you just never get appreciably faster at it. That’s because it’s become automatic. You’ve moved it to the back of your mind’s filing cabinet. If you want to become a faster typer, it’s possible, of course. But you’ve got to bring the task back under your conscious control. You’ve got to push yourself past where you’re comfortable. You have to watch yourself fail and learn from your mistakes. That’s the way to get better at anything. And it’s how I improved my memory.