In the last installment of my Keystones of a Scout series, Observation, I briefly touched on the importance of being able to remember what you observe. Memory, indeed, is a very important skill to have, especially as a Scout. In order to Be Prepared, we need to learn and remember many important skills such as First Aid, rescue procedures, and etc.
So today, I’m going to start a short series of posts on how to improve your memory. I’ve read several books on the subject and even took a course on it. Unfortunately, I cannot claim to be a memory master, but after learning these skills, I’ve noticed many aspects of learning come easier to me. As with anything, you will get better at it the more you practice it.
I’m going to try to keep these posts short and practical. In this post in particular, I’m going to cover some of the basic principles of memory and how our brains memorize information. It is important for all Scouts to improve their memory; there is the possibility that someday your life or somebody else’s might depend upon you remembering the right information at the right time.
So, without further announcement, here are the basic principles of memory:
The brain is generally wired to process information in the form of pictures. Whether these pictures are observed with the senses or imagined doesn’t matter. All that is important is to have a clear mental visualization of whatever you want to remember. If it is a skill you’re learning, picture yourself doing it as you learn. Make the mental image as vivid as possible in your head.
If you’re trying to learn abstract information, there are many ways that you can turn these into easily remembered visualizations. Many systems have been developed for doing this, and I hope to share some of them with you in upcoming posts.
The brain remembers things better by linking the new information to existing neural pathways instead of building completely new ones. That is why it is important to make as many mental connections as you can from the thing you’re trying to learn to that which you already know. Link important terms in your mind together with other terms that you know. If you’re learning a skill like First Aid, compare the actions that you’re learning with other actions that you do on a regular basis.
The key here is to make as many connections as you can from the thing you’re trying to learn to the stuff that you already know.
Emotions and Sensory Stimulation
Ever wonder why you have trouble remembering what was taught yesterday in school, but you can remember almost every line of that movie you saw last week? The reason for this is that your memory responds better to things that stimulate your emotion and your senses. In a movie, you can see and hear everything in vivid detail, and you are emotionally relating to the characters portrayed.
This is one way that Scouting is set up better than School. Scouts do not sit behind a desk. Scouting is active in every way, including learning. This is why all your merit badges require some active participation from you and require you to get experience in whatever you’re doing. It will be a sorry day if they ever have a Merit Badge that just requires passive learning.
If you are creative and want to learn, you can apply this principle to whatever you are trying to learn. Imagine yourself actually using what you are learning in real life. Think of all the little things you would have to do and all the problem you might face. See, hear, taste, touch, and smell everything about what you are learning.
Grouping and Organizing Your Knowledge
Just like filing cabinets or computers, brains remember things better when knowledge is organized. When you set about to learn something new, go about it in a systematic way. Try to gain an overview of the whole subject before diving into particulars. This way you will know how the little pieces you learn fit into the big picture. Categorize the different aspects of the subject in your mind and associate what you learn to those different categories.
I hope you were able to follow this brief overview of the principles behind memory. Good memory is not something you’re born with, it is a skill to be acquired like anything else. Understand the principles, apply them to your life, and practice them constantly. This is the way to achieving a good memory. In future posts of this series, I hope to go more into different memory systems that people have come up with to apply the principles talked about here.
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So, until the next post,
Scout On, my friends!