So there I was, sitting in the courtyard of a lovely little restaurant, enjoying the late summer sun, and the last mouthful of heavenly Chardonnay, when I heard my husband calling my name from the counter, where he was paying the bill.
Something in his voice didn’t sound quite right so I went up to join him, and in a hushed but panicky voice he said,
“Darling, I can’t remember the pin number for my card”.
He was clearly horrified, and concerned, I quickly whipped out my card, making some joke to the maitre de that my husband would go to any lengths to get me to pay.
The whole way home he was totally flummoxed, as five minutes into the drive, he remembered the darned number. “Must be my Alzheimer’s”, he said, attempting to laugh it off. “But I was so embarrassed, no, mortified, I truly could not remember that number, and I’ve been using the same one for years”, he continued, at least 3 times before we got home.
Has this ever happened to you Where you’ve thought, “Oh, not another senior moment”, or convinced yourself you were losing your edge because you forgot about a meeting or worse still forgot someone’s name – someone you’ve known for years?
The storing of human memories is a highly dynamic system which is interwoven with your emotions, how you view things and your actions. Your ability to create store and recall new memories when you need them allows you to learn and interact with other people.
Remember the days when you knew everyone’s name instantly? And recognized faces without a problem? In those days, you never seemed to have to struggle for clues – you just knew. You were probably about 14!
Actually, until (like my husband) you find your heart pounding because you can’t remember your pin number in a restaurant, or searching frantically for a name you really know quite well, you’ve taken the skill of recognition for granted. But it is actually a very complex process and it isn’t until your memory has let you down, that you begin to realize this.
To remember a number or recognize someone, you have to bring together, quite unconsciously, an amazing range of stored memories. These include, for example, the numbers you have rehearsed into your memory, along with the cues you have attached to them. Or facts about someone (same school/married Sally/three daughters/drives a Lexus), the relationship the person has with you (I know him/played football on the same team) and episodic memories (we visited a bar last time we were in town) and then, finally comes the person’s name. At the same time you may have an emotional response to the person (I don’t get on with him, really).
If there is a malfunction in the remembering process, it could be because you are distracted by other thoughts, stress or maybe it really was just one too many glasses of wine with that lunch! Or it could be, if the person is only slightly known to you, that you did not encode the information well enough into your memory.
It takes seven seconds of concentration to create a memory trace in the long term memory.
Once new information comes into the short term memory, it goes straight to the brain’s processing plant (hippocampus) and moves along to the long-term storage department. Paying attention is like shining a light on what needs to be remembered – focusing on the information creates the all-important pathway to memory.
Try these tips for remembering your pin number:
- Pay attention to the number and recite out loud it as you ‘see’ it in your mind’s eye.
- Focus on the numbers and think of a zany association e.g. 7393 – I’ll be 73 in 11 years time and I hope to be 93 before I forget that number again! Or, it’s 73 steps to the mail box and 93 to the store.
- Try to take time a few minutes after memorizing the number and visualize it on your card.recall it again in an hour, a day and a week.
You’ll find lots more tips like these in the great new book by Allison Lamont PhD and Gillian Eadie, Seven Second Memory. And if you are ready to start our free six-day Brain Tune course, sign up now.
Phd, MA, MNZAC, MNZPsS
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