Can We Purposely Make Memories Last Forever?

Father and son fly a kiteMemory is an integral part of being human. Remembering past experiences can help predict what will happen in the future if you alter your behavior accordingly. Some philosophers have actually gone as far as to say memory is the mark of being human. Memories not only serve to shape identity and define who a person is, but they are also a key factor in the ability to learn and process new information.

The nature of human memory has puzzled philosophers for a long time, and its function remained mostly a mystery until the past century. With new breakthroughs in neuroscience and psychiatry, scientists continue to learn more and more about how memories are formed, consolidated, and recalled. However, many questions still remain unanswered.

For humans, memories can be incredibly valuable. Many people may want to remember certain moments for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, forgetting seems to be the common fate of most memories, and with incidences of Alzheimer’s on the rise, memories seem all the more vulnerable to forgetfulness. As we learn more about the nature and loss of memory, a question arises. Can we purposely make memories last forever?

Unfortunately, most things cannot last forever. Everything is subject to change and decay over time. Memories are destined to fade, and the brains we use to recall them will eventually shut down completely.

Although you cannot make memories last forever, there are many things you can do to improve memory storage and recollection, and hopefully your most important memories will last a lifetime.

Here are nine ways to create and hold onto vivid, long-lasting memories:

1. Get in Touch with Emotions

If you want to remember something, get emotional. Scientific evidence shows emotional arousal is directly connected to memory consolidation and endurance. The adrenal hormones released during emotional arousal regulate the consolidation of memory. Both human and animal studies have revealed that stress-induced activation of the amygdala (the brain’s emotional processing center) and its interactions with other regions of the brain involved in processing memory play an important role in guaranteeing emotionally significant experiences are remembered.

How to Improve Memory Infographic by GoodTherapy.org

Infographic by Hannah Johnson. Click image to enlarge.

An excellent example of how this process works is the phenomenon referred to as flashbulb memory. Flashbulb memories are extremely detailed and vivid memories that are typically retained for a lifetime. These memories are usually of important historical events or personal life events.

For example, most Americans who were alive in the 1960s can still recall exactly where they were when they heard the news of the John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations, although they likely have little or no recollection of what they were doing the day before or after those events.

Flashbulb memories reveal how the emotional content of an event can improve both the strength and endurance of the memory of it. Unpleasant experiences such as car accidents, the death of a loved one, acts of violence, and other traumas are generally remembered better than the events of a routine day. However, research indicates unpleasant memories do fade faster than positive memories, meaning strong and positive emotional experiences are the most likely to become embedded in long-term memory.

Still, studies have shown even mild emotions are associated with more vivid and long-lasting memories than those of neutral experiences. Research has also revealed having an emotionally arousing experience after learning something new helps to consolidate the memory of what was learned prior to the experience.

2. Pay Attention and Engage All Senses

The quality of memories is directly dependent on how attentive you were at the time they were formed. Be as alert as possible when experiencing something you want to remember with great clarity, vividness, and detail. Memory is a sensory experience, so engage all five senses both during the event and afterward when you recall it. The more attentive and engaged you are, the more you are likely to remember later.

3. Make as Many Associations as Possible

Memory is not confined to any particular place in the brain, but is instead a brain-wide process. Every memory is the result of a changed set of neural connections in the brain.  It is a re-creation of past experiences through a synchronous firing of neurons that were involved in the original experience.

Because memories are both formed and recalled through associations, the more associations you make, the better your recall ability is likely to be. This is why many people use mnemonic devices and mental maps when studying information.

4. Recall the Experience and Share with Others

A lasting memory is not simply created at the time of the experience. Memories are actually formed after the experience and continue to be consolidated and changed each time an event is remembered. Therefore, the more you recall it, the more likely you are to remember it.

An article published in Parents in May 2009 provided information and suggestions on how to make memories last for preschoolers. The article explained how language plays an important role in memory and how our memories are stored and accessed through words. As kids learn to verbalize, they are able to form more lasting memories, which is why older children and adults are typically unable to recall events that occurred during infancy.

You can use this awareness to your advantage and choose to verbally recall your memories by sharing them with others. Storytelling helps to reconsolidate memories. The more repetition the better, so don’t pass up a chance to reminisce with your loved ones.

5. Use Sensory Cues

Cues can be an effective method of evoking memories. Have you ever noticed how certain smells can immediately take you back years, often even as far as childhood? Perhaps the smell of cinnamon reminds you of your grandmother’s house or a chalk scent reminds you of your third grade classroom.

Music also tends to be a strong cue for people. Hearing an old song on the radio can immediately send someone into a nostalgic daydream. Be mindful of potential cues and associations during the experience you wish to remember and use those later to help improve your recall.

6. Exercise and Eat Healthfully

Having a strong memory is directly dependent on the health and vitality of your brain. Exercise increases oxygen to the brain and helps release stress. Chronic stress can destroy brain cells and damage the hippocampus, a region of the brain that helps form new memories and retrieve old ones.

Eating a balanced diet with healthy foods known to aid the brain can also protect your memory. Choose foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon or flaxseed. Berries are also known to improve memory function as well as green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach. Green tea and Ginkgo Biloba may also boost memory power.

7. Meditate

Meditation can help increase the ability to concentrate, focus, learn, store, and retain memories. Meditation has been shown to increase the thickness of the cerebral cortex and encourages more connections between brain cells, which ultimately helps increase memory. Positive results can often be seen with a simple 5-10 minute daily meditation regimen.

8. Sleep on It

The quality of memories is directly dependent on how attentive you were at the time they were formed. Be as alert as possible when experiencing something you want to remember with great clarity, vividness, and detail.Memory processing and consolidation occur during sleep. Both human and animal studies have shown sleeping after learning helps improve memory recall and is vital for memory consolidation. Cognitive impairments in both declarative and non-declarative memories have been found after sleep loss, fragmented sleep, and disturbed sleep.

Practicing good sleep hygiene may be able to improve the endurance of memories. Getting routine restful sleep each night can be an effortless way to improve memory storage and recall.

9. Keep a Record

Because memories are so vulnerable, if you truly want to remember something, it may be best to keep a record.

Journaling can be an excellent way to record experiences and help consolidate and reconsolidate memories. Keeping a diary not only provides you with the details of the experience, but it also gives you a chance to reflect on your emotional reactions to the event you are recalling.

Photos can also be a quick way to capture memories and induce vivid recall when viewing them. Videos can provide the closest possible recurrence of the event. With smartphones in most pockets, recording memories has never been easier.

But if you find yourself—in the absence of a recording device—experiencing something you don’t want to forget, try to engage your senses and pay attention to what you already have in the environment to grasp onto that memory.

References:

  1. Farooqui, T. & Farooqui, A. (2015) Diet and Exercise in Cognitive Function and Neurological Diseases. Wiley Blackwell. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ.
  2. McGaugh, J. L. (2013, June 18). Making lasting memories: Remembering the significant. S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health. Neuroscience. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3690616/
  3. McGrath, P. (2014, May 4). Why good memories are less likely to fade. BBC News: Health. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/health-27193607
  4. Myers, C. (2006). Glossary: Flashbulb Memory. Memory Loss and the Brain: The Newsletter of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University. Retrieved from http://www.memorylossonline.com/glossary/flashbulbmemory.html
  5. O’Brien, M. & Kellen, A. (2013, January 14). The Connection Between Memory and Sleep. National Science Foundation: Science Nation. Retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/science_nation/sleepmemory.jsp
  6. Rabbit, M. (2009, May). How to Make Memories Last for Your Preschooler. Parents Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/development/intellectual/make-memories/
  7. Ranpura, A. (2013, March 12). How we remember and why we forget. Brain Connection. Retrieved from http://brainconnection.brainhq.com/2013/03/12/how-we-remember-and-why-we-forget/
  8. Smith, M. & Robinson, L. (April 2015). How to Improve Your Memory: Tips and Exercises to Sharpen Your Mind and Boost Brain Power. org: Adapted from Harvard Health Letter: July 2014. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/memory/how-to-improve-your-memory.htm

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 8 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • Riley

    Riley

    March 24th, 2016 at 8:29 AM

    Memories can also be extremely painful.
    Those are the ones that I would choose to forget.

  • nicole r

    nicole r

    March 24th, 2016 at 2:30 PM

    Rather than the memories, I would love to be able to have those moments that I probably glossed over at the time… I would rather have the chance to have some of those back, things that I didn’t pay enough attention to then that I know now that I probably should have.

  • Laney

    Laney

    March 25th, 2016 at 7:50 AM

    You know what always helps me remember better than almost anything else? Its talking about those memories and experiences that I have had and that I want to hold onto. That can make a huge difference because there is something about just talking about it with another person gives you that chance to say it out loud and commit it to memory I suppose. Anyway that works for me.

  • Ann

    Ann

    March 26th, 2016 at 4:57 AM

    Writing is the best way to remember. I love to journal, unfortunately, I haven’t kept them all since I wouldn’t want others to read some of the things I write.

  • Ann

    Ann

    March 26th, 2016 at 5:03 AM

    I am so sorry for your pain, I am going through the same from an Uncle and now that I am 48 it is much worse than ever. People remind me of him because he was in his late 50s and the men I date are around this age now. My life has really taken a dive. Please seek help, I need it too.

  • dave

    dave

    March 26th, 2016 at 5:33 AM

    Why is it that it is so much easier to retain the ones that you wish to keep
    and yet so much harder to rid yourself of the ones that you would just as soon forget?

  • Rod

    Rod

    March 28th, 2016 at 8:29 AM

    I have found over the years that the more I take care of myself on a physical level the better I feel on an emotional and mental level. Everything seems so much sharper and in focus when I know that I am doing everything that I can to be healthy on multiple levels.

  • Tallon

    Tallon

    March 30th, 2016 at 4:09 PM

    Call me naive
    but I guess I believe that the memories that make the most impression on me are the ones that will naturally last in my mind. I don’t know, I don’t think that this is something that you should necessarily have to work hard at unless you are older and feel like some of those memories that you have always had could be slipping away.
    Photos could help, as well as talking with others who have those same experiences and having them help you fill in the missing details.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.