We’ve all experienced a time when we wished our memories could be at least a little bit better. Perhaps that’s when you misplaced your keys. Maybe it’s when someone introduces themselves and you forget their name within seconds. Or it’s during a math test, and you can’t recall a formula for a particular problem. No matter the stakes, forgetting at an inconvenient time makes you wonder why your brain forgets things in the first place. Wouldn’t we be better off if we could remember everything and anything? 

As it turns out, your brain intentionally and immediately discards almost everything you experience. Sounds disappear from your brain within a few seconds — images fade even faster within half a second. For example, close your eyes and try to count the letters in this sentence. That’s how fast forgetting can happen. 

But what would it be like if we really could remember everything and anything? At its best, you could remember every detail of your favorite memory with a loved one before they passed. You could recall any information you needed on an important test. However, you’d also flawlessly remember your toughest heart break or worst failure. Not only that, but you’d remember every time you stubbed your toe and every inhale with perfect clarity. You would be hopelessly overwhelmed. 

Why do we forget? The benefits of forgetting 

If you could remember everything, you’d be paralyzed by the magnitude of your own memories. Forgetting is an adaptation that makes us better suited to thrive in our environment. We forget so that we can function.  

Forgetting helps us form associative memories. We can perceive many things at once in our environment, but that does not mean that they are all equally important or relevant to our lives. We tend to remember things that form relationships or links, whether to each other or to existing memory pathways in our brains. We forget random things, or things that aren’t related, that do not have predictive value. 

Forgetting has also shown to improve creative thinking. In a 2014 study, participants were presented with a common household item, along with four uses for said item (for example, newspaper: paper mâché, gift wrapping, fire starter, tablecloth). The baseline group simply had to remember the item and the functions. The thinking group had to remember the item, the given functions, and also think of other potential uses within one minute. Both groups were then tested on the four original uses. 

The baseline group remembered more of the four original uses than the thinking group. However, among the thinking group, the individuals who forgot more of the original uses had more creative use suggestions than individuals who remembered more original uses (and had less creative suggested uses). So, while some displayed better memory in the face of distraction, others were far more creative while forgetting the original task. 

Now we see that forgetting can, in fact, benefit us and enrich our other cognitive capacities. But the problem of forgetting the important stuff remains. Is there a way to improve our memory to at least recall what we want to remember, better? 

How to improve your memory 

Cognitive and neuroscience researchers have uncovered certain triggers that have been shown to cause the brain to hold on to information. Amplifire’s own eLearning platform is built on these triggers and has been proven to help people learn faster and retain more. 

An example is when you encounter something repeatedly, especially if those encounters are spread out in time. This type of interaction with a stimuli indicates to the brain that the particular stimuli is important and causes it to be preserved. As it turns out, there is an optimal amount of time between repeated interactions with information that can boost memory by up to 300%.  

Another powerful trigger is retrieval practice. Rereading your notes over and over again before a test won’t help you remember, but retrieval practice will. By calling the information forward in your mind and practicing the act of remembering specific information, you forge a better, longer lasting memory. 

While implementing some of these triggers into your learning and studying habits will help you remember more information, most of these triggers work subconsciously in the background as we go about our daily lives. We may think to ourselves, “I need to remember [insert information],” but all too often end up forgetting despite our attempt to program a self-reminder. 

However, if you are curious about other ways to improve your memory, read more about the triggers that power Amplifire’s learning platform: 

From the beginning, Amplifire has relied on innovative brain science to guide its product development to create the most effective learning and training solution, perfectly tailored to the way the human brain works. Learn more about how Amplifire helps people learn better and faster by checking out a demo.