To-ing and Fro-ing with your memories

Making the long term and short term work together

We all know by now that we have two kinds of memories. The short term and more random access memory and the long term memory. Each has its specific use and value.

Knowing how to use each of them for the purpose they are suited for is the key. Making them work together is even more effective.

Here is what Barbara Oakley says in A mind for numbers


“Working memory is the part of memory that has to do with what you are immediately and consciously processing in your mind. It used to be thought that our working memory could hold around seven items, or ‘chunks’ but it’s now widely believed that the working memory holds only about four chunks of information… You can think of working memory as the mental equivalent of a juggler. The four items stay in the air – or in working memory – because you keep adding a little energy…
In contrast, long-term memory might be thought of as a storage warehouse. Once items are in there, they generally stay put. The warehouse is large, with room for billions of items, and it can be easy for stored parcels to get buried so deeply that it’s difficult to retrieve them. Research has shown that when your brain first puts an item of information in long-term memory, you need to revisit it a few times to increase the chances you’ll later be able to find it when you need it.”

There’s another analogy she uses in the book – of the long term memory like the base camp when you climb a mountain. That is when you rest and reflect on your climb. When you are done with that you get back to the climb or using your short term memory.

It is the to-ing and fro-ing between the two that makes the difference !