Journal Your Way To A Better Memory

July 21, 2009 at 12:57 pm Leave a comment

image Writing a journal is an obvious  way of capturing memories so they aren’t forgotten,  but did you know that keeping a journal or diary might improve your memory itself?

The very act of writing down your daily experiences helps to transfer them from short term to long term memory – and each time you go back over the material,  and recall the experience, you strengthen the pathways that help you to access those memories.

How?

All memories are not created equal; the brain stores information and experiences in several different ways, primarily first in working or short term memory, and then in long term memory.   But not all memories make the transition from temporary to permanent…  in order to keep from being overwhelmed with irrelevant details, our brain has to make judgement calls about which information needs remembering, and which bits can be safely discarded.

How does the brain identify important information that should be kept around long term?  A few key factors seem to be many senses are involved in the experience, how often it’s accessed, the context of the information, and by any emotional connections to the memory.   By using those factors,  we can intentionally train our brain to be sure and keep certain memories intact by recalling them repeatedly, associating senses and emotions with them, and by putting them in context.

That’s How Journaling Helps…

When we write a diary, it is rarely just dull, isolated, matter of fact information.

In writing even about something as mundane as what we had for breakfast, we mark the information as “important” simply by recalling it.   Our writing also puts the information in context with how the food tasted and smelled, and maybe even how we felt about it.  (We might write about how the orange juice reminds us of  childhood breakfasts, creating an emotional context.)  And the very act of remembering our breakfast and writing it down tells our brain “pay attention, this is important, because we’re using the information again!”

Journaling also creates a larger context for the experience – not just in the day, but in our life. Each of the connections within that context helps create a stronger, more complex neural network that  helps support the memory, and allows easier access to that memory.

Long-hand journal writing in particular seems to help form a stronger, more complex neural network  than other forms of note-taking.

Why?

Writing by hand involves a more complex process than typing or speaking into a recorder;  it engages your motor skills, requires that you remember how to form each letter, and you’re more likely to slow down and think about what you’re writing than if you type at the speed of light.  In my personal observation, I’ve noticed I often forget what I type almost as soon as the letters hit the page, but long hand writing somehow “sticks” better.  I’ll remember the event, and the act of writing about it.

So keeping a journal is a sort of memory exercise….

A memory exercise which will almost certainly help you recall the experiences you write about (even without refering back to your entries).  And by exercising your memory, it may help improve your recall overall, even for things you don’t journal.

What are you waiting for? Pull out that old notebook and get to writing!

Entry filed under: Be Mentally Active. Tags: , , , .

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About This Blog


A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness

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