So what’s the big deal? Working Memory

So what’s the big deal? posts are intended to provide information regarding aspects of our body that affect daily life. The medical and educational world might label some of these things as disabilities. I prefer to think of them differently: it’s about understanding the way we are wired.

I want to provide a simple example of 1) recognizing a struggle and 2) compensating for it. Now, I’m not talking about struggles that result from societal barriers, which is another post altogether, but rather a struggle that you experience because of how you are wired. Ideally, compensating for these types of struggles will result in greater efficiency and effectiveness. Here’s mine:

My desk is littered with piles of random papers and sticky squares of neon paper with handwritten notes. I keep lists on my phone, in Word documents on my computer, and on a pad of paper next to my bed. I know that if I want to remember something, I must write it down. The information will not otherwise stay in my head long enough for me to do something with it. Even when I do write it down, I have to be intentional about looking at what I wrote. It’s just the way that I’m wired.

My struggle may be familiar to you.  It has to do with my working memory, which directly correlates with IQ and attention 1Working memory is the cognitive function responsible for keeping information in your mind long enough to manipulate and use it. It is how you juggle things you encounter and move them to the parts of your brain that can take action. You use your working memory constantly in daily life and most certainly in academics and social settings 2.

If you know you have below average working memory, the strategies below may help. Even if you have good working memory but are overwhelmed by the amount of information you are responsible for each day, you may still find these strategies useful:

  • Break up or chunk information. Focus on one or two pieces of information before moving on to the next.
  • Use checklists for tasks with multiple steps. Complete one step before moving on to the next.
  • Develop rituals and routines, like putting your cell phone in the same place each day to be sure not to misplace it.
  • Experiment with multiple ways of remembering information. Some students may remember things more easily if they make up a rhyme, song, or acronym. Others may use visualization to remember multiple pieces of information. Still others may study while walking around their dorm room or throwing a ball against a wall.
  • Use technology: keep lists in your phone, use your phone calendar to keep track of events and create reminders, even try working memory apps.

If we were talking in person, at this point I’d ask you to share your thoughts:

  • What sounds helpful?
  • What doesn’t sound helpful?
  • What has worked well for you in the past?
  • What is one thing you might try in the next day or two?

 

 

 

 

 

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