“I went to the grocery store”

In advertisings information age, people are forgetting stuff- LOTS of stuff. This post is all about memory. How it works and what we can do to remember things better.

Memories are our stored experiences as fragments. As soon as this experience happens, memory starts to fade right away. That’s why frequency is important.

Why? Your memory is a highly selective process of receiving, retaining and recalling information. Your hippocampus (brains section in charge of short-term memory) receives information sent by your senses. Its job is to decide what information to retain and what to toss. It’s kind of like when you recycle your trash… You can identify what goes where pretty fast.

Information to keep gets sent to storage for later recall, anything else will be a loss from your short-term memory within about 20 seconds. 

How powerful is our short-term memory? Turns-out it can hold about 5-7 items on average. Experiment: “I went to the grocery store and bought… milk”

“I went to the grocery store and bought… milk and an apple”

“I went to the grocery store and bought… milk, an apple and a orange juice”

And on and on it goes. The average person won’t go beyond 5-7 items. It’s tough because your attention is extremely limited. Your brain runs on just 12 Watts of power. That’s less than a third of the amount a refrigerator light bulb uses. With such limited energy, your brain is hardwired with countless shortcuts to prioritise what’s essential in the world. Grocery lists aren’t one of them!

Since it can’t process everything, your brain and its ability to remember things has evolved to make sense of what counts.

So how can we improve people’s likelihood to remember? 

Put short-term memories into a narrative. In other words, share a story, give it creative context. Creativity in context is extremely powerful stuff. It’s the same reason you can remember song lyrics, book plots and movie scenes. Why does it work so well? Anytime you can link items together, connections between neurons strengthen and help move information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory where it can later be recalled. It’s a delicate balance between rational and emotional thought. For advertisers, it’s about the intersection of data and creativity- how context can help brands drive a faster and more frequent connection.

So if you want to remember that shopping list a little better, I suggest you turn it into a song or write a story about it.

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