Working memory is a very important brain activity.  Your working memory stores knowledge as it comes in, lets you sort and pull out the information you need when you need it, and helps you apply it to your current situation.  It helps you makes sense of what is going on in your world.

Our working memory capacity shapes the strategies we use to work through information that comes at us during the day.

We are not all gifted with a strong working memory. (What was your name again?)

Are you great at telling stories or are you more likely to tell a joke and forget the punch line?  Those are signs of how strong your working memory might be.   Remember, though, that if the story is important to you it’s going to be stored safely in your brain and you will visit it often, which makes recalling it an easy task.  A joke, on the other hand, is unlikely to be important to you so it will be relegated deeper into the dark spaces of your mind, making it harder to retrieve.

Working memory has a limited capacity.  We can only accurately remember a few things, and remember them for less than a minute.  As a child you may have played the old party game where you are allowed to look at and memorise assorted items for a minute and then have to try to list them all.  You couldn’t do it, could you?

If our working memory is so limited, how can it help us process information during our day when there is so much to take in and apply?

In his TED talk Peter Doolittle gives us some strategies which help.  Here are just a couple of them.

First he tells us that we need to process our information on the spot, not a week later when much of the memory subtlety has gone.  He suggests asking yourself questions about the information such as “Do I agree?” and “How can I apply this?”  We need to do it repeatedly so the process becomes a habit.

He also suggests that we are perhaps doing things backwards by trying to apply the new knowledge to our existing circumstances.  He says that by doing the other way around – wrapping the new knowledge in current circumstances – we make the new information much more meaningful.  It is then more likely to stick longer in our memories.

I think it’s important to realise that your working memory might receive stronger signals from different sources.  You might remember things you’ve seen better than you’ve heard or vice-versa.  Knowing your strengths is important when you are deliberately trying to remember something.  If you can format it to suit your strengths, your working memory won’t have to struggle.

Peter Doolittle’s TED talk is interesting and entertaining, and it makes some important points. It will change the way you acquire and process your own information and has implications for the way you present information to your team.

Jump over and watch the clip.  It is worth it.

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