“That’s What Turns Me On About You. Your Attention To Detail.” -Ace Ventura
Listen, children, to a father’s instruction, and be attentive that you may gain insight; for I give you good precepts: do not forsake my teaching.
OK, here’s the last section of brain science memory stuff. Hopefully it will tie it all together and reveal where it was all heading.
What determines what we remember and what we forget? The key to memory consolidation is attentiveness.
Storing explicit memories, and equally important, making connections between them requires strong mental concentration, amplified by repetition or intense intellectual or emotional engagement. The sharper the attention, the sharper the memory. Think of your sharpest memories. I know for me it’s the stuff I was most lasered into at the time, in the moment. Whenever I’ve studied something, at the exclusion of all else around me, that memory is burned into me a hundredfold opposed to those where I may have been drifting/unfocused/divided.
(As a kid I remember studying Star Wars magazines intensely over and over and over, as well as reading about how the movies were made whenever I could. To this day I have quite the plethora of Star Wars knowledge in my head that I could not get rid of If I wanted to. It’s actually ridiculous on some level how much I know and have retained about the Star Wars universe, but it does show me tangibly what this science is telling us these days.)
“For a memory to persist,” writes Eric Kandel, ” the incoming information must be thoroughly and deeply processed. This is accomplished by attending to the information and associating it meaningfully and systematically with knowledge already well established in memory.”
If we’re unable to attend to the info in our working memory, then it lasts only as long as the neurons that hold it maintain their electric charge–which is only a few seconds.
Attention is a “genuine physical state” despite how ethereal it may sound.
Attention is a different ballgame. Paying focused attention sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain solidifying it and jump starting the consolidation of explicit memory. Example: You don’t hear people much say, “No, I don’t really remember much about the time my first child was born.” Generally, you remember it intensely because you were paying so much attention to the moment, not thinking of what you needed to pick up at the store later. At least you moms were totally tuned in, I’m guessing!
The influx of competing messages we receive when we go online and what not overloads our working memory. It makes it tough for our frontal lobes to concentrate our attention on any one thing. The process of memory consolidation can’t even get off the ground. And since our brains adapt so amazingly, we train our brains to be distracted–to process info very quickly and efficiently but without sustained attention. That explains why many of us feel it difficult to concentrate even when we’re away from our computer.
“Our brains become adept at forgetting, inept at remembering.”
God has granted us command over our attention.
“Learning how to think really means how to exercise some control over how and what you think,” said the novelist David Wallace Foster in a commencement address in 2005. “It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.” We cede control over our attention at our own peril. Everything that neuroscientists have discovered about the cellular and molecular workings of the human brain underscores that point.
What is always playing in your mind? Or better maybe, what do you allow to always be playing in your mind? What is your life’s soundtrack?
May I suggest a nice soundtrack to start each day?
Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love.
God is good. His creation is good.
God only wants what is best for me.
Everything is either done or permitted by God in order to bring me to perfection.
I have found journaling to be an enriching experience of reflection and calm. I love the comparison of a calm mind to a very still lake. You throw in just a pebble and it is very noticeable, easy to pay attention to. But throw a rock into a turbulent lake, and you will hardly notice it, if at all. When we are single-mindedly focused, we are calm and able to see and notice what is really around and within us.
In the Name of Jesus,
Soli Deo Gloria