Working with your working memory

How  intelligent you are in a great part is determined by the capacity of your working memory. The working memory of most people is between 5 and 9 objects, meaning that with a very high chance the size of your working memory is 7. To be sure you can test yourself.  It is tempting to start training your working memory. While you can achieve a success in some particular tasks, you will probably not be able to improve your overall working memory capabilities.

In our one-on-one courses Anna teaches enough working memory training to support basic speedreading and remembering dates. This is sufficient for the low-level superlearning tasks, but hardly a superskill of its own. What is generating a huge impact is restructuring the data we want to remember.

The most basic method of restructuring data to remember is called chunking. Instead of remembering an item we remember a pointer to  a list of item. Like  “buy eggs, milk, bread, tuna and vegetables”, where the  list of vegetables consists of “onion, tomato, pees, potato and  garlic”. Notice that together there are 9 items on both lists, which is quite challenging, but each  list on its own is just 5 items, which is easily manageable.

The second method of restructuring we often use is called dual encoding. We remember at the same time a list of 5-7 words and a list or 5-7 images. Since visual memory is separated from auditory memory, we can easily do this task. In fact we suppress subvocalization via a similar mechanism, filling our auditory  input with monotonous counting.

The advanced methods we use are some sort of modifications of chunking and dual encoding. For example, prioritization (important tasks, urgent tasks, nice to have tasks) is a private example of chunking with varying level of details within chunk. Working with several “sets” of memories is utilizing fast storage and retrieval of visual memory. Determining critical path/narrative of the document vs the side-details also utilizes several working memory paths. Hyperlinking separates memory of markers from memory of links between markers.

The method where we utilize significantly more data than the size of the working memory without chunking is high-level visualization. In high level visualization we engrave details as details in some imaginary landscape.  But even then we utilize the working memory limitations to focus on a particular virtual object at any given time.

Our working memory is limited, but we have unlimited potential to prepare information for storage and to retrieve it. Try to improve your chunking and dual encoding capabilities by regular exercise.



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