Repeat Your Way to Improved Memory

I’ve written about the power of repetition before. I was reminded again of its importance by a book I recently read, Brain Rules. Author John Medina includes a section on how repeating helps your memory.

Let’s do one of the experiments from the book.

Gaze at the following series of symbols for about 30 seconds then cover it up before moving on.

4 # t * 9 j %

Now, moving on after a few seconds, can you recite this seven character series without looking back?

An average person can remember about seven characters for 30 seconds. Unless something happens to secure it in memory in that short amount of time, it will be lost forever.

Phone numbers are a good example. Those of us born before the explosion of “contact lists” in mobile phones had certain numbers memorized. I still know my wife’s home number and my childhood home phone number by heart. And for whatever reason, I remember the phone numbers of our local music stores, my favorite pizza place, and a handful of others. Mostly these are burned into my memory because I repeated them so often.

With the advent of stored numbers in our phones and devices, I can honestly say that I do not know my parents’ or siblings’ current phone numbers. Nothing is memorized because I need to know them.

To remember, we must repeat.

That’s why telling someone about your experiences right away is a powerful part of the process. When you talk about what you learn, you’re more likely to remember. When you tell the story of what just happened, it’s likely to become more ingrained.

I’ve told the story of how I felt a call to serve in ministry on numerous occasions. Had I kept quiet about it, I may have lost some of the memory and detail. But I kept sharing and now that experience is truly in my memory banks. That’s why new converts to faith must start sharing the story and continue sharing it.

Repetition alone isn’t what calls us to ministry. By itself, repetition doesn’t help us remember sacred and spiritual moments in our lives or internalize scripture. But repetition is a big part of it and Scripture mandates repetition.

Deuteronomy 6:4-8

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Psalm 119:164

I will praise you seven times a day because all your regulations are just.

Luke 22:19

Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

What do you need to begin repeating today so you will remember it tomorrow?


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