Memory Isn't a Thing, and More. Don't Be Fooled by the Top 10 Memory Myths

Understanding the truth behind the many false memory myths can save you time if you decide to improve your own memory.

For example, you might think you are one of those people who are stuck forever with a bad memory.

But what would you say if I told you that even people with "bad" memories can do something about it? You see, one of the memory myths is that your memory cannot be improved.

According to memory expert Dr. Kenneth Higbee, your memory definitely can be improved, no matter who you are.

In his book, Your Memory : How It Works and How to Improve It, Dr. Ken Higbee exposes the truth behind the 10 most common memory myths. I've summarized these for you below.

Look at each of these myths closely - you might be surprised at how many of these you thought were true! After reading this list, you might want to check out my quick guide to how memory works.

  • Memory Myth #1: Memory is a THING

    Your memory is not a thing. There is no part of your brain that a doctor can point to and say, "There's a healthy-looking memory."

    Instead, memory is a process. You should think of remembering as an activity rather than in terms of a good memory or a bad memory.

    So, like with any activity, you may remember well or remember poorly. But it is important to realize, just like with any skill, you can learn ways to do it better.

    There is a second half to this memory myth as well. There is no single place in your brain where each memory is stored.

    Individual memories are actually the total of many different memories - such as the sound of the thing, or the way it looks, or even the action involved.

    Each part of a memory is stored in different ways and different places in your brain. Even the same types of memories are remembered differently.

    For example, a person might be able to remember a conversation but not be able to recall a simple music melody.

    So is memory a "thing" in your head? Definitely not!

  • Memory Myth #2: There is a SECRET to a Good Memory

    Many people want to know the one secret to improving their memory. The truth is, there is no one best way to improve your memory.

    Think of it like this. Suppose I showed you a hammer and told you the hammer is a wonderful tool for pounding nails. Then you ask, "But how can I use that hammer to cut boards?".

    Obviously, you would not use a hammer to cut boards, you would use a saw. And to build a house, you would need several different types of tools. The same is true with memory.

    There are memory skills you can use to memorize different types of information. But there is no single "secret" method.

    In fact, the memory skills are not even secrets. Most of the methods have been around for more than 300 years. One method has been around for 2,000 years. No one has the right to say they "invented" a particular memory skill or that the method is a secret.

    The thing to realize is there is no quick fix for improving your memory. But you can improve your memory a lot by learning the different methods you need.

  • Memory Myth #3: There is an EASY WAY to Memorize

    People looking for the secret to a good memory often also think there is an easy way to memorize. If they could just learn the "trick", then remembering would not require any effort.

    Memorizing is a learned skill. There is no easy, effortless way to do it. So you need to decide whether you are willing to give the mental effort required.

    What memory methods do is make memorizing a lot more effective. The methods still require mental effort on your part.

    Think of it like this. If you wanted to learn how to play golf, or drive a car, or any other skill, would you expect there to be just one, easy way to do that activity?

    Memory is the same. Since remembering is a skill, it requires effort. And you must learn and use the right techniques.

    Like with other skills, if you learn the memory methods you will remember much better. A person with an average IQ who learns memory methods will do better on tests than a high-IQ person who does not use memory methods.

  • Memory Myth #4: Some People are Stuck with BAD Memories

    First of all, you don't even have a memory (see Myth #1). But even if you look at memory as a skill or ability, it is not true you are stuck with the memory you have.

    memory myths

    There are differences between people in natural memory ability. But these differences are much less important than the memory skills a person has learned.

    For example, think of memory as cardboard box. A person with a good natural memory may have a large box, while a person with a weaker memory might have a small box.

    As each person learns something new, they write the information on an index card. The person with the big box might just throw each card into the box, while the person with the small box might file each card neatly in alphabetical order.

    Who do you think will remember things better? Even though the person with the poor natural memory has a smaller "box", since they organize the information they can find it (remember it) easily.

    So using memory skills files the memories in your mind in an organized way. But first you have to learn the skills.

    Of all the memory myths, believing you are stuck with a bad memory is one of the worst because it stops you from trying. Don't believe it - you can improve your memory.

  • Memory Myth #5: Some People have PHOTOGRAPHIC Memories

    It is very unlikely that there are more than just a few people in the world with photographic memories (except maybe Tibetan monks). This is just another of the memory myths. When most people who perform memory feats are tested, it turns out they are almost always using memory skills to remember information.

    memory myths
    Elephants may never forget, but people do

    In his book, Dr. Higbee tells of a demonstration he does using memory techniques. He tells an audience that he will memorize the first 50 pages of any magazine in 3 hours.

    When tested on this, Dr. Higbee can remember what article is on every page, what pictures are on the pages, who the authors of the articles are, what the name is of the main character on page 17, and so on. He can answer almost any question about the magazine, and audience members often ask him if he has a photographic memory.

    He does not. He uses the memory skills to study and memorize the magazine. This is something anyone can do.

    So don't worry about whether someone else has a photographic memory. Using memory skills, you can develop your own memory so that people think you have one!

  • Memory Myth #6: You are TOO OLD or TOO YOUNG to Improve Your Memory

    You may have heard someone say they were too old to learn. This is another one of the false memory myths.

    While it is true that some people find remembering a more difficult as they age, anyone can learn new things. A elderly person who uses memory skills can actually remember better than a 20 year old who does not!

    Children as young as 7 years old have been taught the skills as well. In fact, Dr. Higbee even taught his three year old how to use a simple version of the Peg method.

    No matter what your age, you still have the ability to learn.

  • Memory Myth #7: Memorizing OVER AND OVER Boosts Memory

    There is no evidence that simply memorizing over and over will improve your memory. What will improve your memory is practicing memorizing using the memory skills.

    One classic study discovered that 3 hours of practice memorizing did not improve long-term memory, but 3 hours of practice using memory techniques did improve long-term memory.

    Rather than blindly practicing rote memorization, learn the memory techniques, and keep your brain healthy!

  • Memory Myth #8: A Trained Memory NEVER FORGETS

    Some people think that once they train their memory, they will never forget anything they see, do, or hear. The truth is that once you train your memory, you will be able to remember things you want to remember.

    If you learn memory skills, you will still forget things, too. But you will remember things better than other people, and you will remember things better than you used to.

    Research suggests that no one ever forgets anything. Everything we experience is buried deep in our minds. The problem is that we cannot get the information out when we need it.

    Memory skills give you the mental hook that lets you get the information out when you need it. Learn them!

  • Memory Myth #9: Remembering Too Much can CLUTTER Your Mind

    Your ability to remember things does not really depend on how much information is in your mind. Actually, it depends on how well organized the information is.

    memory myths
    Disorganized info is hard to remember

    Our brains can store an almost unlimited amount of information. But if the information in your mind is disorganized, it will be harder to remember things.

    In some ways, the more you learn about something, the easier it is to learn more about it. Someone who is an expert in a subject has an easier time learning new facts about it than someone unfamiliar with the subject.

    Learning new things does not "fill up" the mind. As Dr. Higbee says, "...the storage capacity of your memory is virtually unlimited".

    So don't be shy or afraid of learning.

  • Memory Myth #10: People Only Use 10 PERCENT of their Mind

    You may have heard that most people only use about 10% (or less) of the brain. It turns out there is no research to support this.

    First of all, scientists do not agree on how to measure brain power and memory. So no one can accurately say how much of our brains we do not use.

    The important point is that most people probably don't use all of their brain's potential. That's why Dr. Higbee wrote his book - because he believes that by training our memories we can all improve our learning and memory.

    Whether we use 1%, 10%, or 90% doesn't matter. By learning memory skills, we can improve our memory and brain power if we make the effort.

Now that you know the truth about these myths, why not start improving your memory today? Check out the pages on this site that cover memory systems, study skills, memory exercises, and more!

Published: 10/30/2007
Last Updated: 06/11/2020

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Reproduction without permission is prohibited