Most of us forget important and not-so-important things on a regular basis: “I had completely forgotten today was George’s birthday! Thank you so much for reminding me. Your memory is excellent!”

Memory is a crucial cognitive skill. With it, you remember your past experiences, as well as retain the knowledge you need for everyday tasks. We tend to see it as a whole, however, saying that we have “a good memory” or “a bad memory.” In actuality, remembering what you ate yesterday uses a different part of the brain than remembering that Paris is the capital of France. Indeed, scientific studies show that different areas of the brain are activated according to what kind of information you are remembering. In fact, several groups of neurons in several areas of the brain can be simultaneously activated to build a memory.

Memory can be classified according to its duration and focus.

Sensory memory is the most transient. It records new information perceived for just milliseconds.

Short-term memory then takes over and stores the information for about one minute. When you read, your short-term memory is active, helping you remember the sentence you just read so that you can make sense of the next sentence.

Long-term memory is used when you want to remember information for a longer period of time. This type of memory, which has unlimited content capacity and duration, contains all your long-lasting memories. Long-term memories can be stored for a long time and in several forms.

Episodic memory: When you recall something that you did yesterday, your last doctor’s appointment, or a friend’s birthday party, you are remembering personal events in context. This information is stored and retrieved by your episodic memory.

Semantic memory: Rules of grammar, the names of capital cities, and multiplication tables are general knowledge not linked to any particular memorization context; this type of information involves semantic memory. Although the information was initially of an episodic type (you first learned your multiplication tables in the context of Ms. Murray’s classroom), it becomes semantic memory through abstraction of the spatial and temporal context in which it was memorized (you no longer think about Ms. Murray’s classroom when you multiply 9 times 9). Semantic memory enables you to remember a fact without referencing the context in which you learned it.

Procedural memory: The ability to automatically reproduce certain actions—playing the piano, riding a bicycle, or driving a car—involves your procedural memory. You perform these actions automatically, without conscious recall of the memory of learning the specific process.

Memory may be called upon and trained in multiple and varied ways. The four memory exercise sets that follow are a good starting point for improving your memory.

Tale Teller, which helps you develop a method for understanding and memorizing texts.

Complete Proverbs, which brings cultural knowledge to mind by searching deep into memory.

Words, Where Are You?, which activates your visual and verbal memory capacities

Associations, which reminds you of global semantic knowledge— and may even help you acquire and memorize knowledge in specific fields.

We will be discussing these techniques in details in the upcoming posts on memory improvement.