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Memory and Decision-Making

Memory and Decision Making

Memory and Decision-Making


Memory is one of the biggest reasons why human beings are the dominant species on this planet. We can remember why we made good decisions and why we made bad decisions. We can remember the faces of loved ones and we can remember how to be happy and how to behave in certain situations and how to communicate with the world and interact with the world around us. For the most basic of explanations, memory is where we store all of our knowledge and it’s this knowledge, which often guides the behaviors we exhibit. When we understand the power of our memory, it offers us a perfect opportunity to change the way that we behave for the better.

In fact, there are three different types of memory, “Short Term”, “Medium Term”, and “Long Term Memory”. We all have a short-term memory, it’s thought to be around 40 seconds. And it’s subject to weakness and has limited use because things are only held in our short-term memory for a short time. It’s one of the reasons why we sometimes forget people’s names when they tell them to us. Typically, human beings can remember four-to-five-time items in their short-term memory at once.

Medium term memory has a much longer retention level, however we are typically prone to forget things quickly. Typically, our medium term memory lasts for about 24 to 48 hours and it’s helpful for recalling the immediate past something we did the day before a couple of days before in my new detail. However, remembering the TV show we watched the night before, is a perfect example. If asked you “What movie did you watch, three weeks ago?”, I’m sure you’d find it difficult to remember.

Finally, long term memory is almost limitless, it’s sustainable over many years. And dependent on the number of times you bring up your memory from the past. Results in how deeply embedded it is in your memory. Over a course of a lifetime, we can remember many things often going as far back as five or six years old. And if you were to liken it to anything, it’s like the hard drive of a computer. Short term memory is like the memory of if you’ve just deleted something and you do control ‘Z’, which allows you to bring something back medium term memory is if you were to go to a restore item on your computer. As a result, the short-term, medium-term, and long-term memories are linked to the amount of time they can be recalled.

How Memories Are Stored

Memory can be stored in four ways and if we understand these four ways, it helps us calculate how to keep our memories in our mind for longer. As a result allows us to increase the speed and effectiveness of our learning as without those four are associative, salient, flashbulb and grooved memories. As I mentioned before, human memory can be likened to a computer. There’s an input and output and of course, the storage or the hard drive. However, we are different to computers simply because we are more unreliable. It’s important to understand how we can effectively we call and retain our memories over a period of time. And we can do this by recalling them and repeating them with a high degree of concern. I didn’t see by bringing them up. The first is associative and nearly all memories are associated to and are connected to something else in our mind. Memories are rarely isolated events and have no other connections. These can be songs, a favorite paragraph from your favorite book, childhood memories, experiences you’ve had with girlfriends or boyfriends in the past, special meals etc. etc. And these are all built on the basis of many other interconnecting elements. Salient memories are formed more around things that stand out and have some meaningful impact to you. They can be easily distinguished from others. And as a result, they trigger higher levels of attentional concentration, and cognitive engagement.


Flash bulb memories are unique and powerful and often only happen once in a lifetime. These can be horrific events, and equally incredible events, which stand out in your mind and for me one of those was when Princess Diana died in the UK. It shocked everybody and these memories remain long lasting impressions on us that we tend to take with us till we die. They can either be highly positive or highly negative experiences. The positive experience may have been where you have been surprised by your other half proposing to you or a very special meal, or the unexpected surprise of a new birth into your life.

Finally, grooved memories is the final type of memory. These are in our minds because they’ve been we’ve been repeatedly exposed to them over a period of time. As a result, it’s called grooving because they have been grooved into our psyche. Practice of something is the process of grooving a memory where repetition ensures its that it becomes fixed in your mind. Over the course of our lives, we’re constantly collecting, assimilating and storing different memories and these memories stick with us more rigidly than others. These memories can be stored in our minds at a young age, and be retained in our minds for even longer. Some of them are held in our conscious, some of them are held in our subconscious mind. As a result, our memories grow in number, the older that we get and the more memories that we have, the more likely they are to influence us, and how we make our decisions.

Memory and Confirmation Bias

Not only that but our memories can also influence our behaviors, especially if it’s linked to confirmation bias, where we want to confirm that what we already know is true.

The older we get, the more our memories fade and degrade. As a result, we need to carefully manage and repeat bringing these memories to the fore and is often one of the reasons why we talk about our memories with others to bring them back to life and make them more vivid in our mind and imagination. As a result, it’s important that we refresh them in our mind by sharing them with others. That said, we may change how some of these memories are stored in our mind over a period of time by filtering and distorting. However, we’re not designed to forget powerful or strong memories and it’s difficult to change them or indeed edit them.

Updating our Memories So As Not To Let Them Affect Our Decision Making

That said, it is possible to change a memory or update it with something new, rather than remove it altogether. So if we have a preconceived idea of what something is in our past, we can change this going forward. So if we believe that everybody in ‘Country X’ behaves in a certain way because of our experience we had when we were 15 years old, going back to that country a couple of times and experiencing new behaviors from people within that country may help to re edit those memories in our mind. Since we’re talking about memory, I think it’s also important to mention habit, because habit and memory are heavily interlinked.

However, despite memories and habits being powerful traits in human beings, they can have both good and bad outcomes. Essentially, habits are the automatic repetition of previously successful choices that we’ve made, and help us to move through our daily lives in a much more efficient, fluid way and as I’ve said before, allows us to use less mental energy, which makes us much more effective. As a result, they become built into and hardwired into our subconscious as a result, and the result is that these habits can be seen as wisdom, or indeed knowledge.

Memories and Habit

However, once we start to do something habitually, it can then become very difficult to break out of these habits and as a result and end up forming automatic or habitual behaviors. On the negative side, sometimes these habits can be undesirable and difficult to break meaning that the older we get, the more we bed in these habits, and the potentially more stubborn we become. This is one of the reasons why you sometime hear the phrase “stubborn old man”, because they’re set in their ways, because these habits are now hardwired into their mind.

This then, leads us to the last part of this quick overview of memory and that is intuition. Intuition is so often confused with instincts, but in fact, they are different. Intuition is something that comes from outside of our memories and it guides us to make certain choices on a ‘gut level’. Much like memories this instinct is built from our learned behaviors that much like memories are built and then collected over time.

Memory and Instinct

Memories subconsciously create our instincts over our lifetimes whereas intuition involves aspects of long term memory that can even involve short term memory processes. Our intuitive feelings kick in when long term memory combined with the patterns we subconsciously remember combined with experience.  Intuitive decision making is based on our past experiences. As a result, we can become repeatedly successful in similar situations where previous outcomes and learnings were useful and accurate.

In Conclusion

To close, some people have said that human brain can hold up to 100 terabytes of information but the problem with that is we only use a small portion of this. Therefore, the more we can tap into our memory, and know how to hold our memories better and not be influenced by those memories in our decision making to make irrational or poor decisions, the better decision makers we can become. It’s worth remembering as humans, we can perceive things in different ways based on our previous memories that we’ve built up. This can result in cognitive dissonance which happens when the current experience we’re focused on does not dovetail with previous learned memories that we’ve stored and the two become disconnected. This can result in disruption, confusion, and a distorted view of the world.

As a result, we have to consciously make the effort to change our focus from our subconscious to more conscious mode and use our thought to resolve this disconnect between our current situation and those previous memories, experiences, failures, feelings or thoughts. The problem with this is that this expends a large amount of energy and causes some people to feel anguish, or anxiety. Whilst small levels of cognitive dissonance can be productive it can keep us up at night thinking of all of the potential outcomes or solutions to our problems. This might not seem too bad but higher levels of cognitive dissonance can cause real anxiety and worry in some people so it’s important to be aware of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias, and the memories that you hold in your mind and the authority they have within your decision making process.


Duncan shares more influence insights and tactical strategies as well as more about achieving success, cultivating a high-performance mindset and fulfilling your potential on his Youtube Channel on Youtube.com/duncanstevens – to discover more about leveraging loss aversion or to even hire him to speak about high-performance leadership, influence or collaboration at your event you can follow the link below. Duncan is a professional keynote speaker and global authority on high-performance leadership, influence and collaboration.

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