Memory retention: how it works

Not based on scientific data, just my own experience

Woman with digital brain

When I was a teen, way back in the stone age, we didn't have Google to look up song lyrics. We had to listen to a song over and over and over...and over to learn the lyrics. And, knowing the lyrics was extremely important so we could show off our knowledge of the lyrics to our friends! Because, for some reason, knowing all the lyrics to a song meant you were a genius!! Believe me, I impressed a lot of people with my knowledge of lyrics in my teen years!

Today, I was thinking about how I can hear a song from 50 years ago, and not having heard it for over 20 years could remember each and every lyric. Word for word. And yet, other songs I could only remember the chorus to. That got me to thinking (heading into dangerous territory there, lol). Why is it that some of the "oldie" songs I can only remember the chorus to and yet others the entire and complete word for word lyrics?

That's when I remembered how I used to sit in my bedroom listening to a song, actually dissecting it's lyrics, over and over. Until the lyrics were ingrained into my brain. Yet, the songs I only remembered the chorus to I hadn't done this with. And why now when I listen to songs I mostly only remember the chorus and not the entire lyrics. Especially since the "age of the internet" was born. Today, if I want to know the lyrics to a song, I just Google it. Mostly just one time. Just to get an understanding of the words and what the vocalist is actually saying.

Now, when I hear newer songs on the radio, ipod, cell phone, or whatever electronic means I choose to listen with, I mostly only remember the chorus of the song. That's probably because the chorus is what stands out the most in a song (because it's repetitive) and is what I focus on while completing other tasks. Therefore, that is the portion of the song that becomes embedded within my brain. Whereas when I was a teen I was focusing, without distraction, on the entire song.

You may be asking yourself, "what does this have to do with prepping?". Well, let me tell you. (You really didn't think I was just going to leave you hanging, did you?)

I'm always looking for new prepper/survival skills to learn. Lately, I've been working at learning several different knots using paracord. I watch a video, practice tying the knot, and get it down to where I can tie it fairly easily. I feel confident I can tie that knot without watching the video. Then, a few days later, I have lost confidence in my ability to tie the knot and have to watch the video again! Talk about frustrating! So, after watching the video a few more times and practicing along with it, I learned how to tie a double half hitch, double half hitch with a bight, a fisherman's, and a prusik knot. Then, I went on a week long vacation. Yep, now I have to watch the video again, lol. Not necessarily because I don't remember the steps to tying the knots, but more because I'm not confident in my ability to actually tie the knots. And, this is just the first step. Now that the weather is somewhat more cooperative, I have to get outdoors and practice tying those knots on a tree! I'm actually looking forward to that.

Anyway, I realize that not everyone's memory works like mine does, but I know that a lot of them do. When I was younger, I used to have a photographic memory. But, I still had to listen to those songs over and over again to retain the lyrics. Most people need repetition to remember things. Especially things that need the brain and motor skills to work together. You may say, "yeah, but I learned how to operate the machinery at work in just a couple of days". But, how did you retain what you learned in your mind? You did it for hours on end, day in and day out; most likely for years. Just because you learn something doesn't guarantee you are going to retain it. Not for most of us, anyway.

Because our brains need repetition to totally commit something to our memory. Like those song lyrics, when learning new prepping skills we need to practice, practice, practice! Reading about it once or twice is not going to commit it to memory. Not in today's world. It's not like preparing for a test, like we used to do when we were in school. We only needed to remember that info for a day or two. As adults, there are too many distractions all around us. There are too many other "important" things to fill our minds with.


If/when we are faced with an emergency situation or a SHTF scenario, we are going to have to rely on our memory as well as our motor skills. We may not have the internet to Google something or to watch that video one more time. So, we need to practice that newfound skill over and over and over, NOW. Then lather, rinse, and repeat (LOL). If you wonder why those people who do bush craft videos are always going out and testing using/practicing their skills in the woods or wilderness, it's because they know the importance of truly knowing how to build a fire, set up a shelter, find water, forage, and cook over that fire if a SHTF scenario ever were to happen. It's because they want to truly know how to do it, not just know "about" it. It's because they want to be ready and not have to fumble around making mistakes or causing injuries to themselves or others. It's because they don't want to be wishing they'd taken more time to learn their skills to perfection and then continued practicing them to maintain that perfection.

The old saying, "practice makes perfect" is true. You can have all the head knowledge there is on a particular skill, but if you don't truly learn that skill by physically practicing it, it will do you absolutely no good.

For those of us in the U.S., warmer weather is coming soon. Now would be a good time to plan some camping/outing trips. Make opportunities for yourself and your family to practice some basic survival skills. Those ones (skills) that you can't practice at home. That's what we're planning on doing. I've watched a lot of different bush craft videos over the winter months, and now it's time to put that knowledge to use and practice!

It is my prayer that you will seek the Lord and ask Him to show you what you need to learn and practice in your particular situation for you (and your family if applicable) to be ready for what is in your future.

Until next time...happy prepping, and God bless!