The 4 types of memory: What they are and how to improve them

Can you remember the name of your first-grade teacher or the street you grew up on?

If you can, it's because several complex mental processes are hard at work recalling pieces of information you may have learned in the last 30 seconds or 30 years. However, memory isn't just important for reminiscing about the good old days; it's also a vital cog in your professional and personal life. From recalling critical client information to navigating your way home, your memories keep you on the right track and help you make informed decisions every day.

In this article, we'll dive into the fascinating world of memory, exploring the different types of memory that shape your experiences and even uncovering how to leverage them for business success. Not only that, but we'll also share valuable tips for enhancing your memory so your mind can stay sharp and help you find success in whatever you aim to achieve.

1. Sensory memory

Sensory memory serves as a gatekeeper, managing the constant stream of sensory stimuli surrounding you. As a buffer, it processes and filters the influx of information from your environment, ensuring that only relevant details make their way into your consciousness.

Given the sheer volume of sights, sounds, and other sensations we experience, sensory memory is necessarily brief, lasting for a mere three seconds or less. This fleeting nature allows your other memory processes to focus on essential sensory inputs without becoming overwhelmed, allowing you to effectively navigate the world around you.

Sensory memory plays a crucial role in both your personal and professional life by helping you remain attentive and engaged with your surroundings. Improved sensory memory can help you:

  • Quickly adapt to changing situations.
  • Focus on relevant information.
  • Make well-informed decisions based on your impressions of the world around you.

Types of sensory memory

Sensory memory can be further broken down into three main categories. These include:

  • Iconic memory: Sensory memory from your sense of sight.
  • Echoic memory: Sensory memory from your sense of hearing.
  • Haptic memory: Sensory memory from your sense of touch.

All three of these pieces work together to paint a picture of the world around you all day. 

How to improve your sensory memory

If you want help getting more out of your sensory memory, here are a few tips to try: 

2. Short-term memory

Short-term memory lasts around 30 seconds and is responsible for temporarily holding information in our conscious awareness. Unlike sensory memory, which completely captures what your senses feel, short-term memory is your brain’s interpretation of these senses. 

Improved short-term memory is important for your development because it allows you to: 

  • Remember where key items like your phone or wallet are.
  • Perform multi-step tasks more efficiently.
  • Make sound decisions based on information you’ve just read or learned. 

Types of short-term memory

Short-term memory can be categorized into two main types:

  • Auditory short-term memory: Stores and processes sound-related information.
  • Visual short-term memory: Deals with visual information, like shapes and colors.

How to improve your short-term memory

To enhance your short-term and working memory, consider starting with these tips:

  • Stay organized: Keeping your environment and daily tasks organized can reduce mental stress, allowing your short-term memory to function more effectively. Start reducing the clutter in your life with this article on being more organized.
  • Stay physically active: Exercise has been linked to improved cognitive function, including better short-term memory and working memory performance. Learn how to make better physical health a habit with these tips from Harvard University.
  • Manage stress: High levels of mental stress can negatively affect short-term memory, so using stress management techniques, such as meditation, can help improve cognitive function. Learn more in this guide to mental stress

3. Working Memory

Working memory is a crucial part of our memories, responsible for actively holding and manipulating information within our conscious awareness. It serves as our brain's mental workspace, enabling you to manage, process, and use information for a wide range of cognitive tasks, such as problem-solving, decision-making, and language comprehension.

Working memory is essential for effectively managing tasks and making sound decisions. By maintaining and manipulating relevant information in real-time, working memory allows you to:

  • Adapt to evolving situations.
  • Complete complex tasks more quickly.
  • Create better plans using all of the information readily available to you.

How to improve your working memory

If you're looking to enhance your working memory, consider these strategies:

4. Long-term memory

Long-term memory stores information over an extended period, ranging from several minutes to a lifetime. Unlike short-term memory, long-term memory has a nearly limitless capacity, allowing you to retain a vast amount of knowledge, experiences, and skills.

Boosting your long-term memory helps you in your private and professional life by:

  • Improving your control and understanding of language.
  • Remembering more skills and facts.
  • Allowing you to draw on your past experiences to navigate new situations.

Types of long-term memory

Long-term memory can be broadly categorized into two distinct types: explicit and implicit. Explicit memories are the things you try to remember, whereas implicit memories are things you inherently remember and recall throughout your life effortlessly. 

Explicit memory (declarative memory) 

This type of memory involves the conscious recollection of facts and events. It can be further divided into:

  • Episodic memory: This memory stores personal experiences and events, including details about when and where they occurred. Learn more in our guide to episodic memory.
  • Autobiographical memory: This subcategory of episodic memory specifically deals with memories of our own life events.
  • Semantic memory: This memory holds general knowledge, facts, and concepts unrelated to specific personal experiences. Learn more in our guide to semantic memory.

Implicit memory (non-declarative memory) 

This type of memory involves unconscious learning and influences your behavior without you being aware of it. It includes:

  • Procedural memory: This memory stores motor skills and habits, such as riding a bike or tying a shoelace. Learn more in our guide to procedural memory.
  • Priming: This is a phenomenon where a past event subconsciously influences how you react to later events. For instance, if you were in a car accident as a child, the sound of screeching tires could elicit a rush of adrenaline. 

How to improve your long-term memory

If you want to enhance your long-term memory, consider these strategies:

  • Practice spaced repetition: Repeatedly reviewing information at increasing intervals can strengthen the neural connections associated with long-term memory. Find out more about spaced repetition in this ultimate guide
  • Build associations: Linking new information to existing knowledge can create a more extensive network of associations, making it easier to remember information in the long term. Start forming association habits in this guide on how to get a photographic memory
  • Remove memory biases: Even if you recall information over the long term, some of those memories could be biased. Learn how to spot and remove these biases in our guide to memory biases.

Interested in taking your memory to the next level?

Every day your memory is working hard to improve your life. Whether it’s your sensory, short-term, working, or long-term memory, they play a vital role in everything from processing your environment to making informed decisions. 

However, if you’re truly interested in taking your memory abilities to the next level, you need to find ways to make sure your memory is focused on only the most important tasks. If you tire it out with jobs like finding a lost email, it won’t have the mental energy to really be there when you take on bigger, more important tasks.

Preserve your mental energy

Heyday integrates with your web browser and important apps like Gmail, Google Drive, and more so that it can find and store all of the information important to you. This way, you can use the internet like normal, and Heyday will resurface relevant content right where you need it so you can focus on what matters most.

Josh Chapman

Content marketer who specializes in SEO-optimized articles for SaaS companies.