How your mind works: Using automatic memory recall of dominant neural pathways to automate everything you think and do
How your brain tries to take the load off you. Why it does it. And how to “hack” it to become a better version of you. One of the most important insights into how your brain works is that your brain is constantly trying to make life easier for you through the process of automatic memory recall.
Automatic memory recall is your brain’s way of taking the load off your mind. But it has a dark side – it has no filter for right and wrong, positive and negative. So, it can automate negative thoughts, responses, habits etc.
In this third post in the #HowYourMindWorks series, we ask what is your brain’s automatic memory recall function and why your brain does it. Then we look into the unfortunate side-effects of automatic memory recall and discover how to utilise them to do amazing things in business and life.
WHAT IS YOUR BRAIN’S AUTOMATIC MEMORY RECALL?
Remember how your brain stores information? We said in earlier posts that your brain contains 100 billion amazing brain cells called neurons. And every new piece of information your brain receives gets stored in one of your 25 quadrillion potential connections between neurons, called neural pathways.
When you receive new information, the neural pathway is fresh and new – we call these lesser neural pathways. Like when a baby sees an apple for the first time, a new neural pathway is formed. But when you keep processing that information (the baby sees apples over and over), the neural pathway becomes stronger and better formed. We call these dominant neural pathways. And they’re the “information superhighways” your brain uses for automatic memory recall.
Note: The difference between lesser (new) and dominant neural pathways is important, because your brain sends another type of brain cell, called glial cells, to “deactivate” lesser neural pathways within 48 hours. That deactivation means the information gets harder to remember (recall). So, if you get a new piece of information and you don’t use it, your brain makes you “forget” it.
AUTOMATIC MEMORY RECALL AND UNCONSCIOUS COGNITION
Automatic memory recall is simply your brain organising information into dominant neural pathways, so it can retrieve the information as quickly as possible. And what’s super special about it, is that it makes the whole process automatic – it’s what we call unconscious cognition or unconscious decisions. It’s trying to help you by making things easier for you.
When you hear people talk about “muscle memory” – doing something over and over until it comes naturally – they’re actually talking about automatic memory recall. Only it’s not just for physical actions, your brain tries to do that with everything: your thoughts, actions, responses, behaviour etc. And the 2013 research by David Creswell et al of Carnegie Mellon in the USA showed that these unconscious are incredibly powerful forces in our decision-making.
PS: This is the same process that memory athletes use to memorise huge strings of numbers, code or the order of a deck of cards when they compete in memory sports. And what all those memory training programmes and techniques are trying to teach you to use.
WATCH: WORLD RECORD MEMORY – A DECK OF CARDS IN 13 SECONDS
This is Shijir-Erdene Bat-Enkh, the world-record holder for memorising a deck of cards. And mental athletes do this by exploiting the brain’s automatic memory recall function.
WHY DO WE HAVE AUTOMATIC MEMORY RECALL?
There are two reasons. The first one is your brain is just trying to help you along in life. That’s because it turns out that conscious thought is actually quite stressful. Remember the first time you drove a car? You were probably a nervous wreck.
You have to look in your mirrors, control the handbrake, use different pedals, look this way and that, listen to the instructor, watch out for other cars – and that’s apart from just learning to control the vehicle with the steering and gears etc. Super stressful. It actually filled your body with the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline, which in the long run are extremely bad for your health.
So, your brain does you a favour. It starts storing all the information (the things you need to do to drive a car) in neural pathways. It builds dominant neural pathways over time, so that it can automatically recall them for you the next time.
And, today, you can drive home with your eyes closed. (That’s a figure of speech, don’t try it.) Driving a car is now practically an unconscious process for you. Automatic memory recall means your brain can let you drive a car without having to think (or stress) about it.
THE SECOND REASON: ENERGY CONSERVATION
The other reason your brain uses automatic memory recall is to conserve energy. Your brain is your “main” organ, and it uses about 20% of all the energy in your body. But, in case you haven’t noticed, basically, every other organ in your body is there simply to serve your brain.
No, seriously, think about it. Your eyes are there to help your brain see, your ears to let it hear. Your legs are there so your brain can move around and your hands so it can manipulate things in the world around it. In a way, your brain is “you”. But it needs all those other organs – your heart to pump the blood it needs, your stomach to break down the nutrients it needs – to stay alive, so your brain can’t be greedy. It needs to share the available energy in your body.
And, remember, our brains haven’t quite adapted to modern life yet. They still depend on a lot of paleomammalian functions, and they’re kind of still stuck in the “survival mode” of humankind’s hunter-gatherer days, when nutrients and energy were much scarcer than today.
So your brain follows one of the simplest rules of science: use the “path of least resistance”. A dominant neural pathway is easier to follow. It offers less resistance because it’s well-formed. So your brain creates dominant neural pathways and does away with lesser ones, so that it can conserve energy by not making you actively think about things. It uses automatic memory recall instead.
THE PROBLEM WITH AUTOMATIC MEMORY RECALL
Like we mentioned in our post on neural pathways, there’s a dark side to all of this amazing brain power: Your brain doesn’t distinguish between the potential positive and negative effects of the information in neural pathways.
Some of the information in your brain can be “negative”. Like when you run a race for the first time and lose. A pathway might form that says “I’m not good at running”. If you lose again or maybe just notice a friend or sibling is faster than you, it will reinforce that pathway and eventually, you’ll believe that you’re no good at running. And, because you want to avoid humiliation in the future, you start avoiding running. It could spiral out to the point where you completely avoid sports or activity. And then one day in the future when you’re a little overweight, you just can’t seem to get into an exercise routine, because automatic memory recall tells you “no, you’re no good at it and you don’t like it and you just can’t and shouldn’t even try”.
That’s dangerous stuff. Now, remember we said your brain does this with every piece of information it receives. So ask yourself, what parts of my daily behaviour are maybe controlled by the automatic memory recall of neural pathways I formed a long time ago.
Can you see how this can affect your entire life? Maybe somewhere along the way you started believing you’re not good with money. Or maybe that person who’s struggling at work is constantly fighting the auto recall in their head that telling them “you’re not good enough and you’ll never amount to anything in life”.
TRY THIS QUICK EXERCISE
Look around you at the office (at work), or at home or in your community. Look at someone who you think might be struggling with something. Maybe they’re struggling to keep up, always underperforming, always late, always under pressure and not really getting unstuck. Maybe it’s an entire team of people (or even everyone in your company).
Now ask yourself, is that really them struggling. Or is it just something in their automatic memory recall that’s holding them back?
At LifeXchange Solutions, we specialise in helping people and entire businesses overcome just that. Got a question? Contact us.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?
Aha, there’s a hidden superpower in your mind at work here. Did you spot it? If your automatic memory recall works by choosing the dominant neural pathway, can you change that pathway or maybe create a new one in its place? Yes. That’s the magic key. The principle of neuroplasticity says neural pathways can be changed and created. And doing it is called neural reprogramming. It’s how you can rewire your brain (or anyone around you’s) for success. See our proof you can rewire your brain.
And you can see it in action too. Our founder, Dr Cobus Oosthuizen is a master as neural programming (neurolinguistic programming or NLP), and he recently did something that millions of people around the world said was impossible.
WATCH: NEURAL REPROGRAMMING IN ACTION
SOLUTIONS FOR YOUR BUSINESS
Now, this is all exciting and cool stuff. But remember, we at LifeXchange Solutions can show you how you can use all of this information. Knowing how the brain works and combining it with our knowledge of behavioural psychology, we can help you create amazing change in your business or personal life.
For businesses, we show you how to use this information to motivate, inspire and engage your teams, for dramatic change and exponential business growth through our organisational management solutions.
And, for you personally, take a look at the amazing growth opportunities among the initiatives under our LifeXchange Community.
Get the full #HowYourMindWorks picture with the super-simple explanation of complex behaviour that took 10 years to create at our post on How Your Brain Works.
Discover awesome insights around people’s behaviour at work with the science of employee motivation, learn why we procrastinate with mental pushback and the most vital first ingredient to business growth with the science of workplace trust.