Top 10 Tips For A Better Memory

Posted on January 24th, 2012

Top 10 Tips For A Better Memory

Most world-class memory performers use mnemonics rather than have any extraordinary brain power. Neuroimaging studies of exceptional memorizers found no differences in brain anatomy between world-class memory performers and people with average memories 1.

This means that almost anyone could attain a “world-class memory” by practicing the right techniques, such as a mnemonic system 2. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence that world-class memory masters are any better than the rest of us at memory challenges in the real world, such as remembering where we parked our car or when someone’s birthday is.

When you read, you will remember material better if you take the time to scan a chapter first, or get a sense of the major points before reading in detail. The more deeply you analyze information, the morel likely you are to encode the information in memory - and the more likely you are to remember it later. An overloaded working memory impairs (metacognition) our ability to accurately monitor and evaluate our own thinking.

Focusing on one task at a time greatly improves your ability to use your working memory effectively, which is your system that actively holds information in your mind to do verbal and nonverbal tasks such as reasoning and comprehension, and to make it available for further information processing.

In contrast, high levels of stress reduce the working-memory span and your ability to concentrate and focus executive control. Some research has suggested that stress elevates dopamine levels in the prefrontal cortex, impairing its ability to efficiently monitor and update information. Why overload your working memory if you don’t need to? Maybe it is time to shut off that cell phone, put away the Ritalin 3, take a piece of paper (think of it as a third work-ing-memory buffer), and start writing things down.

1. Pay attention.

Often when we forget something, it’s not that we’ve lost the memory but that we didn’t learn the thing properly in the first place. If you pay full attention to what you are trying to learn, you’ll be more likely to remember it later. Stop multitasking and start paying attention to the information you are trying to learn.

2. Create associations.

Associate what you’re trying to learn with other information you already know. For example, if you are familiar with the basic mnemonic technique consisting of letters and numbers, you can easily memorize your credit card and your bank account numbers.

  • 0 - S
  • 1 - T, D
  • 2 - N, M
  • 4 - R
  • 5 - L
  • 6 - Sh, Ch
  • 7 - K, G
  • 8 - F, V
  • 9 - P, B

Thus, you can convert 4527 into Roll and Neck where you can imagine a rolling neck.

Another example, while memorizing the periodic table for a chemistry class, it will be easier to remember that Ag = silver if you know that argentum is the Latin for silver. It might also help if you knew that Argentina got its name from early European explorers who thought the region was rich in silver (in fact, the native populations had imported their silver from elsewhere).

3. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Information such, as names and dates is more memorable if you can link it to an image. The effort you expend generating an image strengthens the memory. For example, in an art history course, you might have to remember that Manet specialized in painting figures and his contemporary, Monet, is famous for paintings of haystacks and water lilies. Picture the human figures lined up acrobat-style to form a letter “A” for Manet, and the water lilies arranged in a daisy chain to form the letter “0” for Monet.

4. Practice makes perfect.

There’s a reason kindergarteners drill on their ABCs and elementary school children drill all their multiplication tables. Memories for facts are strengthened by repetition. The same principle holds for memories for skills such as bike riding and juggling: they are improved by practice.

5. Use your ears.

Instead of just reading information silently, read it aloud. You will encode the information aurally as well as visually. You can also try writing it out; the act of writing activates sensory systems and also forces you to think about the words you’re copying.

6. Reduce overload.

If you’re having trouble remembering everything, use memory aids such as Evernote, Post-It notes, calendars, or electronic schedulers to remember dates and obligations, freeing you to focus on remembering items in situations where written aids won’t work say, during an exam!

7. Time-travel.

Remembering information for facts doesn’t depend on remembering the exact time and place where you acquired it. Nevertheless, if you can’t remember a fact, try to remember where you first heard it. If you can remember your high school history teacher lecturing on Napoleon, perhaps what she said about the causes of the Napoleonic Wars will also come to mind.

8. Get some sleep.

Two-thirds of Americans don’t get enough sleep and consequently are less able to concentrate during the day, which makes it harder for them to encode new memories and retrieve old ones. Sleep is also important for helping the brain organize and store memories.

The brain is in a constant state of tension between cells and chemicals that try to put you to sleep and cells and chemicals that try to keep you awake. The neurons of your brain show strong rhythmical activity when you’re asleep replaying what you learned that day.

Everyone needs a different number of hours of sleep and preference for when to go to sleep, but the biological drive for an afternoon nap is universal. Take a nap during the day that is no longer than 25 minutes. Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor performance 4.

9. Try a rhyme.

Do you have to remember long string of random information? Create a poem (or better yet, a song) that includes the information. Remember the old standard: “I before E: except after C: or sounded as ‘A: as in ‘neighbor’ or ‘weigh’”? This ditty uses rhythm and rhyme to make it easier to remember a rule of English spelling.

10. Relax.

Sometimes trying hard to remember is less effective than turning your attention to something else; often, the missing information will pop into your awareness later. If you are stumped by one question on a test skip the troublesome question and keep working; come back to it later, and perhaps the missing information won’t be so hard to retrieve.

There you have it, the top ten tips for better memory. There is nothing magical or extraordinary about having a great memory. Perhaps the best way to get a great memory is to use your brain more often. How can you do this? Read more books, solve more real life problems, relax, and remember to exercise.

  1. Gluck, M. A., Mercado, E., & Myers, C. E. (2008). Learning and memory: from brain to behavior. New York: Worth Publishers. 

  2. Mnemonic major system. 

  3. Ritalin is a psychostimulant drug. 

  4. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina. 

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