Health Magazine

How to Improve Your Memory: 5 Easy Tricks

Posted on the 12 October 2011 by Nerdywerds @NerdyWerds

Where did I park the car?


  • 5. Attention
  • 4. Association
  • 3. Chunking
  • 2. Repetition
  • 1. Exercise
  • Wrap up

Remember back to your grade school days, when there was always that one kid that seemed to never study and still he/she got straight A's? That was the same person that, in college, never took notes and still finished their exams first with high marks. Many people in the class would speculate that they were cheating, or that they were some level of super genius. Odds are, they just had an incredible memory. As boastful as it is to say this, I don't think I once cracked a book in high school or college. Many of my friends and family have postulated what they would trade for such a gift. The fact of the matter is that it's no gift; it's something I've worked at. And the best part is you can have it too.

I do not possess eidetic memory; often called photographic memory. If you need an example of eidetic memory, watch Psych tonight on USA Network; Psych happens to be my favorite show and I'd love it to continue airing. In that show, the protagonist is shown taking quick glances at things and having perfect recall later. This is not how many people with above average memory, including myself, operate. But the good news is that the tricks I use to retain information for years don't really require much more than a few moments of thought. So without further ado, here's my top five tips for improving your memory.

5. Attention

This one may sound like a bit of a cop out, but anyone with good memory will tell you it's important to pay attention. It's along the lines of "the harder I work, the luckier I seem to be". In class, when I wasn't taking notes, I was paying attention to the lecture and processing information. When I meet a person, I focus intently on what they tell me about themselves. Just a simple shift in attention can do wonders for your memory. When you're reading something, turn off the television. Don't try splitting your attention; it's not possible for a human to multitask. Unlike computers, we have one processing core. No matter how adept you think you are at multitasking, you aren't. Our brains can switch between tasks rather quickly, but we can't truly do two things at once. I was watching a special the other night on CNBC and they had this little test in there, which I invite you to try now.

How did you do? Either way, this should prove you can not do two things at once; so stop thinking you can. If you're studying and need to remember something, turn off the TV or the radio and study. Focus your mind open a single thing and you'll be surprised how much more you retain. Also, people will love your attentiveness and will be more inclined to engage you.

4. Association

Association is a powerful memory technique you'll want to familiarize yourself with. My sophomore year of high school I took U.S. History and Biology. To study for exams, I decided to go with using repetition. I would print out a study guide for each class and have my mom ask me when something happened or what something was off of the list. This happened in the fall of 2001, and to this date I still remember that the court case Fletcher v. Peck was decided on March 16, 1810. I also still remember that a gymnosperm is a term for a plant that has uncovered, unprotected seeds. The former I remember due to my mom attempting to flex her pecs like a Mr. Olympia competitor. The latter from a guy at the gym we always called gymnosperm due to the length, or lack of length, of his shorts. The reason I'm still able to readily recall these fact is due to the powerful associations I've made with them.

If you can make a connection between something superlative in your mind, very funny, very sad, very important, or something you already know, child's birthday, spouse's birthday, something like that, it is significantly easier to remember things. I also utilize series' for remembering things; for instances, my dad was born on September 24, my grandfather on October 25, if you continue the pattern, you'd get my grandmother's birthday on December 27th. Not everything lends itself to simple patterns, but the more intricate patterns can lead to more significant memories due to having to think harder to establish them.

If you consider yourself less academic and more creative, don't worry; you can use association too. Use that creativity to create vivid images to link to facts. You may forget that you need to meet Robin at the library, but if you envision a fifty foot bird attacking a book, you'll be more likely to remember it. If I have to make a run to a store, I'll try to create an image with it's mascot in some ridiculous situation; I remember better with humor. I can recite lines from comedies all day long, because of the unusual nature of the imagery. Don't be bland in this, let your mind run wild. The painting of mental images should help your brain's overall functioning too.

Chunking is not only a way of serving meats

3. Chunking

Memory experts call the act of grouping together information as chunking. If you try to remember everything you need at the store, odds are you'll get home and find you've forgotten something. Trying to group your list by category can be a great way to not experience this. If you need vegetables, group them all together. Do the same with meats, drinks, fruits, etc. Asking yourself in the store what vegetables you need is easier to answer than "I'm forgetting something, but what is it?"

You can also incorporate chunking with association. This tends to lead to very strong memories. Say you see a number you need to remember, like 19411776. If you break it down to 1941 and 1776, you may be more able to remember the bombing of Pearl Harbor and American independence. Or maybe a number has your birthday or a loved ones birthday in it. My dad's old work phone number had the same final four digits as my first license plate did. Actually, the first 3 digits were my cousin's initials. That tag is over 10 years old, but I still very easily remember it. My mother-in-law's old license plate had the same first 3 digits as a programming language I know. Making these kinds of connections through association and grouping can easily leave impressions for several years. I'm not going to write it hear, but I've memorized my debit card number using this technique.

2. Repetition Over Time

Have you ever had someone ask you to remember a phone number? What's your first instinct? Mine is to begin repeating the number several times. This is because the more you hear or see something, the more you remember it. Everyone has had to cram for an exam. The night before a huge test and you're up repeating dates and events to yourself. This can work great for the test the next day, but how about a test 2 months from then? If you cram for a test on day 1 of a 100 day course, you'll probably forget 90% of that stuff by day 50. But if you review the information every 10 days or so, odds are you'll be much better prepared for the exam on day 100.

People think cramming all at once is an optimal memory tool. It's not; not even close. The best way to remember something through repetition is to repeat it over time. Cramming is great for your short term memory, but long term memory needs conditioning. And, as surprising as it may be, repeating every day isn't the answer either. The smart kids will study the material every week of two. You want the information in your mind, but not prominently so. You want to test your recall. Review too often and you might as well be cramming; too infrequently and you'll have forgotten the information all together. The ideal time span is different for everyone; if I go over something every 14 days or so I'm most effective. Try starting out slowly, maybe every 3-4 days depending on how much trouble you have remembering things.

Sudoku is like running for your brain

1. Exercise

An athlete wouldn't build their body for competition at age 18 and never work out again. Your mind needs to be active just like the rest of your body. Speaking of which, exercising the rest of your body is an excellent way to improve memory. First of all, regular exercise, of the aerobic variety, improves circulation and efficiency in your body, your brain included. I personally like to work my memory while taking a walk. I've found I'm more alert when exercising and take advantage of the body working at it's peak to increase my memory. Also, the increased blood flow and efficiency helps to stave off the memory loss associated with aging.

Exercising your brain, as I mentioned earlier, is as important as exercising your body. Start off easy, maybe try Sudoku or crossword puzzles. Something that will stimulate your brain, but not leave you distraught because it's overwhelming. Doing this every day will lead to increased mental efficiency and capacity. No athlete ever got to the pros by taking it easy though. So if you want to reap bigger benefits, you have to try harder things. Try learning a foreign language or learning to play an instrument or learning a higher level math. All of these require a good bit of dedication and attention, but they are proven to stimulate your mind a great deal. Aside from the obvious benefit of learning something new, these kinds of exercise will improve the physiological functioning of your brain.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog