Improving your Memory:
Do you feel that you have a poor memory? You may just have some less-than-effective habits when it comes to taking in and processing information. Barring disease, disorder, or injury, you can improve your ability to learn and retain information.
Memory, like muscular strength, is a “use it or lose it” proposition. The more you work out your brain, the better you’ll be able to process and remember information.
Novelty and sensory stimulation are the foundation of brain exercise. If you break your routine in a challenging way, you’re using brain pathways you weren’t using before. This can involve something as simple as brushing your teeth with your nondominant hand, which activates little-used connections on the nondominant side of your brain. Or try a “neurobic” exercise – an aerobic exercise for your brain – (see Keep Your Brain Alive Exercise) that forces you to use your faculties in unusual ways, like showering and getting dressed with your eyes closed. Take a course in a subject you don’t know much about, learn a new game of strategy, or cook up some recipes in an unfamiliar cuisine. That’s the most effective way to keep your synapses firing.
General guidelines to improve memory:
- In addition to exercising your brain, there are some basic things you can do to improve your ability to retain and retrieve memories:
- Pay attention. You can’t remember something if you never learned it, and you can’t learn something — that is, encode it into your brain — if you don’t pay enough attention to it. It takes about eight seconds of intent focus to process a piece of information through your hippocampus and into the appropriate memory center. So, no multitasking when you need to concentrate! If you distract easily, try to receive information in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted
- Tailor information acquisition to your learning style. Most people are visual learners; they learn best by reading or otherwise seeing what it is they have to know. But some are auditory learners who learn better by listening. They might benefit by recording information they need and listening to it until they remember it.
- Involve as many senses as possible. Even if you’re a visual learner, read out loud what you want to remember. If you can recite it rhythmically, even better. Try to relate information to colors, textures, smells and tastes. The physical act of rewriting information can help imprint it onto your brain.
- Relate information to what you already know. Connect new data to information you already remember, whether it’s new material that builds on previous knowledge, or something as simple as an address of someone who lives on a street where you already know someone.
- Organize information. Write things down in address books and datebooks and on calendars; take notes on more complex material and reorganize the notes into categories later. Use both words and pictures in learning information.
- Understand and be able to interpret complex material. For more complex material, focus on understanding basic ideas rather than memorizing isolated details. Be able to explain it to someone else in your own words.
- Rehearse information frequently and “over-learn”. Review what you’ve learned the same day you learn it, and at intervals thereafter. What researchers call “spaced rehearsal” is more effective than “cramming.” If you’re able to “over-learn” information so that recalling it becomes second nature, so much the better.
- Be motivated and keep a positive attitude. Tell yourself that you want to learn what you need to remember, and that you can learn and remember it. Telling yourself you have a bad memory actually hampers the ability of your brain to remember, while positive mental feedback sets up an expectation of success.
Mnemonic devices to improve memory:
- Common types of mnemonic devices include:
- Visual images - a microphone to remember the name “Mike,” a rose for “Rosie.” Use positive, pleasant images, because the brain often blocks out unpleasant ones, and make them vivid, colorful, and three-dimensional — they’ll be easier to remember.
- Sentences in which the first letter of each word is part of or represents the initial of what you want to remember. Millions of musicians, for example, first memorized the lines of the treble staff with the sentence “Every good boy does fine” (or “deserves favor”), representing the notes E, G, B, D, and F. Medical students often learn groups of nerves, bones, and other anatomical features using nonsense sentences.
- Acronyms, which are initials that creates pronounceable words. The spaces between the lines on the treble staff, for example, are F, A, C, and E: FACE.
- Rhymes and alliteration: remember learning “30 days hath September, April, June, and November”? A hefty guy named Robert can be remembered as “Big Bob” and a smiley co-worker as “Perky Pat” (though it might be best to keep such names to yourself).
- Jokes or even off-color associations using facts, figures, and names you need to recall, because funny or peculiar things are easier to remember than mundane images.
- “Chunking” information; that is, arranging a long list in smaller units or categories that are easier to remember. If you can reel off your Social Security number without looking at it, that’s probably because it’s arranged in groups of 3, 2, and 4 digits, not a string of 9.
- “Method of loci”: This is an ancient and effective way of remembering a lot of material, such as a speech. You associate each part of what you have to remember with a landmark in a route you know well, such as your commute to work.
Healthy habits to improve memory:
- Treating your body well can enhance your ability to process and recall information.
- Healthy Habits that improve Memory
- Regular exercise increases oxygen to your brain.
- Reduces the risk for disorders that lead to memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- May enhance the effects of helpful brain chemicals and protect brain cells.
- Managing stress cortisol, the stress hormone, can damage the hippocampus if the stress is unrelieved.
- Stress makes it difficult to concentrate.
- Good sleep habits, sleep is necessary for memory consolidation.
- Sleep disorders like insomnia and sleep apnea leave you tired and unable to concentrate during the day.
How do I improve the 3 parts of memory?
- This module will cover tools known as Mnemonic Systems that you can use to improve your memory. They usually include working with information to increase: attention, meaningfulness, organization, association, and visualization.
- Frequently when people say they cannot remember something it is likely they weren’t paying enough attention to begin with. If you want to store something in long term memory, you must pay attention to it and concentrate on it. Failure to pay attention is another reason for absent-mindedness. The antidote is to pay close conscious attention to what you need to remember by saying it to yourself out loud.
Some Additional Attention-Boosting Strategies:
Your brain is like any other part of your body. You have to use it in order to keep it in shape. We frequently think of exercising our arms and legs but may go days without exercising our brains.
Here are some ideas for Brain Exercises:
- Daily cross-word puzzles
- Daily brain teasers
- Play chess
Play video games that involve strategy
- Read books daily
- Read several newspapers daily
Your brain is where all of your senses process information. Remember the last time you saw something really exciting, smelled something really good, heard something that sounded beautiful, tasted a really good meal, or felt something truly stimulating? These sensory events wake up the mind. You need to wake up your mind on a daily basis.
Try to expose yourself to stimulating sensory events (all 5 senses) on a daily basis. You might be surprised that your senses are actually more sensitive than they used to be. Remember our discussion in the Stress Chapter that suggested that the long-term stress response might actually exaggerate our sensory awareness, making sensory experiences more noticeable.
Smells and Tastes:
- Cook or seek out a favorite restaurant and treat yourself to favored dishes. (Think of this as therapy not self-indulgence)
- Try new dishes
- Smell perfume just for fun
- Go to the store and sample the free samples
- Watch travel films or actually do some traveling on your own
- Go to more movies
- Review your photo albums
- Listen to more music
- Try and spend time listening to nature each day
- Consciously experience the temperature of each day on your skin
- Take a warm bath
The more associations you make between new information and objects that are familiar to you, the easier it will be to remember the new information.
Good memory is dependent on:
If any one of these systems is not working properly, you are likely to have memory difficulties.
You can boost your memory powers by increasing meaningfulness of information, organization, and associations with older memories or with visual imagery. Brain stimulators can increase attention.
These memory improvement techniques do not cost you a single penny. However, you will definitely have to put in some discipline and effort to make sure that you are able to keep up with every itsy bitsy detail. Nothing can beat these free and easy methods!