In the age of Google and Wikipedia, it’s easy to dismiss an impressive memory as a useless skill. But the fact is, sometimes you won’t have access to the internet. Sometimes, like at an interview or when you’re giving a speech, reading aloud can give a terrible impression. So, until the time where your speeches are programmed into a chip in your brain, a good memory can be a huge advantage. Here are 13 simple ways to improve memory:
As weird as it might seem, a study actually proved this effective in improving short-term memory. When you’re learning, simply clench your right hand into a fist. And then later on, when you have a need to remember, squeeze your left hand. However, this is only proven to be effective in right-handed individuals. Though they did the same test for left-handed people, those results are reserved for a different study, so stay tuned. Or simply try it for yourself and see if you experience any significant difference.
Smells have been proven to trigger memories better than sound, but any direct application of that fact can be quite tricky. One idea is to coordinate smells from when you’re memorizing something to when it needs to be remembered. For example, try spraying perfume of a very particular odor on the back of your hand when you’re reading, and then again the same the day of your test, or speech or presentation.
If you maintain the same position when you’re trying to remember as you did when you memorized, it is likely that your memories will be easier to reach. While the study focused on autobiographical memories, it should be applicable to more practical situations as well. Try studying in one position—for example with your legs crossed at a certain angle—and then remember to answer the test or do the interview in the same position.
There are two theories in place for why this is. One is that chewing leads to increased blood flow to the area, and therefore enables more brain activity. The other is much the same as our previous tricks: that chewing gum becomes associated with the memory and it gets easier to access if chewing gum while recalling it. Regardless of which you believe, it might be a good idea to pick up a pack of gum before your next big exam. And just in case taste has the same effect as smell, stick with the same flavor for the test as you use when studying.
It’s almost mysterious how much easier it is to remember lyrics than recite the words of a tuneless essay. And this is not something we’re just imagining either. Studies have proven the efficacy of melody when it comes to learning. While it might seem like a ton of extra work, you can simply piggyback off melodies you already know and love. Perhaps the best are famous classics because they don’t have lyrics that could perhaps be distracting when trying to memorize. Just make sure you don’t burst into song when you’re remembering!
Not only does sleeping improve your memory, mass repetition is suggested to decrease even immediate memorability, not increase it. It is also proven that distributed practice, where you study for short periods of time spread out over a longer period, works better than massed practice, i.e cramming. So don’t do all nighters. Remember to get your hours of sleep after a day of studying. And of course, it’s a great idea to study something a little at a time, a few minutes each day. When you’re learning a language, flash cards or good language learning apps are very convenient for that purpose.
As it turns out, Buddhists have been on to something in the belief that meditation is a path to enlightenment. In a study, meditating four times per day for 20 minutes increased cognition from 15% to as much as 50%. So, if you’ve ever wondered about meditation, start doing it. Check out this quick and simple guide to meditation.
If you find some of the other suggestions to be tedious, and you would appreciate a more physical approach, you’re in luck. There has been established a clear connection between regular exercise and improved cognitive functions, including memory. So exercising more wouldn’t only make you healthier, it could also improve your memory.
Long-term abuse of alcohol has been proven to have severe effects on memory. And while I’m by no means accusing you of being an alcoholic, I think many of us could stand to drink a little less. And when you add in the time you lose while drunk, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that excess drinking is not the best approach to memorizing anything.
Tricks that improve memory all seem to boil down to one thing: association. Up until now, we have mostly dealt with involuntary association, such as remembering better when smelling the same smell, or sitting in the same position. But now it’s time for voluntary association.
There are some areas where this is rather simple. For example, in language learning, a trick to remember new vocabulary is to associate the new word with a word it sounds like that you already know. If you’ve ever noticed how much easier it is to remember a new word that sounds exactly the same as another one, then you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes you have to stretch the pronunciation a bit, like with the Japanese word kensaku, which I choose to remember via “Ken sucks.” In my own experience, the more far-fetched and ridiculous the association, the easier it is to remember. (Kensaku 検索 means search, by the way.)
And then there is visual association with new words, something that has become much simpler with many newer textbooks helping with the implementation of visual techniques, perhaps especially so with the Chinese alphabet with the “Heisig” method being fairly well known and appreciated in language learning communities.The Heisig method uses visual association to help you remember the shape of the hanzi or kanji, for Chinese and Japanese respectively. Some of my friends found it extremely helpful, and others found it lackluster.
Make use of pattern recogntion and bundle together a lot of memories into one. The simplest aspect of this is perhaps when remembering numbers. If you can bundle them together in a meaningful way that means something to you, it can make remembering strings of numbers a whole lot easier. In Norway, we bundle phone number digits together in pairs, so you could, for example, think of them as years. (Our phone numbers are 8 digits long.) So, a phone number could be 45 80 90 18. You could therefore use 1945, being the year WWII ended, associate 80 with the ’80s, and 90 the ’90s, then 1918 is the year WWI ended. For further instructions on what is referred to the “chunking technique,” read this article.
Maybe it’s the added repetition, or maybe it’s the fact that writing activates completely different areas of the brain and you somehow store the information in more than one place, either way writing something down makes it easier to remember. So, if there’s something it’s absolutely vital that you don’t forget, write it out by hand. Better yet, make an actual physical note and bring it with you. That way if your cellphone malfunctions, or the sound is accidentally turned off, you are more likely to remember in spite of circumstances.
You don’t have to do long dramatic monologues with a mirror as the only spectator. But rather, simply say whatever you want to remember out loud. A study showed that it improved memory accuracy by up to 10%. But because another study seems to suggest that talking to yourself actually makes you smarter, you might as well turn it into a regular habit. Who cares about the strange looks you’ll get, you’re smarter than them. On second thought, maybe it’s a habit best practiced in solitude.
While some of these are tricks, others are about developing and improving your general cognitive abilities. Needless to say, the latter will complement the former, so remember to take care of yourself and your brain if you want to improve memory. As for the tricks themselves, a combination of many of the tricks are likely to provide the best results, as recreating a complete setting might just be the best way to recollect something.
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