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Last Updated on November 12, 2020

13 Science-Backed Ways to Improve Your Memory

13 Science-Backed Ways to Improve Your Memory

Life is made up of memories, what you have seen, heard, and done. Every bit of information you take in is only useful if you can remember it at the right time. How can you improve memory and ensure information is there when you need it?

There are many scientific theories and observations on how memories work. These theories provide us with an understanding of how feelings, routine, context, and recollection affect our memories. Here are some tips backed by scientific insights for improving memory.

1. Method of Loci

Method of Loci is a popular mnemonic technique that helps you recollect a large amount of information.[1] It works by utilizing your spatial and navigational skills as you envision your memories as part of a geographical entity. This is the technique that the famous fictional detective Sherlock calls the Mind Palace.

memory techniques loci

    This method is extremely useful when you are preparing for a speech or an exam[2]. Here is how you can make use of it:

    • Visualize a space you are most familiar with. It could be your home, your favorite park, or your school.
    • Construct the rooms, shelves, furniture, and everything inside it in your mind.
    • Imagine yourself keeping the items you want to remember in each of the rooms or in/on/around specific objects.
    • Next time you want to remember something, walk through room by room to recall what you placed there.

    Repeating this exercise has proven to be a great way to improve memory and remember loads of information with ease.

    You can learn more about this method in this article: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

    2. Acronyms

    Acronyms are proven to be very effective in memorizing a group of words. Research has shown that our brains are better at retrieving things when we associate meaning to them.[3] This is why recollecting a single meaningful word or phrase is easy compared to trying to remember a list of words.

    For instance, to memorize the directions on the compass, you can use the acronym NEWS (North, East, West, and South); or, when you want to remember the Great Lakes basin, you can make us of the acronym HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior), etc.

    Make up your own acronyms to the list of things you want to remember. All you need to do is list the things that you want to memorize and arrange them in an order such that the first letter of each word spells a real word.

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    3. Rhyming

    There is a reason why rhymes are still a popular way to teach kids. Our brains are great at acoustic encoding, which means breaking down sound structures.[4] We can easily remember stuff when they sound similar.

    The peg method can help you out. You first need to memorize the list in the exact order given below:

    one = bun

    two = shoe

    three= tree

    four = door

    five = hive

    six = sticks

    seven = heaven

    eight = gate

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    nine = vine

    ten = hen

    After you have memorized this list, now connect the first word to bun, second word to shoe, and so on. This will help you in making a memorable connection.

    Another way is to construct rhymes on the information you want to remember. For instance, if you want to remember that Mr. Jones runs a real-estate business, you can remember him with a rhyme:Mr. Jones from Homes.

    Although this may seem a bit weird and funny, this method will help you to improve memory overall.

    4. Linking

    This is a useful technique to help you stay sharp in many everyday scenarios, like remembering shopping lists. This is a visualization and association technique where you associate meaning to visual imagery. However, it is important to ensure that the images stored in your mind are as vivid as possible.

    For instance, if you want to remember a set of items, just link them up in a story. Let’s say that you want to remember the South England countries: Avon, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Somerset, Surrey, and Wiltshire.

    You can link all these countries in the form of a story to improve memory. An AVON lady is looking for a house. She is sweating and thirsty due to high SUMMER (Somerset). Along the way, she came across a giant CORN (Cornwall), but it is about to WILT (Wiltshire), etc.

    5. Chunking

    Very few people bother to remember phone numbers by heart nowadays. But what if you lose your contacts and need a way to recollect those long numbers? This memory technique will be handy in those situations.

    Chunking is basically breaking down the information into smaller pieces that are easy to remember. Start with a small number, say 379372518. Break it to three chunks 378 372 518. Improve your skills every day by trying to remember more numbers this way.

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    6. Write It Down

    Writing stimulates your reticular activating system (RAS).[5] So whenever you are trying to learn something and improve memory, try writing it down. Review what you have written and test yourself.

    You can also hand draw memory maps to further develop your memorization power.

    7. Be Busy

    Repeat all your brain exercises regularly and keep testing yourself to get better. A recent study revealed that our brain needs to be busy to keep itself fit as well.[6]

    Test yourself repeatedly if you want to retain the correct information for the longest time.

    Take walks or indulge in some physical activities as well. Research shows that healthy people who exercise regularly have better memories than those who don’t.

    8. Give Yourself a Good Sleep

    Sleeping is very much necessary if you want to improve memory. A tired body that lacks sleep will not be able to recollect or retain information effectively. Rest well and make sure your body and mind are rejuvenated every day.

    Furthermore, studies show that a lack of sleep can increase risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease[7]. Do your body and mind a favor and get a good night’s sleep as often as possible.

    9. Eat Healthy

    Try to include more memory-boosting fruits and vegetables into a healthy diet to improve memory. A study conducted by Harvard medical school backs this as well. Scientists believe that the antioxidants and vitamins from vegetables and fruits help to reduce oxidative stress in the brain and help battle age-related memory issues.[8]

    Learn about the brain foods you should include in your diet: 12 Best Foods That Improve Memory and Brain Health

    10. Play Video Games and Brain Training Apps

    Now here is a fun way to improve memory. Playing video games may not seem the best way to study for an exam, but regular video game playing can actually improve certain memory-associated regions of the brain. Studies have shown that video games helps in total knowledge recall and can reduce dementia risk.[9]

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    Considering the benefits, maybe you can make brain training apps a regular pastime or something to do on your breaks.

    11. Think of the Ways in Which Things Relate to You

    According to a recent research, you can boost your memory considerably by contemplating why the information is important to you.[10] This signals your brain to convert the short-term memories into long-term ones, thus helping you remember effortlessly.

    12. Exercise Regularly

    You might not see this coming, but people who exercise daily, whether it be leisurely walking or long-distance running, have better memories when compared to their counterparts who do no physical activity.[11]

    If you’re really interested in learning how to improve memory, shoot for aerobic exercises to reduce cognitive decline and increase blood flow.

    13. Pay Attention to Essence

    Although practice makes perfect, this might not necessarily be true when it comes to boosting memory. Scientists have found that while repetitive practice could help you in remembering things, you might miss out on the bigger picture.[12]

    Do you remember that one presentation when you memorized everything by heart without giving much thought to it? What happened next? Someone interrupted in the middle, and you were not able to recall information after.

    Thus, rote repetition will not do any good. You need to complement repetition through a proper understanding of the finer details.

    The Bottom Line

    Sharpening your memory is not rocket science. All you need to do is follow the fun and simple ways mentioned above to improve memory, and eat right to boost your brain health!

    For more tips on boosting your memory, check out the following video:

    More on How to Improve Memory

    Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

    13 Science-Backed Ways to Improve Your Memory How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement 10 Good Habits to Have in Life to Be More Successful 6 Ways to Make Progress Every Day (And Realize Your Goals) 10 Real Reasons Why Breaking Bad Habits Is So Difficult

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    Published on November 2, 2020

    How to Use Your Unconscious Mind to Get What You Want

    How to Use Your Unconscious Mind to Get What You Want

    I get my best ideas when I’m not trying—when I’m zoning out in the shower or taking my dog for a walk. Suddenly, something I’ve been racking my brain to figure out seems to just come to me. It may seem like magic, but it’s actually just my unconscious mind coming through for the win.

    What Is Conscious Thought?

    Let’s start by explaining what the unconscious mind is not. I want you to think about what your dream house would look like if money were no object. Then, think about where you were the first time you can remember feeling joy.

    That voice in your head that was talking you through those two tasks is your conscious mind. Simply put, any thought process that you are aware of (conscious of) is part of your conscious mind. I’m using my conscious mind as I sit here and write this article.

    One of the major brain centers for conscious thought is in your prefrontal cortex. This is on the outside of your brain behind your forehead. Some of the downsides of conscious thought are that it’s energetically taxing and finite. What I mean is, your conscious mind can only think one thing at a time, and it burns through a lot of glucose to do so.

    Try to figure out the square root of 2400 while creating a grocery list. You can skip back and forth between those two tasks, but your conscious mind can’t wrestle with both simultaneously.

    Also, think of a time when you were utilizing your conscious mind for an extended period. Maybe you were in classes all day or busy with a tough work task late into the night. You were probably exhausted after such intensive and extended conscious thought.

    What Is the Unconscious Mind?

    That’s why the unconscious mind is such a valuable resource. It isn’t energy taxing, and it is virtually limitless. Your unconscious mind could be trying to figure out thousands of problems right now.

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    The downside is that you aren’t conscious of any of it until you are—until your unconscious thoughts make it into your consciousness.

    That’s why it behooves us to figure out how to create the right environment for our unconscious minds to flourish.

    System 1 and System 2 Thinking

    Daniel Kahneman’s seminal book Thinking, Fast and Slow gives us another way to think about the difference between the unconscious and conscious minds. Kahneman describes two different modes of thought called System 1 and System 2.

    System 1 is quick, emotional, and intuitive, while System 2 is slow, methodical, and logical. System 1 works in tandem with System 2.

    For example, if you see someone looking at you, your System 1 might assume they are upset with you. Then, your System 2 takes over to process information and discern what might actually be going on at that moment.

    Kahneman warns us that System 1 and System 2 are metaphors for how the mind works.[1] It would be an oversimplification to try to explain specific regions where System 1 and System 2 thinking takes place. However, System 1 and 2 is a powerful way of thinking about different modes of thinking. Kahneman calls System 1 automatic thinking and System 2 effortful.

    The idea of focus is key here. In a famous experiment, participants were told to watch a video and count how many times people in the video passed a ball to each other. This required their System 2 thinking. However, the intense focus required for this experiment caused most people to miss the fact that while the people in the video were passing the ball, a person in a gorilla suit slowly made his way through the shot.

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    How to Make Your Unconscious Mind Work For You

    Focusing too intensely can cause us to miss details and solutions better suited to our unconscious mind. That’s why we sometimes have to stop and chill out, instead of forcing solutions.

    Here are five ways to make your unconscious mind work for you.

    1. Manage Stress

    Your unconscious mind is not a big fan of you being stressed out, overworked, or overwhelmed. Managing stress is important if you want to be able to come up with those effortless “aha!” ideas.

    Imagine that you’re under a strict work deadline. Your anxiety is compounded by the fact that you’re worried about losing your job and that your entire family relies on your income. This is an incredible amount of pressure that makes it tough for your unconscious mind to break through with that effortless creativity.

    Think back to the video where the person in the gorilla suit sneaks through all the people passing the ball around. Most people are so focused on the task at hand that they don’t see the most interesting part of the video. Stress and pressure can lead to a kind of tunnel vision that works the same way. Our attention becomes so narrowly focused that we aren’t able to zoom out and connect the dots between broader patterns and ideas.

    That’s why it’s crucial to find ways to manage stress. I recently spoke with humor engineer Drew Tarvin who explained the 4 R’s of managing stress.[2]

    First, try to reduce stress by eliminating stressors from your life. This might mean finding a less stressful job or leaving earlier for work.

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    Next, reframe the stresses that you can’t eliminate. Reframing isn’t pretending that your stress doesn’t exist; it’s trying to think differently and change your perspective about stressors that do exist. This might mean looking at the bright side or trying to see the bigger picture. If I don’t want to quit my stressful job, I can try to reframe by thinking more about the money I make or the times I feel fulfilled at work.

    The third step is to relieve stress. This means finding ways to relax throughout the day. You might try meditating or watching funny cat videos on YouTube to clear your head and relieve your stress.

    Finally, refresh. Find ways to take more extensive breaks where you completely de-stress. Pre-COVID, this might have meant taking a vacation to a beach somewhere. But now, you’ll have to get more creative as you find ways to put your phone down, forget about work, and come back completely refreshed.

    2. Take Breaks

    Part of stress management is taking breaks. But taking breaks is also an important part of tapping into your unconscious mind.

    When I’m trying to figure out how to structure an article or put together ideas for a larger project, I schedule in time to completely put the project down. This allows my unconscious mind the freedom to come up with some truly novel solutions, and unlike conscious thought, it feels effortless.

    This is that experience of the light bulb suddenly going on while you’re showering or driving to work. When you aren’t focused on anything in particular, your unconscious mind has the quiet it needs to bubble up to become conscious thought.

    So, take breaks. One strategy is what’s called the Pomodoro Technique, which is when you stop to take a five-minute break after every 25 minutes of work. This allows you to recharge. Plus, by systematically easing your intense focus, you are giving your unconscious mind opportunities to come up with some truly novel ideas.

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    3. Get Creative

    The unconscious mind is great at effortlessly seeing patterns and finding interesting solutions, but for this to happen, it needs some inspiration. That means creating and consuming as much creativity as you can.

    Pick up an artistic or creative hobby. Paint, write, build, or dance. It’s also helpful to consume creativity. Go to museums, read poetry, and walk in nature. Taking in creativity with your conscious mind will give your unconscious mind all the inspiration it needs to be able to do its thing.

    4. Don’t Force It

    The most crucial takeaway about the unconscious mind is that you can’t force it. You can struggle and strain all you want when you’re using your conscious mind, but the unconscious mind can only bubble to the surface when you aren’t trying so hard.

    Think back to that phenomenon of having an aha moment while you’re showering or walking your dog. The unconscious mind is better able to break through when you aren’t focused so intensely on whatever it is you’re trying to solve.

    So, relax and give yourself some time and space. That’s when your unconscious mind is most likely to breakthrough.

    5. Play

    Finally, don’t forget about the power of play. Play is inherently fun, and a playful mode of thinking allows your unconscious mind more of a chance to innovate. If you turn your task into a game, you’ll be more relaxed, have more fun, and collaborate better with your colleagues. That means you’ll be more likely to riff and get to a more creative “unconscious mind” solution.

    You can also add play throughout your day to tap into this freer, less constrained kind of thinking. Turn your commute into a game, play hide and seek with your children, or join a local bowling league. This will help you get reacquainted with your childlike sense of joy, wonder, and curiosity—all key ingredients to nurturing and fostering your unconscious mind.

    Final Thoughts

    Dealing with and utilizing your unconscious mind is very different from doing so with your conscious mind. Tapping your unconscious mind is a technique that, when done right, can help you get what you want by untapping your potential.

    Featured photo credit: Katerina Jerabkova via unsplash.com

    Reference

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