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Last Updated on November 26, 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

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    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on June 1, 2021

    Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

    Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

    Exercise isn’t just for your body. Just as important is keeping your mind strong by training your brain with fun mental workouts.

    Think of your mental and physical fitness the same way: you don’t need to be an Olympian, but you do need to stay in shape if you want to live well. A few cognitive workouts per week can make a major difference in your life.

    The Skinny on Mental Workouts

    Physical fitness boosts your stamina and increases your muscular strength. The benefits of working up a mental sweat and brain training, however, might not be so obvious.

    Research suggests that cognitive training has short- and long-term benefits, including:

    1. Improved Memory

    After eight weeks of cognitive training, 19 arithmetic students showed a larger and more active hippocampus than their peers.[1] The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.

    2. Reduced Stress Levels

    Mastering new tasks more quickly makes the work of learning less stressful. A stronger memory can call information to mind with less effort.

    3. Improved Work Performance

    Learning quickly and remembering key details can lead to a better career. Employers are increasingly hiring for soft skills, such as trainability and attention to detail.

    4. Delayed Cognitive Decline

    As we age, we experience cognitive decline. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 10 one-hour sessions of cognitive training boosted reasoning and information processing speed in adults between the ages of 65 and 94.[2]

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    Just like in physical exercise, what’s important isn’t the specific workout. To be sustainable, cognitive workouts need to be easy and fun. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

    Fun Brain Training Exercises for Everyone

    The best about fun mental workouts? There’s no need to head to a gym. Feel free to mix and match the following activities for daily brain training:

    1. Brainstorming

    One of the simplest, easiest ways to engage your brain? Coming up with solutions to a challenge you’re facing.

    If you aren’t good at solo ideation, ask a partner to join you. When I’m struggling to come up with topics to write about, I call up my editors to bat ideas around. Friends or co-workers are usually happy to help.

    2. Dancing

    Isn’t dancing a physical workout? Yes, but the coordination it requires is also great for training your brain. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

    Studies suggest that dance boosts multiple cognitive skills.[3] Planning, memorizing, organizing, and creativity all seem to benefit from a few fancy steps.

    3. Learning a New Language

    Learning a new language takes time. But if you split it up into small, daily lessons, it’s easier than you might think.

    With language learning, every lesson builds on the last. When I was learning Spanish, I used a tool called Guru for knowledge management.[4] Every time I’d learn a verb tense, I’d create a new card to give me a quick refresh before moving on.

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    4. Developing a Hobby

    Like languages, hobbies take time to develop. But that’s the fun of them: you get a little better—both at the hobby and in terms of brain function—each time you do them.

    If you’re trying to train your brain and improve a certain cognitive skill, choose a hobby that aligns with it.

    For example:

    • Attention to detail: Pick a hobby that requires you to work patiently with small features. Woodworking, model-building, sketching, and painting are all good choices.
    • Learning and memory: Choose an activity that requires you to remember lots of details. Your best bets are hobbies that require lots of categorization, such as collecting stamps or coins.
    • Motor function: For this brain function, physical activities can double as fun mental workouts. Sports like soccer and basketball build gross motor functions. Fine motor functions are better trained through activities like table tennis or even playing video games.
    • Problem-solving: Most hobbies require you to problem-solve in one way or another. The ones that test your problem-solving skills the most, however, take some investigation.

    Geocaching is a good example: Using a combination of clues and GPS readings, geocaching involves finding and re-hiding containers. Typically done in a wooded area, geocaching is a fun way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

    5. Board Games

    Playing a board game might not be much of a physical workout, but it does make for a fun mental workout. With that said, not all board games work equally well for cognitive training.

    Avoid “no brainer” board games, like Candy Land. Opt for strategy-focused ones, such as Risk or Settlers of Catan. Remember to ask other players for their input.

    6. Card Games

    Card games build cognitive skills in much the same way board games do. They have a few extra advantages, though, that make them worthy of special attention.

    A deck of cards is inexpensive and can be played anywhere, from a kitchen to an airplane. More importantly, a deck of cards opens the door to dozens of different games. Challenge yourself to learn a few in an afternoon.

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    7. Puzzles

    Puzzles are great tools for building a specific cognitive skill: visuospatial function. Visuospatial function is important to train because it’s one of the first abilities to slip in people struggling with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.[5]

    Choose a puzzle you’ll stick with. There’s no shame in starting with a 500-piece puzzle or choosing one that makes a childish image.

    8. Playing Music

    Listening to music is a great way to unwind. But playing music goes one step further. On top of entertaining you, it makes for a fun mental workout.

    Again, choose an instrument you know you’ll stick with. If you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, don’t get a guitar because it’s less expensive or easier to pick up.

    What if you can’t afford an instrument? Sing. Learning to control your voice is every bit as challenging as making a set of keys or strings sound good.

    9. Meditating

    Not all cognitive exercises are loud, in-your-face activities. Some of the most fun mental workouts, in fact, are quiet, solo activities. Meditating can help you focus, especially if you have pre-existing attention issues.

    Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never meditated before. It’s easy:

    • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
    • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or for however long you have to meditate.
    • Close your eyes or turn off the lights.
    • Focus on your breathing. Do not try to control it.
    • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
    • When the timer goes off, wiggle your fingers and toes for a minute. Slowly bring yourself back to reality. Remember the sense of serenity you found.

    10. Deep Conversation

    There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than a good, long conversation. The key is depth: surface-level chatter doesn’t get the mind’s wheels spinning like a thoughtful, authentic conversation. This type of conversation helps in training your brain to think more deeply and reflect.

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    Choose your partner carefully. You’re looking for someone who’ll challenge your ideas without being confrontational. Stress isn’t good for brain health, but there’s value in coming up with creative arguments.

    11. Cooking

    When you think about it, cooking requires an impressive array of cognitive skills. Developing a cook’s intuition requires a good memory. Making sure flavors are balanced takes attention to detail. When something goes wrong in the kitchen, problem-solving skills come into play. Motor control is required to stir, flip, and whisk.

    If you’re going to cook, you might as well make enough for everyone. Invite them into the kitchen as well: coordinating with other chefs adds an extra layer of challenge to this fun mental workout.

    12. Mentorship

    Whether you’re the mentee or the mentor, mentorship is an incredible mental workout. Learning from someone you look up to combines the benefits of deep conversation with skill-building. Teaching someone else forces you to put yourself in their shoes, which requires empathy and problem-solving skills.

    Put yourself in both situations. Being a student makes you a better teacher, and teaching others gives you insight into how you, yourself, learn.

    Final Thoughts

    Your mind is your most important possession, and training your brain is needed to maintain its health. Don’t let it get soft.

    To keep those neurons firing at full speed, add a few fun mental workouts to your schedule. And if you’re still struggling to get your brain in gear, remember: there’s an app for that.

    More Tips for Training Your Brain

    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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    Reference

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