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Published on November 5, 2019

How to Improve Memory and Recall What You’ve Learned Fast

How to Improve Memory and Recall What You’ve Learned Fast

How to improve memory is a common question that’s brought up once we hit that certain age. Friends and family remind us that memory is the first thing to go when we get older. Or perhaps hearing and eyesight which are linked to our ability to learn and develop ourselves.[1]

True, as we get older, things don’t always work the way they are supposed to. But maybe we’re looking at this all wrong. Maybe it’s not because we’re getting older, but rather the methods we use to learn and improve our memory are bad?

Nevertheless, it’s important to not panic as there are all kinds of strategies and resources available to improve our learning and memory.

Why Is Our Memory Not Good Enough?

To understand why the strategies I’ll share are helpful, you need to understand why your memory is bad in the first place. The first most important thing to remember is:

People forget all the time.

Passwords, grocery lists, our phone, car keys, and more. People forget that stuff and it has nothing to do with age. That being said, there are particular causes that enhance the frequency of this. Excessive use of the following will further inhibit our memory and learning capabilities:[2]

  • Lack of sleep – Quantity and quality of sleep are essential to memory. Most tips offered for retaining and growing memory is to get sleep. So it’s no surprise a lack of it will harm memory.
  • Depression and stress – Depression will normally cause people to lose focus and not pay much attention. This state of mind eventually turns to people losing their memory. Stress works in a similar fashion as we struggle to concentrate. We’re too tense and our mind is overstimulated.
  • Nutritional deficiency – Our brain needs certain nutrients in order to function. Specifically, B1 and B12 are vitamins that impact our memory. Lack of which will cause memory loss.
  • Alcohol or drug use – Excessive use of either substance has been linked to brain damage which results in memory loss. Smoking also falls in the same category.
  • Medication – A large number of over-the-counter medications can actually cause memory loss. From antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to sleeping pills and pain medications.

How to improve memory can first be as simple as avoiding these causes and considering the following:

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These are all great things, but we can always do more. The number of causes of memory loss isn’t subject to those causes. There will still be lapses in memory and other factors.

Thankfully, the tactics I’ll share below will help in mitigating those factors.

How to Improve Memory Fast

How to improve memory quickly is no easy task. In most research revolving around memory, the training process can take months or even years. The upside is that all these techniques are simple and take a few minutes out of your day.

So while the process takes a while, the daily demand is minor and easy to get into a cycle with.

1. Work Out Your Brain

Our brain is immensely powerful. Over the span of our lives by this point, our brain has developed millions of neural pathways. These pathways give us the ability to process and recall information quickly. The speed in which we can solve problems, execute habitual tasks with no effort is thanks to these pathways.

That being said, if we continue to stick to those comfortable roads, we’re not really growing, are we? While well-worn pathways are helpful – especially when they’re linked to good habits like exercise, grooming, or reading – they’re not challenging.

So do yourself a favor and once in a while challenge yourself. As the saying goes:

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“Use it or lose it.”

This refers to muscle strength, but the same can be said for our memory. If we don’t use it, how will we be able to retain it? The further you give your brain a workout the more you’ll be able to use it in the future.

2. Learn Actively

Another great way to improve memory is to get out there and learn a thing or two. But instead of learning passively by just reading more or taking classes, use your brain as you learn actively. How Take some practical steps to support your own learning and memory:

  • Pay attention. Even if the topic is familiar or you’ve heard it all before. Learning isn’t always about hearing it once and abandoning the subject. Ideas and concepts are worth repeating. It takes exactly eight seconds of intense focus for us to fully process a piece of information and keep it to memory. So pay attention.
  • Tie information in with what you already know. People learn through stories or by example. It’s why some people associate words or items with people’s names sometimes. These strategies help us in learning and retaining information. The same can be said about the information on any subject.
  • Rehearse the information you already know. Reviewing and studying do help in retaining information and growing. When we have a grasp of the basics, we can expand from there.

3. Work Out Your Body

At the same time, research has shown that working out our bodies also promotes memory growth.[3] Specifically, exercising affects our plasticity. Plasticity is more or less the ability for our brain to change its structure as it develops and grows.

In other words, exercise can open our minds to changes. Not always dramatic changes but changes to our habits and routines as well. Exercising can also promote new neuronal connections which in turn help solidify new habits in the first place.

Best of all, these exercises don’t have to be incredibly strenuous to get the benefit. Aerobic exercises work especially well on the brain. Examples are walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling. Generally speaking, any exercise good for the heart is good for the brain.

4. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep, as I mentioned above, is important though people have different definitions of proper sleep. Not to mention there are some people who know this but simply can’t get good sleep for whatever reason.

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First off, the vast majority of us need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.[4] Skipping out on a few hours will make a massive difference in our daily function.

That being said, some of us are in the camp where we can’t get enough sleep. In those cases, consider the follow techniques prior to sleep:

  • Have a sleep schedule. Train yourself to go to bed at a specific hour every night and to get up at roughly the same time every morning. This habit will eventually condition your brain to make you feel tired at a certain hour and to get up at a specific time.
  • Avoid blue light for an hour before going to bed. People are glued to their tablets, computers, phones, and TV. This suppresses our brain’s production of melatonin – the brain drug that makes us sleepy.
  • Cut back on the coffee. Sure some love to have a cup of joe in the morning, but some are also highly sensitive to caffeine. So much so that a single cup in the morning can interfere with your sleep at night. If you are having trouble sleeping, see if caffeine is the problem by reducing the amount or avoiding the drink for a week and see what happens.

My other article about building a night routine can help you sleep better too: The Ultimate Night Routine Guide: Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

5. Socialize and Be with Others

Another way on how to improve memory is being with friends. There are all kinds of studies that highlight the benefits of being around friends;[5] most important is the cognitive benefits including improving your mood and reducing your stress.

Start making friends and spending a lot of time together. After all, when we get older, we tend to narrow our circle of friends and that too impacts our memory.

6. Eat the Right Foods

Another way on how to improve memory is by having the right foods. I mentioned a diet above, but not the specifics of the diet. According to the Mayo Clinic, a healthy diet is eating fruits and veggies as well as whole grains. You also want protein, but make sure it is low on fat; examples are fish, beans, or skinless poultry.[6]

On the note of protein, it’s worth noting the types of fish worth eating. Research shows that eating fish that are high in omega-3 is good for your brain.[7] So coldwater fish like salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, or halibut are excellent choices.

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And if you’re not a fan of fish, some alternatives are spinach, broccoli, pinto beans, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts amongst others.

Drinks also play a role as I mentioned, alcohol can impact your memory directly as well as coffee to an indirect extent. My suggestion is to stick with water and if you do want a bit of caffeine, consider tea.

7. Don’t Ignore Your Health Problems

Various health problems have an impact on our memory. Some medications also affect our own memory even if they are designed to treat a particular health problem. While it’s obvious that we ought to deal with any health problems, we can find early signs.

Particular health problems that affect our memory include:

  • General heart problems – Cardiovascular diseases include high cholesterol and blood pressure. These have been linked to mild cognitive impairment and even dementia.[8]
  • Diabetes – Studies have also found those experiencing this have a greater cognitive decline than those who don’t.[9]
  • Hormone imbalance – From estrogen to testosterone and thyroid imbalance, hormone imbalance can contribute to memory loss in some fashion.[10]

Bottom Line

From what I’ve listed above, the techniques are quite straight forward. The tricky part is implementing these strategies into our lives. After all, these are habits and some can take time to build.

Memory loss stems from our neglect of these habits or by other factors. To accept memory loss is to accept other memory loss problems into our lives like Alzheimer’s, or dementia.

But one piece of good news I’ll leave off with is that you don’t need to implement all of these. Adding even one or two of these techniques will change your life!

More to Boost Your Memory

Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

“Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

“The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

“The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

    Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

    1. Build a Memory Palace

      What is it?

      The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

      How to use it?

      Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

      “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

      Example

      An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

      • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
      • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
      • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
      • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
      • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

      You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

      2. Mnemonic

        What is it?

        A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

        How to use it?

        Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

        Example

        I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

        I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

        Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

        Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

        Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

        Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

        C

        J

        H

        D

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        P

        Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

        Cubs

        Just

        Hate

        Doing

        Push-ups

        Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

        3. Mnemonic Peg System

          What is it?

          According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

          How to use it?

          The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

          Example

          Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

          0 = hero

          1 = gun

          2 = shoe

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          3 = tree

          4 = door

          5 = hive

          6 = sticks

          7 = heaven

          8 = gate

          9 = line

          Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

          4. Chunking

            What is it?

            Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

            How to use it?

            In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

            Example

            Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

            Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

            081127882

            Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

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            081 – 127 – 882

            Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

            “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

            5. Transfer of Learning

              What is it?

              Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

              “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

              How to use it?

              There are two specific ways to use it:

              1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
              2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

              Example

              I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

              Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

              The Bottom Line

              The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

              We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

              Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

              “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

              More About Enhancing Memories

              Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

              Reference

              [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
              [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
              [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
              [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
              [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

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