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Last Updated on December 15, 2020

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 12, 2021

The Faster You Learn, the Easier You’ll Fall Behind

The Faster You Learn, the Easier You’ll Fall Behind

Garry Kasparov is a chess grandmaster – and also a former world chess champion. Over the last few decades, he’s beaten hundreds of first-class chess players. It’s no surprise then, that many people consider Kasparov to be one of the greatest chess players of all time.

However, in 1997, Kasparov lost a game of chess to a computer. A year earlier, he had played against IBM’s Deep Blue chess computer and defeated it. But the computer was to have its revenge, as just one year later, when the rematch took place, Deep Blue defeated Kasparov.

    Over the next few years, humans and computers traded chess moves and blows. Fast-forward to 2017, and the picture is crystal clear: today’s best chess programs can easily beat the world’s best human chess players.[1]

    As the Kasparov story demonstrates, even the world’s top players – who practiced a lot – can end up losing.

    Now consider your friends, family and colleagues. How many of these people think they’re doing well in what they do? And how many think they are doing better than the average and have stopped looking for ways to improve themselves? The answer is, a lot.

    Why Learning Can Lead to Stagnation

    When people learn well – they pick up knowledge and quickly become skillful. And the smarter the people, the easier they pick up knowledge, and the easier and faster they become very good at something.

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    These types of individuals find learning effortless, and therefore, they pick up knowledge and skills much better than the average person.

    Take a look at the picture below. The tool in their hand represents the skill they have learned, and the cloud is the level they are currently on – in this case ground level.

      When these learners become knowers, they believe that they know what they’ve learned extremely well. This may be the case, but in reality, they’re already better than average. Because of this, they are unlikely to find anyone who can surpass them. It’s at this point that they may think to themselves, “I’m good enough” and “there’s no need for me learn anything more.”

        As I’ll show in the next few paragraphs, people’s egos can stop them from learning and improving themselves.

        For example, let’s take a look at an expert pianist. They can perform proficiently because of their hard work and practice that they’ve put in over the course of many years. To help them, they may have had a tutor who developed their skills and brought out their talent.

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        The consistent tutoring and practicing led them to become an accomplished pianist – one who regularly performs paid concerts in front of decent-sized audiences. However, their success has led them to believe that they don’t need to make any further changes or improvements to their musical skills.

          When experts stop learning – they start to fall behind. This is because others will keep improving, and eventually get ahead of them.

          The world is constantly changing, so sticking to the same way to practice (and failing to improve) will lead to people dropping the ball. A recent study predicted that one in five U.K. employees are under threat of losing their jobs to automation. A person who’s comfortable in their job today, may find themselves replaced by a computer or robot tomorrow. If this prediction comes true, millions of people will soon find themselves out of work.[2] This is a real life example of how people can fall behind when they stop learning and improving themselves.

          Clearly, any experts who stop learning and improving, will be replaced by those who keep learning – whether these are humans or machines.

            When You Think You’ve Learned Enough, You Fall Behind

            The cloud depicted in the visuals isn’t concrete, and it’s prone to fall and disappear any time when you stop paying attention to your own learning and development.

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            Everyone, no matter how good they believe themselves to be at something, should never stop learning. Reaching an ‘acceptable’ performance only means that you’re doing okay. It doesn’t mean that you’re doing it to the best of your ability or potential.

            As I stated earlier (but well worth repeating again)… When you stop learning, you’re falling behind.

              Push Yourself to Reach New Heights

              To keep ahead of your competitors, you need to keep learning and practicing. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean doing things in the same way. You may need to step outside of your comfort zone in order to improve.

                Do what you can’t

                When you think you’re doing something well enough, find what you can’t do – and then do it! Here are four key things to remember about pushing your boundaries:

                1. If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve.
                2. Getting out of your comfort zone means trying to do something that you couldn’t do before.
                3. Sometimes you’ll run into something that stops you in your tracks. Find ways around these hurdles by focusing on improving your skills and knowledge, and then practicing them until you become proficient.
                4. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You may need to try different ways to make things happen.

                Set yourself specific goals as you practice

                People who achieve great things set themselves definite goals. And I highly recommend that you do the same.

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                One great way to do this is to follow the SMART and Stretch goal methods, which will help you set a big goal, while at the same time giving you baby steps on how to reach it. When SMART and Stretch goals are combined, your goal setting will have genuine purpose and power. You’ll be motivated by the giant goal, while having confidence in the small, incremental steps that will lead you there.

                Find out more about goals setting in my other article: How to Get Bigger Things Done in the Coming Year

                Along the way, you need to get feedback to help you improve

                It goes without saying that to make progress, you’ll need feedback to identify exactly where and how you are falling short. This feedback can be from yourself or from outside observers (e.g., your audience, your mentor, your peers).

                Do you know why computers can beat humans at chess after those times they’ve lost against them? The answer is, that people who program the computers have learned through all the steps humans have performed. They also gathered valuable feedback through their computers losing against some competitors. The programmers pick up the clues and change the way the computers perform in their next matches.

                Learning Should Never Come to an End

                When we’re young we naturally crave learning. We constantly seek out new knowledge, skills and experiences. However, as we mature, there’s a tendency for us to stop learning new things.

                If this happens, you can be sure that stagnation is just around the corner. And as nature shows, nothing (even stagnation) stays the same for long. Things are either building up – or breaking down.

                To avoid the latter, you must maintain a positive outlook that embraces big goals and constant learning. By doing these things, you’ll stay fresh, lively and ahead of the pack of hyenas snapping at your heels!

                Reference

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