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Last Updated on March 12, 2020

How To Improve Short Term Memory: 7 Simple Ways to Try Now

How To Improve Short Term Memory: 7 Simple Ways to Try Now

Heading to the grocery store and then coming home to find out that you forgot an important item? Do you struggle with remembering names, addresses, and phone numbers?

You are not alone. We all have been there plenty!

But what would happen if a doctor or nurse forgets to administer the proper drug to a patient in critical care? It could be a mistake that could cost them their career. There were incidents where people forgot to turn off their stove while cooking and this led to a huge fire in their house.

Forgetting information can sometimes be annoying, while other times it can have some serious impact on our lives. And in today’s fast-paced world, our brains are constantly processing information, so we are more likely to forget things. If you want to avoid such habit of forgetfulness, it is essential to improve your short-term memory.

So what Is short-term memory? Our brain has two types of memory – short-term and long-term. Any information that enters the mind is first stored in short-term memory. Here, the information only lasts for a limited time, ranging widely from a few seconds to about a minute.

From here, it moves on to the long-term memory depending on different factors. Some factors that shift information from the short-term to long-term memory are:

  • Consciously making an attempt to remember or memories something
  • Repeating the information mentally or verbally for a long time
  • Information that the brain feels important is more likely to move to the long-term memory

So the short-term memory is the mechanism of the brain where it stores new information for a short time in limited quantity. It plays a significant role in what we eventually remember or forget.

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Short term memory can only accommodate a limited amount of information. It means that when new information enters, it displaces some older information. The displaced information is forgotten if it doesn’t move to long-term memory.

It is important to mention here that short term memory plays a critical role in your life. It affects your attentiveness and your ability to remember or forget information.

So keeping these things in mind, let’s take a look at 7 ways to improve your short-term memory.

1. Categorize Information

Divide information into similar categories to remember it. Let’s take an example of remembering a nine-digit phone number. If you try to remember the whole number into one go, it becomes difficult, and you might mix up the numbers. But if you divide the number in groups of three, it will become easy to remember.

Now let’s say you want to remember a list of items to get from the grocery store. Divide these items into categories like fruits, canned or packaged foods, tools, and so on. This way, it will become easy to remember what items are in each category. This technique of categorizing items is also called “Chunking”.

Here is how you can boost your memory: 13 Simple Memory Tricks To Help You Remember Anything Easily

2. Repeat the Information (Loudly If Possible)

Repeating any information verbally for a few times makes it more likely to shift to long-term memory. So, when any piece of information is quickly moved to the long-term, it leaves an empty space in the short-term for new information to enter.

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The idea behind this technique is to always have space for new information in short-term memory. In this method, your focus should be to avoid overcrowding the short term memory.

Even if it’s not possible to verbally repeat the information, you can do it mentally. If you practice this technique regularly, then you will get better at it. Eventually, you will develop a tendency of quickly shifting important information to long-term memory.

3. Practice Memory Exercises

A lot of people have developed extraordinary memories through regular practice and training. There are many “memory experts” who demonstrate their skills by performing feats, such as remembering a list of very long items in the same order by hearing it just once.

You may not aspire to be a memory expert yourself, but practicing simple memory exercises can help you improve your short-term memory. There are different exercises designed to help you remember lists, numbers, shapes, structures, and so on. And these are not very difficult or complicated techniques either.

Some of these exercises include doing math in your head, learning a foreign language, creating word pictures, drawing a map from memory and so on. The idea is to make your brain fertile to boost your memory. Here are a few memory exercises you will like to explore: 25 Memory Exercises That Actually Help You Remember More

4. Maintain a Healthy Sleep Routine

The only time our mind is at rest is when we are sleeping. Well, it would be technically incorrect to say that the mind is at rest when we sleep. Even then, the brain is performing different processes, like breathing, for example. But when we sleep, it’s the only state when our brain doesn’t actively absorb and process information.

Studies have shown that adequate sleep improves various functions of the brain.[1] The same is true for our memory. A tired brain is terrible at storing and processing information. That is why if you want to improve your short-term memory, then you must have a healthy sleep routine: How to Build a Good Bedtime Routine That Makes Your Morning Easier

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5. Meditate

The important aspects of meditation are learning to control one’s thoughts and becoming aware of one’s surroundings. It also helps to empty the brain from negative or unimportant thoughts. So, practicing meditation will help you filter out what’s important and what’s not. Once you weed out all unnecessary information from your brain, the important information becomes easy to store.

Often, meditation is pictured as sitting in a straight pose with folded legs and outstretched arms. However, meditation is not just about the posture, it’s a technique that can be applied anywhere and at any time.

The best way to begin practicing meditation is to meditate daily for a few minutes lying in bed – both before going to sleep and after waking up in the morning.[2] It’s easy and effortless to practice. You can also try these techniques: How Do You Meditate? 8 Meditation Techniques for Complete Beginners

6. Practice Memory Association

Memory association is a technique that even memory experts practice. The concept behind it is to create some sort of relationship between different information so that remembering one piece of information will also remind you of others.

If you want to remember someone’s name, you link it in your memory with another person that you know who has the same (or similar) name.

Or if you want to remember someone’s address, you associate it in your mind with the nearest location from that address that you are familiar with. In fact, our brain does this subconsciously many times.

Many people remember directions to certain places by remembering landmarks. If the entire route is difficult or confusing to remember, then focusing on specific landmarks on the way will make it easier. So the basic concept of memory association is to link information that is difficult to remember with those that are easy to remember.

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7. Read, Write, Speak, and Listen

Most information that our brain receives is in some form of language. Messages, lectures, conversations, and many other daily aspects of our lives make use of language.

When we read, write, speak or listen, we process the information we are receiving. The more we indulge in these activities, the faster our brain starts processing it.

In short, when you actively spend time reading, writing, or communicating with others, you get better at understanding and remembering the information. So what exactly can you do? Start to read more, write a journal, and try to socialize with others more.

Final Thoughts

So if you are tired of forgetting things, start practicing these simple techniques. You can be more attentive, productive, and efficient if you have a better memory.

More Tips for Improving Memory

Featured photo credit: Freddy Castro via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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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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