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Last Updated on October 21, 2022

How to Improve Short-term Memory: 13 Simple Ways to Try

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How to Improve Short-term Memory: 13 Simple Ways to Try

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. Everyone has been there!

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

Let’s look into what short-term memory is and its role in why we remember the things we do, ending with a list of what are the best ways to improve short-term memory.

How to Improve Short-Term Memory?

First of all, 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 long-term memory depending on different factors. Some factors that shift information from short-term to long-term memory are:

  • Consciously attempting to remember or memorize 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

Short-term memory can only accommodate information in limited quantities. 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.

Therefore, if you improve short-term memory, you have a higher chance of remembering more of what you experience throughout your day.

How Short-Term Memory Loss Affects Your Lifestyle

Putting aside complex medical conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease, we have all experienced short-term memory performance struggles at a certain point in our lives.

Using, for example, a common day in the life of a bank employee, the magnitude of suffering from this condition is clear in the amount of critical information a person working in this profession needs to store over a single day. People will likely consider him unfit to perform the job if he needs to ask every 1 or 2 minutes for the information given.

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Short-term memory loss can also result in catastrophes bigger than our everyday life. A doctor or nurse forgetting to administer the proper drug to a critically-ill patient could cost them their career. Chefs or even home cooks forgetting to turn off their stoves while cooking could escalate to a huge fire.

On the plus side, improving short-term memory allows us to learn fast, which makes us more productive. Moreover, a study shows that memories help sustain an individual’s well-being as well as maintain social connections and brain health.[1] It’s about time we practice how to improve short-term memory for our good.

13 Simple Ways to Improve Short-Term Memory

1. Categorize Information

Try to employ a chunking technique by dividing information across similar categories for easier remembering. Let’s take the example of remembering a nine-digit phone number. If you try to remember the whole number in one go, it becomes difficult, and you might mix up the numbers. But if you divide the number into 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, you will improve your short-term memory by remembering the items in each category.

Chunking has also proven benefits in the workplace. Research shows that using the chunking technique improves short-term memory by condensing distinct information together for easier retrieval from long-term memory. [2]

2. Repeat the Information

Repeating any information verbally or mentally a few times makes it more likely to shift to long-term memory. Once information is quickly moved to long-term memory, it leaves a space in short-term memory for new information to enter.

In this method, your focus should be to avoid overcrowding the short-term memory by making the transfer of important information to long-term memory a habit.

3. Practice Memory Exercises

A lot of people have developed extraordinary memories through regular practice and training. Memory experts 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 memory exercises can be a way how to improve your short-term memory. There are many simple exercises designed to help you remember lists, numbers, shapes, structures, and so on.

Through mentally stimulating games like puzzles, rubric cubes, chess or even math exercises, you train your brain to avoid distractions and stay focused on one task.

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4. Maintain a Healthy Sleep Routine

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 sleeping is 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.[3] The same is true for our memory. A tired brain is terrible at storing and processing information. That is why if you want to know how to improve your short-term memory, you must have a healthy night and sleep routine.

5. Meditate

In a study, combining meditation techniques improves short-term memory and attention.[4]

The important aspects of meditation are learning to control one’s thoughts and becoming aware of one’s surroundings. It will also help empty the brain of negative or unimportant thoughts. 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 posture, it’s a technique that can be applied anywhere and at any time.

6. Practice Memory Association

Even memory experts commonly practice memory association. How to improve short-term memory with this technique is to create some sort of relationship between different information so that recalling one piece of information will also remind you of others.

For example, you can remember the name of a new acquaintance by linking it to another person that you know who has the same (or similar) name. To remember someone’s address, you can associate it in your mind with a familiar landmark.

Memory association is all about linking new information with those that are easy to remember.

7. Read, Write, Speak, and Listen

One practical way how to improve short-term memory is to keep the brain active through reading, writing, speaking and listening. The more we indulge in these activities, the faster our brain starts processing them.

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? Find time to read more, write a journal, and practice your communication skills.

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8. Use the Power of Melody

It’s almost mysterious how much easier it is to remember lyrics than recite the words of a tuneless essay. And this is not something we’re just imagining either. Studies have proven the efficacy of melody in boosting brain connections, even among older adults. [5]

While it might seem like a ton of extra work, you can string your speech along melodies you already know and love to improve your short-term memory. Having a familiar song in your mind can make public speaking less intimidating, too.

9. Don’t Cram

It is proven that distributed practice, where you study for short periods spread out over a longer period, works better than massed practice or cramming. [6]

This explains the mental block we experience after pulling an all-nighter for an exam or presentation. It might be tempting to cram given your busy schedule, but set regular times to study or memorize things to improve your short-term memory. This way, your brain has more chances to move the information to long-term memory.

10. Exercise More

For those looking for a more physical approach to improve their short-term memory, you’re in luck. There are studies establishing a clear connection between regular exercise and improved memory systems.[7]

The best part is this applies to both acute and chronic exercise, which means it’s never too late to start exercising!

11. Write It Out

Maybe it’s the added repetition, or maybe it’s the fact that writing activates completely different areas of the brain; either way, studies show that writing something down makes it easier to remember. [8]

If there’s something vital that you should not forget, write it out. Better yet, keep a notebook and pen in your bag handy so your note-taking skills are always with you.

12. Eat “Brain food”

Improve your short-term memory by sticking to a healthy diet rich in brain-friendly food. Some examples include green leafy vegetables, fatty fish, berries and walnuts. As for drinks, you might want to switch your soda to a cup of green tea or coffee.[9]

13. Take a break

Adding stress to your life will only worsen your short-term memory loss. Whenever you feel exhausted or think you can’t cope with what’s in front of you, take a break. Stretch a bit or go for a walk around the block to refresh your mind.

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Final Thoughts

Start practicing these simple techniques on how to improve your short-term memory so that forgetfulness will be a thing of the past. You can be more attentive, productive, and efficient if you have a better memory.

TL;DR

Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

How to Improve Short-term Memory: 13 Simple Ways to Try

Short-term memory is a temporary holding area for new memories that get moved to long-term memory through significance or repetition.

Improving short-term memory allows us to learn fast, be more productive, and maintain social connections and overall well-being.

To improve short-term memory, make items easier to remember through categorization, repetition, association and music.

Short-term memory also improves with constant brain activity, memory exercises and practicing good learning habits.

Living a healthy lifestyle with proper diet, exercise, rest and sleep will benefit your short-term memory as well.

Featured photo credit: Freddy Castro via unsplash.com

Reference

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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