Advertising
Advertising

Published on March 16, 2020

7 Proven Ways to Strengthen Your Long Term Memory

7 Proven Ways to Strengthen Your Long Term Memory

We’ve all had that experience where someone approaches us and says something like, “Hey, it’s so good to see you again!” And we suddenly turn into Dori from “Finding Nemo.” In an instant, our memory fails us. The moment we need our long term memory most, it’s nowhere to be found.

Long term memory, and memory more generally, can seem mysterious. You learn something, it goes somewhere in your brain, and then you hopefully remember it when you need it. However, we all know that memory isn’t as precise as simply storing and retrieving. After all, we’re not robots. Sometimes it can feel more like searching for a pair of tweezers in a hoarder’s basement.

Therefore, understanding a little about how long term memory works can give us some valuable tricks for how to strengthen our long term memory and improve the retrieval process.

Where Does Long Term Memory Happen?

Memory is broken down into three parts: encoding, storing, and retrieving. First, we perceive something, and it gets encoded in the brain as a memory. Next, the memory is stored in various brain regions. Finally, you retrieve or recall the memory when necessary.

Consolidation is the process of transferring a short term memory into a long term memory, and scientists have made some new discoveries about how this consolidation process occurs.

Until fairly recently, scientists thought that short term memories occurred in the hippocampus and were then consolidated to other brain regions, but new studies have given us another model for how long term memory works.

The old way of thinking about memory, called the standard model, says that memories get encoded in the hippocampus as short term memories and are later consolidated or transferred to the neocortex.

Advertising

But there’s a new model in town. Scientists have recently come up with the multiple trace model.[1] Instead of starting in the hippocampus, this model shows that memories start in the hippocampus and the neocortex simultaneously.[2]

Instead of transferring memories from one region to the other, the memory trace in the neocortex strengthens over the course of two weeks to become a long term memory, while the memory in the hippocampus weakens over that same time period.

This is an important distinction because, instead of trying to strengthen the transfer from short to long term memory (hippocampus to neocortex), we may actually be strengthening what started as a trace of a memory that’s already hanging out in the neocortex.

How to Improve Your Long Term Memory

Here are 7 scientifically proven ways to strengthen those trace memories in the neocortex and boost your long term memory:

1. Get Some Exercise

Studies[3] have shown that walking and running both help improve long term memory. The trick is to get that exercise during the encoding stage of memory. That means reading while on the treadmill or going over your speech while pumping iron. This helps boost your long term memory.

The good news is that even light exercise during encoding boosts long term memory retrieval later.

2. Get Some Sleep

Recently, scientists[4] have discovered that sleeping helps our brains clear out some memories, which helps strengthen others. It’s a necessary process that requires us to get a good night’s rest and plenty of REM sleep.

Advertising

In order to retrieve long term memories that we need later, we need that nightly downtime to discard less important memories.[5]

3. Drink Some Coffee

Good news for all you coffee addicts—caffeine can also help boost your long term memory. In one study, participants were given caffeine after their memory testing.[6] The results showed that caffeine helped with long term memory consolidation.

Think of it as strengthening those trace memories in the neocortex (if we’re using the multiple trace model). A caveat: scientists still haven’t been able to prove that caffeine helps with long term memory retrieval.

4. Pay Attention

Memory relies on the first step in the process; we have to encode information before it can be stored. That’s why it’s so important to pay close attention the first time we experience new information.

In one adorable study with toddlers, scientists tried to determine whether immediate imitation helped the toddlers strengthen their long term memory on later tests.[7]

What they found is that imitation wasn’t actually necessary for improving later memory retrieval. The key to successful long term memory retrieval was paying attention in the first place. It wasn’t essential that the toddlers parrot back the information, just that they paid attention to it.

So whether you’re repeating, taking notes, or just staring intently, the bottom line is that you need to pay attention to boost your future long term memory storage and retrieval.

Advertising

5. Quiz Yourself

Another way to strengthen your long term memory is to quiz yourself. Paying attention is important, but to really boost your eventual memory retrieval, periodically testing yourself to see what you remember is important.

The testing effect is the phenomenon that testing yourself improves retention.[8]. Think about just reading over your notes as compared to using flashcards to quiz yourself. When you skim over your notes, you aren’t paying attention to what you do and don’t know. You’re also not practicing your long term memory retrieval.

However, when you make flashcards, create a practice test, or cover the answers and quiz yourself, you are forcing yourself to confront what you do and don’t know and which memories are weaker than others. This forces you to practice your retrieval and strengthen your long term memory.

6. Practice Repeated Retrieval

Quizzing yourself is one thing, but if you want to take your memory-boosting to the next level, you need to try repeated retrieval. Instead of just quizzing yourself once, repeated retrieval is where you quiz yourself multiple times over a period of time.[9]. Since it takes two weeks to strengthen those trace memories in the neocortex, that’s the benchmark for repeated retrieval.

Repeated retrieval is also known as spaced retrieval. Companies using this technique have been around since the 1970s, but now, thanks to advances in technology, you can easily access spaced repetition tools online.

The concept is simple. You are asked a question. If you know the answer, it goes in one pile (virtual or real), and if you don’t it goes in another. More time will go by before you are asked the questions you got right than the ones you got wrong. The interval between questioning increases each time you get an answer correct until it is safe and sound in your long term memory.

7. Space out Your Recall

Instead of cramming, spacing out your recall sessions has been shown to improve long term memory. When you cram, you can just rely on the short term memory in your hippocampus, whereas spacing out your study sessions forces you to strengthen those trace memories waiting in your neocortex.

Advertising

Final Thoughts

Memory is imprecise, and there’s still a lot we don’t know about it, but recent studies have shed some light on the techniques that we can use to better boost our long term memory.

Knowing that memories are simultaneously encoded in multiple brain regions can help us think more about strengthening those trace memories instead of transferring them from one region to another.

Exercise, caffeine, and paying attention to the world around us can help with our encoding. Then, quizzing ourselves over time can help us store and retrieve those long term memories.

It’s important to think of memory as a gradual process that takes place over weeks, not moments. Also, it can’t be overstated how important sleep is to the memory process. Without a good night’s rest and regular REM cycles, the brain doesn’t have time to sift through which memories to keep and which to throw away.

Without these 7 strategies, our brains will be like that hoarder’s basement, so clean it out and create a retrieval system that you use regularly. After using these 7 techniques to strengthen your long term memory, your brain will be more like a library archive than a messy, musty basement.

The final piece of good news: you’re never too old to strengthen your long term memory, so get started today.

More Tips on Strengthening Memory

Featured photo credit: Tamarcus Brown via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Clay Drinko

Clay Drinko is an educator and the author of PLAY YOUR WAY SANE (January 2021 Simon & Schuster)

9 Types of Intelligence (And How to Know Your Type) 12 Ways for Slow Learners to Speed Up Learning aural-learner 7 Characteristics of an Aural Learner How to Avoid Binary Thinking and Think More Clearly 7 Characteristics of a Smart Auditory Learner

Trending in Brain

1 How to Improve Memory: 7 Natural (and Highly Effective) Ways 2 9 Types of Intelligence (And How to Know Your Type) 3 25 Memory Exercises That Actually Help You Remember More 4 What Is Social Intelligence (And How to Increase Yours) 5 How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on September 18, 2020

How to Improve Memory: 7 Natural (and Highly Effective) Ways

How to Improve Memory: 7 Natural (and Highly Effective) Ways

Memory plays an integral role in our lives, both in the short and long term. If you’re wondering how to improve memory, I’m here to tell you that there are natural and effective ways to do so.

Despite what you might think, improving your ability to recall information is certainly possible. You just need to know the right ways to do it.

Let’s dive straight into the first of seven easy ways to improve memory efficiently and reduce the risk of memory loss.

1. Meditate

We live in a world of non-stop, 24/7 information. It’s like a waterfall that’s endlessly pouring news, data, facts, and figures into our conscious minds.

Unfortunately, our brains are not designed to absorb this tremendous amount of information. It’s no wonder, then, that most people struggle to remember information and recall things.

Even if you believe you have a good memory and are comfortable with multi-tasking, you’ll also be aware that there’s only so much information your brain can process at one time. Research suggests that the more information and distractions you receive, the harder it is for you to transfer information to your long-term memory[1].

Fortunately, meditation can help.

Even if you just meditate for 10 minutes per day, you’ll boost your ability to focus, which, in turn, will make it easier for you to remember important facts.

While any amount of meditation will do something to help your memory, one study pointed out that “8 but not 4 weeks of brief, daily meditation decreased negative mood state and enhanced attention, working memory, and recognition memory as well as decreased state anxiety scores”[2].

Therefore, if you’re looking for the most benefits, try sticking with a meditation practice for at least 8 weeks.

However, meditation doesn’t just have to be closing your eyes and sitting in a lotus position. Some people prefer to simply take a short walk in nature. This clears and calms their mind, and still provides the all-important boost to their focus.

2. Get Plenty of Sleep

If you’re sleep deprived or have not been sleeping well, then it’s likely that you’re not able to remember well either. This is because sleep and memory are intimately connected.

If you have a busy life and regularly find yourself not getting enough sleep, then this will negatively impact your cognitive abilities, including your memory.

Advertising

If you want to learn how to improve memory, how much sleep should you be getting?

Well, according to the National Sleep Foundation[3], you need a minimum of seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you get this amount of sleep regularly, then within just a few days, you’ll see a tangible improvement to your ability to remember and recall things[4].

If you want to improve memory, get plenty of sleep.

    Maintaining a proper sleep cycle is not always easy (especially when the latest Netflix series has just been released!), but if you care about improving your long and short term memory, then it’s critical that you try to get at least the recommended amount of sleep every night.

    Try these three things to naturally improve your sleep cycle:

    • Have a fixed bedtime (preferably before 10pm)
    • Don’t eat too late
    • Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible

    Sleeping is a precious activity. It regenerates your body, clears your mind, and helps with the storing and retrieval of information.

    However, don’t sleep just yet, as I want to tell you about another great way to increase memory.

    3. Challenge Your Brain

    When was the last time you challenged your brain?

    I don’t mean challenged in the sense of overeating or under-sleeping. I’m referring to stretching your mental capabilities through things like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and memory games.

    To expand your memory bank, and to make your recall razor-sharp, you need to continually challenge your brain.

    Feedback from Lifehack readers such as yourself has suggested that brain training apps are a super-effective way of doing this. Used regularly, these apps can enhance your focus, attention span, problem-solving ability, and memory.

    There are hundreds of these apps available (most of them for free), but I recommend starting out with one of the big three:

    • Peak (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
    • Lumosity (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
    • Elevate (Android/iOS, free, 5 million+ downloads)

    If you normally spend a chunk of your week playing computer games, then instead of shooting and killing your enemies, why not let some of them live while you put your attention into boosting your brain power!

    Advertising

    Challenging your brain will strengthen your neural pathways and enhance your mental abilities. But don’t just take my word for it; try one of the apps above and see the positive benefits for yourself.

    4. Take More Breaks

    When I think back to my days as a budding entrepreneur, I distinctly remember working all the hours under the sun—and many under the moon, too!

    At that time, I believed that breaks were for the weak, and to become wealthy and successful, I needed to shed blood, sweat, and tears.

    However, if you want to know how to improve memory, taking regular breaks is the best way to keep yourself productive, creative, and alive to opportunities. It’s also the best way to learn new information.

    Typically, when studying lots of new information, most people will spend hours reading it in an attempt to learn and remember the content as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, they’ve overlooked something.

    One 2011 study from the University of Illinois concluded that “the brain is built to detect and respond to change…and prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance”[5].

    This is based on something called the “vigilance decrement.” This can be applied to many things. For example, we often don’t notice the feeling of clothing touch our bodies because our brain becomes accustomed to the sensation. However, if you change clothes, you’ll likely notice the difference in texture and temperature for a few minutes.

    When you take a break from memorizing information, it refocuses your attention and energy, leading to increased focus overall.

    It’s similar to physical exercise. You wouldn’t attempt to train vigorously for four hours in a row. Instead, you’d take regular breaks to give your lungs, heart, and muscles adequate time to recover. Failing to do this will result in muscle cramps and overexertion.

    Basically, make sure you take regular breaks when learning new information. I recommend at least a 10-minute break every hour. (You may also want to take a look at the Pomodoro Method.)

    5. Learn a New Skill

    I love this quote, as it’s 100% true but frequently overlooked:

    “Learning never exhausts the mind.” -Leonardo da Vinci

    From my experience of helping to develop the careers of dozens of Lifehack employees, I can definitively say that participating in meaningful and purposeful activities stimulates the mind. It also reduces stress and enhances health and well-being.

    Advertising

    Let me give you an example of this:

    Imagine you work for a global financial institution in one of their call centers. You take over 100 calls a day, many of them complaints. When you started the job a few months back, you were excited to be in full-time employment and working for a household name.

    Unfortunately, your initial enthusiasm quickly turned into frustration.

    The endless complaint calls began to take their toll on you. And the supervisors irritated you too, as they were far too interested in micro-managing you rather than letting you work in your own way.

    Now, in the story above, the ending could be that you put up with a job you didn’t like and led a dull and frustrated working life for years and years. However, an alternative ending is this: you channeled your dissatisfaction into learning a new skill (computer coding).

    It took you a year or two to get up to speed, but it allowed you to successfully upgrade your career, and the ongoing learning made the call center job much more bearable.

    Clearly, learning new skills gives you impetus, focus, and something to aim for. Your brain loves to learn, and you should tap into this by always seeking out new information. When learning becomes a habit, you’ll find your ability to remember and recall things effortlessly becomes a habit, too.

    If you want to know how to learn something new every day, check out this article.

    6. Start Working out

    If you’re not already working out regularly, then here’s another reason to do so:

    Exercising for 20-30 minutes three times a week will improve your long-term memory[6].

    Regular physical activities increase blood flow in your body and supplies the brain with extra oxygen and nutrients. A well-nourished brain is a well-functioning brain!

    Even if you don’t have much time, research has shown that a daily burst of 60 seconds of high-intensity exercise offered many of the benefits of the longer exercise routines[7].

    Interested in getting started?

    Advertising

    Here are five different ways that will help you work out:

    • Join a gym
    • Join a sports team
    • Buy a bike
    • Take up hiking
    • Dance to your favorite music

    7. Eat Healthier Foods

    I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “You are what you eat.”

    This applies to your brain, too.

    The food that you eat helps determine your brain’s capacity to store and recall information. A poor diet (think junk food + soda!) harms not just your physical health, but your mental health, as well.

    Fortunately, there are several foods that are especially good for your brain and your memory. These include: blueberries, celery, and dark chocolate. But any fruits, vegetables, or foods high in antioxidants will have a positive effect on your brain and memory. Here’re some ideas: 15 Brain Foods That Will Super Boost Your Brain Power

    Conversely, highly-processed foods and those loaded with sugar will have a negative impact on your memory. This is due to them providing insufficient nutrients for your brain, leading you to easily suffer from mental fatigue.

    If you want to improve your mental health, eat and drink an abundance of these for brain health:

    • Turmeric – Helps new brain cells grown
    • Broccoli – Protects the brain against damage
    • Nuts – Improves memory
    • Green tea – Enhances brain performance, memory and focus[8]
    • Fish oilFish oil supplements can increase your brain power

    Here’re more brain food options that improve memory!

    Also, remember that your brain is about 75% water, so dehydration can have a huge effect on the way your brain functions. Stay hydrated if you really want to improve memory!

    Final Thoughts

    I sincerely hope these seven memory boosting ways that I’ve covered in this article will be helpful for you.

    You don’t need to implement them all, but you can try out the ones that appeal to you.

    But, if you’re serious about dramatically improving your memory and avoiding cognitive decline, then make a start right now on adopting one or more of the ways I’ve suggested.

    More on How to Improve Memory

    Featured photo credit: Eric Ward via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next