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How to Improve Your Memory

How to Improve Your Memory

    Our memory is one of the integral parts of day-to-day human life. We’re using it every moment, consciously or not, as we perceive the world and interpret it based on our memories and experiences, or as we look for the car keys, trying to recall where, exactly, was the last place they were seen?

    It’s no small wonder that this part of our brain would fall prey to such inefficiency and failure, given the busy pace of Western life and the constant barrage of information that the hippocampus must somehow keep up with. At the same time, how can we fall complacent when such an essential thing as memory doesn’t work properly? Many lifehackistas and personal development fans spend hours, weeks, months and years dedicated to other areas of their lives while they completely ignore the memory.

    You should up your standards. Your memory should be a finely-tuned, working piece of equipment that you can depend on. So where do we start?

    Clear Your Mind

    Some of our memory inefficiency is no doubt caused by the clutter in our heads and the ceaseless stimulation of our senses and the barrage of information we so often complain about. The other part of poor recall is inefficiency in the way we store information—much like a hard drive, I suppose, where write speeds can be affected by how much the drive is trying to do at any one time, or completely halted when the drive is full, and can be slowed to a halt by inefficient methods of accessing that data.

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    Meditation

    Meditation is a scientifically proven way to clear your mind and relieve stress. If you find your mind too cluttered to recall important—or even not-so-important—facts throughout the day, adopt a regular meditation habit and reap the health benefits that come with it.

    Meditation goes something like this: find a quiet environment. Focus on your breathing. Quit thinking and forget about the world. Practice until you can actually forget about the world and focus on your breathing.

    GTD

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    As soon as I mentioned cluttered minds, you knew I was going to mention it. The Getting Things Done system is perfect for clearing your head because it eliminates the need to remember. When you’re not trying to hold on to and juggle so much data all day, and you release the stress of trying to retain so much information, that’s probably when you’ll find yourself able to remember everything easily!

    If you just use the info-dumping strategy of GTD, then you stand to gain a lot of mental RAM back. Simply sit down in the mornings—and in the evenings, especially if you have insomnia—and rattle out everything you need to do or consider onto a piece of paper, Word document, task manager, or whatever takes your fancy. The important thing is to remove it from your brain and free up attention for things that don’t need to be at the forefront of your brain.

    Fuel Your Brain

    A starving brain is just like a starving person: it won’t work well. Give your hippocampus the things it needs to operate smoothly.

    Exercise

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    One of the best things you can do for your memory is get exercise. I’ve put this under the Fuel Your Brain section because the reason exercise works so well is that it pumps oxygen to your head. Spend three hours a week walking, running, swimming or doing some form of aerobic exercises. If you already have an exercise regime that doesn’t involve aerobic exercise, you’ll need to add at least three hours per week to get the benefits of exercise on your memory.

    Diet

    The Virgina Woolfe quote is good advice: “One cannot think well, love well or sleep well if one has not dined well.” Of course, if you know anything of Woolfe’s life, you know she’s not an expert on mental health, but in this case, she was right.

    Just like if you failed to exercise, if you don’t eat well, your brain won’t work well. Quit snacking on chips and eat a variety of healthy foods. Avoid processed grains like bread and white rice. What you’re aiming for here is maximum nutrients so your neurons can fire and regenerate at will; fruits, vegetables, and “brain foods” (such as anything containing omega 3 fatty acids—sardines, for one) should comprise the bulk of any intellectual’s diet.

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    Herbs, supplements and drugs

    My pregnant wife is religious in her consumption of folic acid supplements every day, and apparently it’s a good idea for husbands to join in, especially if you’re the type who forgets to do the dishes. With all that folic acid she’s taking, she’s sure not forgetting.

    B vitamins are very important to healthy brain function. Not only will they give your memory a boost, but they’ll reduce stress too—our prime contributor to poor recall.

    As far as drugs go, I wouldn’t take any, but there is one you can boot. Smoking decreases blood flow to the brain, stopping oxygen from getting in there and hence making your prior attempts to rectify this problem useless

    Memory aids

    There is nothing wrong with aiding your memory with a shopping list or a mnemonic. If you need to remember that Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit to help you learn to read music notation, then you shouldn’t be ashamed if it makes your life easier—just be glad you’re not the other guy who’s trying to memorize by rote.

    There are plenty of systems and techniques that fall under the heading of memory aids. Some are as simple as writing a note on your hand or keeping a shopping list. Some aren’t—plenty of Tony Buzan-style techniques are all across the web.

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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