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Last Updated on August 28, 2019

13 Simple Memory Tricks To Help You Remember Anything Easily

13 Simple Memory Tricks To Help You Remember Anything Easily

In the age of Google and Wikipedia, it’s easy to dismiss an impressive memory as a useless skill. But sometimes, you won’t have access to the internet. Sometimes, like at an interview or when you’re giving a speech, reading aloud can give a terrible impression.

So, until the time where your speeches are programmed into a chip in your brain, a good memory can be a huge advantage. Here are 13 simple memory tricks to improve your memory:

1. Clench Your Right Hand When Learning, Then Your Left Hand to Remember

As weird as it might seem, a study actually proved this effective in improving short-term memory.[1] When you’re learning, simply clench your right hand into a fist. And then later on, when you have a need to remember, squeeze your left hand.

However, this is only proven to be effective in right-handed individuals. Though they did the same test for left-handed people, those results are reserved for a different study, so stay tuned.

Or simply try it for yourself and see if you experience any significant difference.

2. Coordinate Smells

Smells have been proven to trigger memories better than sound,[2] but any direct application of that fact can be quite tricky.

One idea is to coordinate smells from when you’re memorizing something to when it needs to be remembered. For example, try spraying perfume of a very particular odor on the back of your hand when you’re reading, and then again the same the day of your test, or speech or presentation.

3. Coordinate Positions

If you maintain the same position when you’re trying to remember as you did when you memorized, it is likely that your memories will be easier to reach.[3] While the study focused on autobiographical memories, it should be applicable to more practical situations as well.

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Try studying in one position—for example with your legs crossed at a certain angle—and then remember to answer the test or do the interview in the same position.

4. Chew Gum

There are two theories in place for why this is. One is that chewing leads to increased blood flow to the area, and therefore enables more brain activity.[4] The other is much the same as our previous tricks: that chewing gum becomes associated with the memory and it gets easier to access if chewing gum while recalling it.[5]

Regardless of which you believe, it might be a good idea to pick up a pack of gum before your next big exam. And just in case taste has the same effect as smell, stick with the same flavor for the test as you use when studying.

5. 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 when it comes to learning.[6]

While it might seem like a ton of extra work, you can simply piggyback off melodies you already know and love. Perhaps the best are famous classics because they don’t have lyrics that could perhaps be distracting when trying to memorize.

Just make sure you don’t burst into song when you’re remembering!

6. Don’t Do “All-Nighters”

Not only does sleeping improve your memory,[7] mass repetition is suggested to decrease even immediate memorability, not increase it.[8]

It is also proven that distributed practice, where you study for short periods of time spread out over a longer period, works better than massed practice, i.e cramming.[9] So don’t do all nighters. Remember to get your hours of sleep after a day of studying.

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And of course, it’s a great idea to study something a little at a time, a few minutes each day. When you’re learning a language, flash cards or good language learning apps are very convenient for that purpose.

7. Meditate

As it turns out, Buddhists have been on to something in the belief that meditation is a path to enlightenment. In a study, meditating four times per day for 20 minutes increased cognition from 15% to as much as 50%.[10]

So, if you’ve ever wondered about meditation, start doing it. Check out this quick and simple guide to meditation: The 5-minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime

8. Exercise More

If you find some of the other suggestions to be tedious and you would appreciate a more physical approach, you’re in luck. There has been established a clear connection between regular exercise and improved cognitive functions, including memory.[11]

So exercising more wouldn’t only make you healthier, it could also improve your memory.

If you think you’re too busy to exercise, here’re 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

9. Drink Less

Long-term abuse of alcohol has been proven to have severe effects on memory.[12] And while I’m by no means accusing you of being an alcoholic, I think many of us could stand to drink a little less.

And when you add in the time you lose while drunk, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that excess drinking is not the best approach to memorizing anything.

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10. Associate

Tricks that improve memory all seem to boil down to one thing: association.

Up until now, we have mostly dealt with involuntary association, such as remembering better when smelling the same smell, or sitting in the same position. But now it’s time for voluntary association.

There are some areas where this is rather simple:

For example, in language learning, a trick to remember new vocabulary is to associate the new word with a word it sounds like that you already know.[13] If you’ve ever noticed how much easier it is to remember a new word that sounds exactly the same as another one, then you know what I’m talking about.

Sometimes, you have to stretch the pronunciation a bit, like with the Japanese word kensaku, which I choose to remember via “Ken sucks.” In my own experience, the more far-fetched and ridiculous the association, the easier it is to remember. (Kensaku 検索 means search, by the way.)

And then there is visual association with new words, something that has become much simpler with many newer textbooks helping with the implementation of visual techniques, perhaps especially so with the Chinese alphabet with the “Heisig” method being fairly well known and appreciated in language learning communities.[14]

The Heisig method uses visual association to help you remember the shape of the hanzi or kanji, for Chinese and Japanese respectively. Some of my friends found it extremely helpful, and others found it lackluster.

11. Bundle Memories Together

Make use of pattern recognition[15] and bundle together a lot of memories into one.

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The simplest aspect of this is perhaps when remembering numbers. This is called the “chunking technique.”[16] If you can bundle them together in a meaningful way that means something to you, it can make remembering strings of numbers a whole lot easier.

In Norway, we bundle phone number digits together in pairs, so you could, for example, think of them as years. (Our phone numbers are 8 digits long.) So, a phone number could be 45 80 90 18. You could therefore use 1945, being the year WWII ended, associate 80 with the ’80s, and 90 the ’90s, then 1918 is the year WWI ended.

12. Write It Out

Maybe it’s the added repetition, or maybe it’s the fact that writing activates completely different areas of the brain and you somehow store the information in more than one place; either way, writing something down makes it easier to remember.[17]

So, if there’s something that’s absolutely vital that you don’t forget, write it out by hand. Better yet, make an actual physical note and bring it with you.

That way if your cellphone malfunctions, or the sound is accidentally turned off, you are more likely to remember in spite of circumstances.

13. Talk to Yourself

You don’t have to do long dramatic monologues with a mirror as the only spectator. Simply say whatever you want to remember out loud. A study showed that it improved memory accuracy by up to 10%.[18] So maybe it’s a habit best practiced in solitude.

Bottom Line

While some of these are tricks, others are about developing and improving your general cognitive abilities. Needless to say, the latter will complement the former, so remember to take care of yourself and your brain if you want to improve memory.

As for the tricks themselves, a combination of many of the tricks are likely to provide the best results, as recreating a complete setting might just be the best way to recollect something.

More About Boosting Memory

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Department of Psychology, Montclair State University: Getting a Grip on Memory: Unilateral Hand Clenching Alters Episodic Recall
[2] Telegraph: Smell and memory: the power of scent
[3] Cognition. 2007 Jan: Body posture facilitates retrieval of autobiographical memories.
[4] New Scientist: Chewing gum improves memory
[5] Nutr Neurosci: Effects of chewing gum on mood, learning, memory and performance of an intelligence test.
[6] Orla C. Hayes: The Use of Melodic and Rhythmic Mnemonics To Improve Memory and Recall in Elementary Students in the Content Areas
[7] Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: Study Shows How Sleep Improves Memory
[8] Psychon Bull Rev (2011): More is not always better: paradoxical effects of repetition on semantic accessibility
[9] Psychological Bulletin: Distributed Practice in Verbal Recall Tasks: A Review and Quantitative Synthesis
[10] PsyBlog: Cognition Accelerated by Just 4 x 20 Minutes Meditation
[11] The Guardian: Start running and watch your brain grow, say scientists
[12] VerWellMind: How Heavy Alcohol Use Can Damage Memory Function
[13] University of Leicester: The effect of the integrated keyword method on vocabulary retention and motivation
[14] Wikipedia: Heisig
[15] The Atlantic: Using Pattern Recognition to Enhance Memory and Creativity
[16] Lifehacker: Improve Your Memory with The Chunking Technique
[17] The University of Stavanger: Better learning through handwriting
[18] PsyBlog: Memory Improved By Saying Words Aloud

More by this author

Ragnar Miljeteig

Ragnar is a passionate writer who blogs about personal development at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on September 11, 2019

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

How often do you feel overwhelmed and disorganized in life, whether at work or home? We all seem to struggle with time management in some area of our life; one of the most common phrases besides “I love you” is “I don’t have time”. Everyone suggests working from a to-do list to start getting your life more organized, but why do these lists also have a negative connotation to them?

Let’s say you have a strong desire to turn this situation around with all your good intentions—you may then take out a piece of paper and pen to start tackling this intangible mess with a to-do list. What usually happens, is that you either get so overwhelmed seeing everything on your list, which leaves you feeling worse than you did before, or you make the list but are completely stuck on how to execute it effectively.

To-do lists can work for you, but if you are not using them effectively, they can actually leave you feeling more disillusioned and stressed than you did before. Think of a filing system: the concept is good, but if you merely file papers away with no structure or system, the filing system will have an adverse effect. It’s the same with to-do lists—you can put one together, but if you don’t do it right, it is a fruitless exercise.

Why Some People Find That General To-Do Lists Don’t Work?

Most people find that general to-do lists don’t work because:

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  • They get so overwhelmed just by looking at all the things they need to do.
  • They don’t know how to prioritize the items on list.
  • They feel that they are continuously adding to their list but not reducing it.
  • There’s a sense of confusion seeing home tasks mixed with work tasks.

Benefits of Using a To-Do List

However, there are many advantages working from a to-do list:

  • You have clarity on what you need to get done.
  • You will feel less stressed because all your ‘to do’s are on paper and out of your mind.
  • It helps you to prioritize your actions.
  • You don’t overlook so many tasks and forget anything.
  • You feel more organized.
  • It helps you with planning.

4 Golden Rules to Make a To-Do List Work

Here are my golden rules for making a “to-do” list work:

1. Categorize

Studies have shown that your brain gets overwhelmed when it sees a list of 7 or 8 options; it wants to shut down.[1] For this reason, you need to work from different lists. Separate them into different categories and don’t have more than 7 or 8 tasks on each one.

It might work well for you to have a “project” list, a “follow-up” list, and a “don’t forget” list; you will know what will work best for you, as these titles will be different for everybody.

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2. Add Estimations

You don’t merely need to know what has to be done, but how long it will take as well in order to plan effectively.

Imagine on your list you have one task that will take 30 minutes, another that could take 1 hour, and another that could take 4 hours. You need to know the moment you look at the task, otherwise you undermine your planning, so add an extra column to your list and include your estimation of how long you think the task will take, and be realistic!

Tip: If you find it a challenge to estimate accurately, then start by building this skill on a daily basis. Estimate how long it will take to get ready, cook dinner, go for a walk, etc., and then compare this to the actual time it took you. You will start to get more accurate in your estimations.

3. Prioritize

To effectively select what you should work on, you need to take into consideration: priority, sequence and estimated time. Add another column to your list for priority. Divide your tasks into four categories:

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  • Important and urgent
  • Not urgent but important
  • Not important but urgent
  • Not important or urgent

You want to work on tasks that are urgent and important of course, but also, select some tasks that are important and not urgent. Why? Because these tasks are normally related to long-term goals, and when you only work on tasks that are urgent and important, you’ll feel like your day is spent putting out fires. You’ll end up neglecting other important areas which most often end up having negative consequences.

Most of your time should be spent on the first two categories.

4.  Review

To make this list work effectively for you, it needs to become a daily tool that you use to manage your time and you review it regularly. There is no point in only having the list to record everything that you need to do, but you don’t utilize it as part of your bigger time management plan.

For example: At the end of every week, review the list and use it to plan the week ahead. Select what you want to work on taking into consideration priority, time and sequence and then schedule these items into your calendar. Golden rule in planning: don’t schedule more than 75% of your time.

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Bottom Line

So grab a pen and paper and give yourself the gift of a calm and clear mind by unloading everything in there and onto a list as now, you have all the tools you need for it to work. Knowledge is useless unless it is applied—how badly do you want more time?

To your success!

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Featured photo credit: Emma Matthews via unsplash.com

Reference

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