We live in a time of constant distractions. Age, environmental factors, technology, even nutrition, contribute to our overall cognitive state. In fact, we may now have shorter attention spans than goldfish. The busier your lifestyle is, the more prone to forgetfulness you are. Whether you need to remember names better, where you parked your car, or tasks off your to-do list, these memory techniques will condition you to improve upon your memory.
7 Memory Techniques for Stronger Brain Function
1. Mnemonic Devices
Mnemonic devices are memory tricks designed to improve your recall skills. It makes memorization easier and can help combat memory loss. Essentially, you convert information into simple rhymes or sentences for stronger memory formation.
Mnemonic devices help solidify memories for the long haul. Those who struggle with long-term memory, along with short-term memory often use them, but everyone can benefit from them. Mnemonic devices are seen to be effective for a variety of different age groups — from young children to the elderly. They’ve been used for a long time, dating back to the Ancient Greeks. Although there are several different mnemonic devices, here are a few of the best:
Acrostics are weird sentences or poems where the first letter of each word represents something else. The first letter of each word is a clue for triggering memory. This mnemonic device is particularly useful for remembering ordered lists.
Most of us learned one or two of these bad boys while in middle school. You probably STILL remember, “Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally.” That’s an acrostic for the order of operations: parenthesis, exponent, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.
Acronyms are words or phrases made up from the first letters of the words that you want to remember. For example, SCUBA is an acronym that stands for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. We use acronyms all the time to consolidate information into smaller bits, like IDK, ASAP, or RSVP.
In fact, there’s an acronym for remembering mnemonic devices known as SCRAM: sentences/acrostics, chunking, rhymes, acronyms, and method of loci.
Research tells us that short-term memory is limited. Generally, most people can only remember 7 (+/- 2) pieces of information in their short-term memory at a time. To overcome this, people group information into chunks so that 21 items can become 7.
You might not realize it, but you use chunking all the time. Everyone uses chunking to remember phone numbers. Phone numbers use to have only 7 digits, but with area codes, they’re 10 digits. People, paperwork, and cell phones chunk numbers into 3 parts, like 888-784-9315. It makes phone numbers way easier to remember. Chunking can also be applied to other information.
The use of rhymes is another mnemonic device. This device is especially helpful for those who are auditory learners. Rhymes trigger recall because the brain associates similar sounds.
A classic example is, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Almost everyone learned that one to remember when the Americas were discovered.
Learn more tips on working with mnemonic devices here.
2. Teach It To Someone
Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, created the Social Development Theory for cognitive development. He emphasized the necessity of social interactions for internalizing information. Not only do you create more meaning by discussing a topic with someone, it also forces you to use words to describe it and becomes further ingrained in your memory.
Next time you’re learning a new topic, try teaching what you learned to someone else. Saying the information aloud and teaching others is effective for memory retention.
3. Sense It
Use your 5 senses to remember anything. Your mind remembers more information when it’s experienced through one or more of your senses. Smells are said to be the strongest memory trigger of the senses, but it’s pretty hard to force.
As visual animals, we can retain so much more imagery than any other sense. Visualizing absurd or outrageous things is easy and extremely effective. For example, you parked your car in spot “S8” so you visualize Ouroboros, a snake making a symbol of infinity by eating his tail. Later when you go back for your car, you’ll remember the 8-shaped Ouroboros before you remember “S8.” The images you create in your mind are clues for the original information.
4. Brain Vitamins & Supplements
If you’re having trouble remembering information, you may be deficient in important nutrients. Nutrition is directly related to cognitive performance. Deficiencies in key nutrients hinder memory, focus, and dispositions.
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5. Repetition, Rehearsal, & Writing
Making lists may seem intrinsic to you, but you might be surprised by how much it actually helps. Physically writing things down forces you to recall all the information at hand, like practice for the game. It also highlights what you know really well, along with what you don’t know as well as you thought you did.
By writing and repeating, you consolidate your memories and keep them organized. It’s kind of like updating your files, creating more accurate folders, and deleting old files. This process also solidifies associations between pieces of information, which makes recall easier.
As with most things in life, practice makes perfect. Your memory isn’t going to improve overnight, but these tricks will build a strong memory foundation whenever you need it. Developing these habits for success is not easy. Just stay patient, stick with it, and you’ll remember more.
This one seems simple enough. It may feel as though sleeping may do nothing for your brain, but this is actually a time when it is most active. That is because this is the time that your brain processes memories and archives them, much like a cognitive file system within your brain. Lack of rest impairs you from absorbing new information because you may still be processing memories you have not slept through, and this is key. Get more tips on achieving better sleep here.
If you are stressing over your performance on tomorrow’s test or perhaps next week’s sales pitch, chances are that your sleep quality may suffer. Overcome the stress hurdle by ensuring you have quality sleep.
7. Keep a Strong Stomach
This doesn’t mean maxing out your gross-out factor. Studies show that maintaining a healthy gut may help stave off anxiety symptoms and improve cognition. Eating a well balanced diet consisting of vitamins, complex carbs, protein, and reducing processed-sugar intake, as well as increasing consumption of active cultures will help you maintain a well-balanced gut flora and keep you operating at an optimum level.
Improving your memory doesn’t require rocket science. Your cognitive abilities may pleasantly surprise you by slowly implementing these subtle changes in your routine.