10 Simple Ways to Improve Your Memory

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Some things just won't stick, you can't remember them. Everyone sometimes forgets something, but sometimes it is important that you remember certain things, and including some of the mentioned habits can help you out.

The list contains ten tips that give your memory an extra boost. They are small tricks, habits in your everyday behavior, and tiny changes in your life pattern that can have big differences.

However, everyone has a trick that works better or less well, so it's a bit of searching and trying. Before getting on to the tips, let's understand some facts about forgetfulness and memory enhancement.

What is Forgetfulness?

Memory is the function of the brain that stores information, to use it later in one way or another. Skills such as reading, writing, calculating and logical thinking are impossible without memory.

Without memory, even speaking, observing, understanding, thinking and planning would not be possible.

With memory complaints, people experience, rightly or wrongly, that there is a deterioration of the memory; a reduction in the ability to store information and/or retrieve it later.

Symptoms of Forgetfulness

Everyone sometimes forgets something. Moreover, there is a big difference in memory capacity between people; one is better at remembering information than the other.

Only when you notice that you forget more than is usual for you, there are memory complaints and possibly a decline in memory. With memory problems you can think of:

  • It is difficult to come up with names
  • Always lost things
  • Forget appointments
  • Be confused with days
  • Forgetting events of short or long ago

In the event of serious memory complaints, this will hamper daily activities.

If you struggle with learning in general, the video below explores 10 of the most powerful mind tricks you can use to learn anything fast. With just a few simple tweaks to your learning approach, you'll be able to pick up new skills in no time.

How Does Forgetfulness Arise?

The memory is located in the brain. There are very many areas of the brain involved, each with their own function. The memory is usually divided into three parts: the sensory memory, short-term memory and long-term memory.

Sensory memory

Information comes in through the sensory memory; this is done primarily through the ears and eyes.

The information will disappear from this memory after a few seconds. Part of the information goes on to the next phase; the short-term memory.

Short-term memory

Important factors that influence short-term memory are:

  • clarity (how awake you are)
  • selective attention (what do you pay attention to)
  • emotion and interest (your motivation) and understanding

In the short-term memory, a limited amount of information can be kept temporarily (up to a few minutes) in consciousness.

Due to the limited capacity, information can disappear from this memory because new or old information is added.

If the information in the short-term memory is processed in a certain way (for example through repetition, ordering or linking to old information), it can end up in the long-term memory.

Long-term memory

This memory is a permanent memory storage with almost unlimited capacity. If you want to recall a reminder, it must come from the long-term memory.

Using the Learning Retention Pyramid as your guide, use the most effective way of retaining information.

Is It Serious and What Can You Expect?

Whether or not memory problems are serious depends on the degree of forgetfulness and the limitations that they entail in daily life. Old-age forgetfulness can be annoying, but it is not a concern.

If other restrictions are added and you are less able to take care of yourself, the condition is more serious and the memory problems may be a precursor to dementia. But if you are aware of the memory problems and suffer from them, dementia is not usually the case.

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Memory problems can be serious depending on the degree of forgetfulness and the limitations that they entail in daily life.

What Can You Do About It Yourself?

When the memory goes backwards, and you make few new impressions, this decline can go faster. This can happen, for example, due to loneliness and the lack of different social contacts.

First thing you can do is to get your memory assessed through various memory tests. This will give you an insight to your cognitive function.

It is also important to have (family) contacts, to stay active in social life and to have pleasant activities. That way you help the mind to stay fit.

If you're fond of playing games, check out these blog posts:

Take a few tips from this list and try them out! Who knows, it helps your memory.

Things To Do to Improve Memory: A Countdown

10. Fifteen-second rule

Scientists have been researching our memory for years, and most people agree that people have a short-term and a long-term memory. However, the short-term memory is very short.

Of course it varies per person, but roughly 18 seconds is about how long most people can remember a difficult combination of words or letters. Take a telephone number, for example.

Your short-term memory remembers this grab-em-bite for 18 seconds and if it has not yet been moved to your long-term memory (and this is not that easy to do), then the number is lost.

It is therefore important to write it down within those 18 seconds. But yes, who always has a pen and paper within reach? The fifteen-second rule helps here, and is very simple.

To keep something in your short-term memory, you have to repeat it approximately every 15 seconds.

You do this until you have found a piece of paper and have borrowed a pen. Or, in modern times, until you have dug your smart phone out of your bag and opened your note app.

9. Pin systems

Officially it is called Mnemonic Peg System in English. It is a bizarre system for laymen, but people who are trained in it swear by it. How does it work?

As a peggist, you learn a standard list by heart. It can be a totally random list, as long as you remember it (so you need a little bit of memory to use this system!). Suppose you take 1 = gun, 2 = zoo, 3 = a hive.

We'll stick to three, but of course you can make a much longer list. As long as you remember the list! Well done, now comes the memory task. You have to remember three things, say “messages.”

You have to have eggs, butter and toilet paper, because who wants to be without toilet paper! The trick of Peggen is now to combine your original peg list with the new list. So:

  1. Gun and eggs. Simple, you imagine what it would look like if you loaded a gun with eggs. A funny image, and the stranger, the better it is to remember!
  2. Zoo and butter. Perhaps there are animals that would like a lick of butter?
  3. Beehive and toilet paper. If you distort the cardboard rolls a bit, you could use it to build a nice bee-comb, wouldn't you?

The idea (and it works, try it) is that by associating the remember list with your peg list, you can better remember the first list. After all, you have associated it, or linked it, to the peg list. Of course you first have to remember your peg list …

8. Turn everything off/down/away

Sounds drastic, but in principle it is very simple: the more input you get from outside, the less capacity you have for the task you are trying to concentrate on. Your brain can only do a certain amount of work at a time.

They would like to focus all their concentration on your one reminder task, but if other sensory data comes in (sound, smell, taste, you name it) then your brain must also pay attention to it. And put your music down, or quiet classical music running is not an alternative.

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The brain can only do a certain amount of work at a time.  It tends to focus all their concentration on your one reminder task.

Although your brain may pay less attention to it, it will sacrifice a small part of your mind to perceive the sounds. And that ability depends on your capacity to remember. So, TV off, radio off, hamster in the cage, and preferably also Facebook on do not disturb!

7. Linking

“Links” are connections, and the more links you put between the things you need to remember, it gets better. What works best is to come up with a story that ties everything together.

Do you remember the three messages from memory aid number 9 (if not: eggs, butter and toilet paper)?

Links between these things could, for example, go as follows: “There was once an egg from a man who smeared butter on his Toilet paper because he thought it would make it feel softer on his seat.” Admit it, you would remember such a story, right?

A problem with this method is that it is not particularly well suited for longer lists. It then becomes absurdly difficult to put everything in one story, and if you have to invent several stories, you run the risk of forgetting one of these stories completely… For short lists, however, this is an excellent (and funny) way of to remember!

6. Keywords

This method is especially useful when you need to learn words in a different language. It works as follows: write down the foreign word (or say it aloud).

Now try to find a English word that is very similar in terms of sound or spelling.

Next you will ‘associate' this English word with the meaning of the foreign word. In this way you remember what the meaning of a word is much easier than if you tried to stomp it brutally into it.

An example: We take the word ‘brain' as we are talking about memory. Suppose I am living in Netherlands, so I had to remember the Dutch word for it. Here we go:

Step 1: The Dutch word is hersenen.

Step 2: A English word that is very similar to this is Hershey (a park in Pennsylvania).

Step 3: The connection is easy to make; Hershey is a park where we can spend peaceful time and relax our brain.

Step 4: I won't forget that hersenen means brain!

5. Loci method

An age-old method, which is also called the Roman Chamber method or the travel method. The principle, which finds its origin in the Roman heyday, is simple: when you remember things, you do so by hanging them up in an area or house that you are very familiar with.

For example the house where you grew up. The memory of your grandmother, you put it in the wardrobe, you put your groceries (a recurring phenomenon) in the mailbox, and so on.

It is one of the oldest methods, and especially suitable for more elaborate memories, such as anecdotes, stories, and perhaps whole persons or groups. Less useful if you only have to remember a word list. But we have already discussed quite a few alternatives for that!

4. Clump!

It sounds very unpleasant, but it does work. At number ten you read about the short-term memory.

Apart from the fact that it is very short-term (only 18 seconds), it is also very limited in capacity. It can remember between 5 and 9 ‘chunks'. A lump can be anything, a word, a number, another unit. It is important that your memory sees it as one piece.

A word that we recognize, such as butter, is one lump. However, if we do not know the word, for example the letter group ‘urgniko‘, then we cannot remember it as a piece. We must remember this as 7 fragments, each letter is one fragment.

Anyway, we can only remember and process 5 to 9 debris at a time. The art is, therefore, to clump. The idea is exactly what we just saw with the word “butter.”

Because we recognize the word as a whole, it is one piece. If you have to remember the number sequence 4769155, you can do that as 7 fragments, each digit is a fragment. What you can also do is clump up numbers.

Suppose you used to live at number 47. Then you remember this as a piece. Your grandmother may have just turned 96, and your side job gives you 155 a week (if only so!). Instead of 7 fragments you now only have to remember 3, and that means room for more!

3. Situation sketches

This method helps you when you have already forgotten something and is trying to retrieve it. You often know it is on the tip of your tongue, but it just doesn't want to touch the conscious surface.

Very frustrating! What often helps is the following trick: try not to remember that specific thing, but rather the entire situation. Suppose you want to remember which song played on a particular evening.

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Try to imagine the entire evening, the entire environment and the entire situation. Better yet, if possible, try using physical attributes. Did you drink coke? Then your memory can be helped by the smell and taste of cola.

Your memory is often context dependent. This means that certain events are stored in your memory in relation to the context (the environment).

These memories sometimes only come to the surface if the environment is ‘correct'. You must therefore ensure that your environment is correct in order to remember the precise memory!

2. Music

Number 8 warned you that any kind of distraction hinders your memory. That's true. But music is also sometimes a support for your memory, if you actively use it. Especially useful when you want to remember monotonous lists.

With the help of a simple tune (or perhaps a complicated orchestral performance by Beethoven, whatever you want) you try to transform the list into a song.

Songs and tunes are often better absorbed by our memory than boring lists. As an example, the German words “mit, nach, bei, zeit, von, zu and aus” do something with the conjugation of articles “der, die en das“.

I no longer know exactly what, but I still know the list exactly, even though it was more than 10 years ago that I had to learn this list. That is because I sang it for myself to the melody of father Jacob.

1. Fragrances

Although one method is no better or worse than the other, this is the most special way of remembering. Odor.

Our sense organs work more on our unconscious than on our conscious, and thus they can be a very good assistant in retrieving memories that wander around on the unconscious level.

Are you studying for an exam? Then use the same perfume during learning as during your exam. Your brain will be able to better recall the memories of your learning session from your memory.

After all, the smell of then is linked to the smell of during the exam. Hop, memories come to mind. And if not, at least your fellow students will not smell your sweat so badly…

Final Thoughts on How to Improve Your Memory

An important final note is the following: although these are great (fun) methods to remember things, the guarantee is right to the door. No matter how hard you try, some things are just really forgotten, some lists are just too long to remember in one evening.

The most important trick is not one of the above, but practice. The more you practice remembering, especially with the above methods, the better you get at it. So don't give up too soon!

And if you're looking for other ways to improve your memory, check out these blog posts:

Matthew Swayne is a cognitive expert, taking workshops and writing since last 8 years on memory enhancement, cognition, brain health, and stress related issues on his blog and online.

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