Improve Your Memory

Developing Your Ability to Remember

How well do you remember?.

© iStockphoto/bluestocking

Are you often unable to remember an important fact or figure?

Do you forget people's names at the worst moments?

Are you ever asked a question, and you should know the answer, but you struggle to form an intelligent reply?

These are common instances where a good memory is important.

Memory is more than recalling information for exams or trivia games. It's an important work skill that you can develop and improve. Whether it's remembering key statistics during a negotiation, or quoting a precedent-setting action when making a decision, or impressing clients with your knowledge of their product lines – your ability to remember is a major advantage.

People with good memories are often seen as knowledgeable, smart, competent, and dependable. And there are many techniques you can use to develop your own ability to remember information – and then recall it when and where you need it.

Take Care of Your Health

The basis for a good memory is a healthy mind and body. You can't expect your brain to function at its best if you don't take care of the body that feeds it. Here are some key issues that you need to address:

  • Eat well – Make sure key vitamins are in your diet, including folic acid, vitamin B12, and antioxidants. These improve the sharpness of the mind. If necessary, take vitamin supplements.
  • Drink plenty of water – Most of us are dehydrated and don't even know it. When you don't drink enough water, your body and mind become weak and tired. Water makes red blood cells more active and gives you more energy.
  • Get enough sleep – During sleep, your brain recharges itself. Studies have shown that your brain needs sleep to change new memories into long-term memories.
  • Manage stress effectively – Ongoing stress has many harmful health effects. Learn to limit and control the stress in your life. Use physical relaxation techniques  , thought awareness and rational positive thinking  , and imagery   to reduce your levels of stress.
  • Don't smoke – Limit caffeine and alcohol use (excessive alcohol can seriously affect your short term memory). Get enough exercise.

These basic health tips allow you to maximize your brain's abilities.

Use Mnemonics

Mnemonics   are simple memory-improving tools that help you connect everyday, easy-to-remember items and ideas to information you want to remember. Later, by recalling these everyday items, you can also recall what you wanted to remember.

There are many mnemonic techniques:

  • The Number/Rhyme Technique   – This allows you to remember ordered lists. Start with a standard word that rhymes with the number (we recommend 1 – Bun, 2 – Shoe, 3 – Tree, 4 – Door, 5 – Hive, 6 – Bricks, 7 – Heaven, 8 – Gate, 9 – Line, 10 – Hen). Then create an image that associates each with the thing you're trying to remember. To remember a list of South American countries using number/rhyme, you might start with:
    • One – Bun/Colombia: A BUN with the COLUMn of a Greek temple coming out of it.
    • Two – Shoe/Venezuela: VENus de Milo coming out of the sea on a SHOE.
    • Three – Tree/Guyana: Friends call GUY and ANnA sitting in a TREE.
    • Four – Door/Ecuador: A DOOR in the shape of a circle/globe with a golden EQUAtOR running around it.
  • The Number/Shape System   – Here, create images that relate to the shape of each number, and connect those images to the items in your list. Let's use the same example:
    • One – Spear/Columbia: The shaft of the SPEAR is a thin marble COLUMn.
    • Two – Swan/Venezuela: This time, VENus is standing on the back of a SWAN.
    • Three – Bifocal Glasses/Guyana: GUY has just trodden on ANnA's bifocals. She's quite cross!
    • Four – Sailboat/Ecuador: The boat is sailing across the golden line of the EQUAtOR on a globe.
  • The Alphabet Technique   – This works well for lists of more than 9 or 10 items (beyond 10, the previous techniques can get too difficult). With this system, instead of finding a word that rhymes with the number, you associate the things you want to remember with a particular letter of the alphabet, from A to Z. This is an efficient way to remember an ordered list of up to 26 items.
  • The Journey System   – In your mind, think about a familiar journey or trip: For example, you might go from your office to your home. Associate the things that you want to remember with each landmark on your journey. With a long enough, well-enough known journey, you can remember a lot of things!
  • The Roman Room System   (Loci Method) – This technique uses location to stimulate your memory. Connect your list with items you see in a familiar room or location. You might find associations with things in your kitchen, in your office, or at a familiar grocery store.

Our Bite-Sized Training session Remember! will help you to review and practice some of these mnemonic techniques.

Mind Mapping

Mind maps   (also called concept maps or memory maps) are an effective way to link ideas and concepts in your brain, and then "see" the connections firsthand. Mind mapping is a note-taking technique that records information in a way that shows you how various pieces of information fit together. There's a lot of truth in the saying "A picture speaks a thousand words", and mind maps create an easily-remembered "picture" of the information you're trying to remember.

This technique is very useful to summarize and combine information from a variety of sources. It also allows you to think about complex problems in an organized manner, and then present your findings in a way that shows the details as well as the big picture.

The mind map itself is a useful end product. However, the process of creating the map is just as helpful for your memory. Fitting all the pieces together, and looking for the connections, forces you to really understand what you're studying – and it keeps you from trying to simply memorize.

Challenge Your Brain

As with other parts of your body, your mind needs exercise. You can exercise your brain by using it in different ways, on a regular basis. Try the following:

  • Learn a new skill or start a hobby – Find activities that build skills you don't normally use in your daily life. For example, if you work with numbers all day, develop your creative side with art classes or photography.
  • Use visualization on a regular basis – Since much of memory involves associating and recalling images, it's important to build this skill. Get plenty of practice with this!
  • Keep active socially – When you communicate and interact with people, you have to be alert. This helps keep your brain strong and alive.
  • Focus on the important things – You can't possibly remember everything, so make sure you give your brain important things to do – and don't overload it with "waste." The "garbage in, garbage out" philosophy works well here.

    Tip:

    While it's important to develop a good memory, remembering unnecessary things (such as tasks you need to do, or things you need to buy) is hard work. What's more, because these consume short-term memory, they can diminish your ability to concentrate on other things. They can also leave you stressed, as you struggle to remember all of the things you have to do.

    Write these things down on your to-do list  ! This way, you don't have to remember everything. And if your memory fails, you know where to look for the information you need.

  • Keep your brain active with memory games   and puzzles – Try Sudoku, chess, Scrabble, and Word Twist as well as trivia games, pair matching, and puzzles. These are popular ways to practice memorization while having fun. And explore brain-training sites like Lumosity as a way of pepping up your mind.

Key Points

Your memory is a valuable asset that you should protect and develop. Even if you no longer have to memorize information for exams, the ability to remember quickly and accurately is always important.

Whether it's remembering the name of someone you met at a conference last month, or recalling the sales figure from last quarter, you must rely on your memory. Learn and practice the above techniques to keep your mind healthy.

You have only one brain – so treat it well, give it lots of exercise, and don't take it for granted. You never know when you'll need its skills to be at their best!

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.

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Comment (1)
  • NaturalSelection wrote Over a month ago
    vitamin supplements that improve memory are called nootropics. You can google nootropics or learn more at realized nootropics.

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