Have trouble remembering names? How about shopping lists?
Are finding yourself outsourcing your brain to your digital device.
You know the old saying… if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
Let’s give you some tools to work that memory muscle! Sound good?
First if you’re having issues with recalling names we’re going to refer you to our friend Jim Kwik who teaches top celebrities how to remember their lines.
He’s a very generous and gifted person who loves to share…
So click that link above to be a rockstar at your next social gathering. People really appreciate it when you remember their names and many doors can open with that one simple skill.
OK… Onward to the hacks.
Science continually finds new connections between simple things we can do every day that will improve our general memory capacity.
3 (Not So) Simple Steps…
Memory is a complicated process that’s made up of a few different brain activities. Before we look at ways to improve retention, here is a simplified version to show how memory takes place:
Step 1. Create a memory. Our brain sends signals in a particular pattern associated with the event we’re experiencing and creates connections between our neurons, called synapses.
Step 2. Consolidate that memory. Do nothing else and that memory could soon fade away. Consolidation is the process of committing something to long-term memory so we can recall it later. Much of this process happens while we’re sleeping as our brains recreate that same pattern of brain activity and strengthen the synapses created earlier.
Step 3. Recall that memory. Recall is what most of us think of when we talk about memory or memory loss. Recalling a memory is easier if it has been strengthened over time, and each time we do we cycle through that same pattern of brain activity and make the connection a little stronger.
While memory loss is a normal part of aging that doesn’t mean we can’t take action to slow it down.
Now let’s discover 7 powerful memory hacks:
1. Meditate to improve working memory.
Working memory, which is a little like your brain’s notepad, is where new information is temporarily held. When you learn someone’s name or hear an address of a place you’re going to, you hang on to those details in working memory until you’re done with them. If they’re no longer useful you let them go entirely. If they are useful, you commit them to long-term memory where they can be strengthened and recalled later.
Working memory is something we use every day, so it makes our lives a lot easier when it’s stronger. While for most adults the maximum we can hold in our working memory is about seven items, if you’re not quite using your working memory to its maximum capacity meditation can strengthen it.
Research has shown that participants with no experience in mindfulness meditation can improve their memory recall in just eight weeks. Meditation, with its power to help us concentrate, has also been shown to improve improve standardized test scores and working memory after just two weeks.
Why does meditation benefit memory? It’s somewhat counterintuitive: during meditation your brain stops processing information as actively as it normally would.
So occasionally take a break to empty your mind. Not only will you feel a little less stressed, you may also remember a little more.
2. Drink coffee to improve memory consolidation.
Whether caffeine can improve memory if taken before learning something new is debatable. Most research has found little to no effect from ingesting caffeine prior to creating new memories.
One recent study, though, found that taking a caffeine pill after a learning task actually improved memory recall up to 24 hours later. Participants memorized a set of images and were later tested by viewing the same images (targets), similar images (lures), and completely different images (foils).
The task was to pick out which were the exact pictures they had memorized without being tricked by the lures (which were very similar.) This is a process called pattern separation, which according to the researchers reflects a “deeper level of memory retention.”
The researchers in this study focused on the effects of caffeine on memory consolidation: the process of strengthening the memories we’ve created. That is why they believe the effects occurred when caffeine was ingested after the learning task rather than before.
So don’t just drink a little coffee to get started in the morning – drink a little coffee to hold on to more of what you learn throughout the day.
3. Visualize reminders with the Palace Technique.
Whether it’s your home, an office, or some other place, there’s a space most of us can walk through in our minds. Turn that mental space into a list organizer by using the “Palace Technique.” The LiteMind Blog has a good overview of the technique, which has you associating each thing you need to remember with objects you’d see in a walk-through—milk at the front door, printer paper on the floor mat, paper towels on the kitchen table, etc. When you need to remember, just stroll through your (mental) home, and you should recall the associations.
4. Exercise to improve memory recall.
Studies in both rat and human brains have shown that regular exercise can improve memory recall. Fitness in older adults has even been proven to slow the decline of memory without the aid of continued regular exercise. In particular, studies shown that regular exercise can improve spatial memory, so exercise may not necessarily be a way to improve all types of memory recall.
Of course the benefits of exercise are numerous, but for the brain in particular regular exercise is shown to improve cognitive abilities besides memory. So if you’re looking for a way to stay mentally sharp, taking a walk could be the answer.
5. Chew gum to make stronger memories.
Another easy method that could improve your memory is to chew gum while you learn something new. Contradictory research exists so it’s not a solid bet, but one study published last year showed that participants who completed a memory recall task were more accurate and had higher reaction times if they chewed gum during the study.
A reason that chewing gum might affect our memory recall is that it increases activity in the hippocampus, an important area of the brain for memory. (It’s still unclear why this happens, though.)
Another theory focuses on the increase of oxygen from chewing gum and how that can improve focus and attention, helping us create stronger connections in the brain as we learn new things. One study found that participants who chewed gum during learning and memory tests had higher heart rate levels, a factor that can cause more oxygen to flow to the brain.
6. Recall lists using dramatic imagery.
You’re heading out the door, and you’re absolutely sure you’re going to forget to drop off the mail, or buy the milk, or both. Blogger Bert Webb might suggest focusing on an image of dropping letters into a mailbox that looks like a giant milk jug, or perhaps a mailman made entirely of liquid milk. In other words, anything that pushes your list items past your brain’s boring/mundane filter is far likelier to stick. Use wild and crazy imagery plus emotion to allow the brain to really remember it. The crazier it is, the more emotion you feel, the easier it will be to remember the list.
7. Sleep more to consolidate memories.
Sleep is proven to be one of the most important elements in having a good memory. Since sleep is when most of our memory consolidation process occurs it makes sense that without enough sleep we will struggle to remember things we’ve learned.
Even a short nap can improve your memory recall. In one study participants memorized illustrated cards to test their memory strength. After memorizing a set of cards they took a 40-minute break and one group napped while the other group stayed awake. After the break both groups were tested on their memory of the cards.
To the surprise of the researchers the sleep group performed significantly better, retaining on average 85% of the patterns compared to 60% for those who had remained awake.
Research indicates that when memory is first recorded in the brain (specifically in the hippocampus) it’s still “fragile” and easily forgotten, especially if the brain is asked to memorize more things. Napping seems to push memories to the neocortex, the brain’s “more permanent storage,” which prevents them from being “overwritten.”
Not only is sleep after learning a critical part of the memory creation process, but sleep before learning something new is important as well. Research has found that sleep deprivation can affect our ability to commit new things to memory and consolidate any new memories we create.
Now you don’t need an excuse to nap – or to get a little more sleep.