Top Tips For Improving your Memory
By Nadia El Dasher
There was a time in my life that I remembered every friend’s and family member’s phone numbers, when I didn’t rely on my phone GPS to get around, and when my desk wasn’t buried under a pile of to-do lists. When did my memory become so unreliable? Is it simply a matter of ageing, or is there anything that we can do to improve our memory?
A simple Google search reveals a slew of solutions, from eating right, to physical and mental exercises but a certain source stood out to me the most, a TED talk by Joshua Foer titled Feats of Memory Anyone Can Do. Foer unravels the inner workings of memory by examining the United States Memory Championship, and interviewing its contestants.
The techniques he discovered all came down to a concept in psychology referred to as “elaborative encoding”. When two people are told to remember a single word “baker”, the one who is told to simply remember that there is a man whose name is Baker is less likely to remember the word than the person who is told to remember that there is a man who is a baker.
The reason behind this is that while the name Baker doesn’t really mean anything to us, but the common noun baker comes with a visualization of a baker, we can imagine his uniform, his actions, etc. It’s akin to the difference between a 2D image and a 3D image. Foer goes on to say,“the idea… is to create this imagined edifice in your mind’s eye, and populate it with images of the things that you want to remember — the crazier, weirder, more bizarre, funnier, raunchier, stinkier the image is, the more unforgettable it’s likely to be.”
So we must actively engage with our environment in order to remember, and there are ways to exercise your memory thus improving it.
- Engage more than one of your senses
Reading out loud is both visual and auditory, which can aid the memorization process.
- Stop multitasking
Not only is multi-tasking associated with low efficiency in everyday activities, it also divides the brain’s limited attention making it harder to retain information.
- Visualize uncommon scenarios
At the beginning of Foer’s talk he asks the audience to close their eyes and visualize the story he is about to tell. This activates different parts of your brain, which aids the process of remembering. While imagining an uncommon scenario will also aid the memorization process since the bizarre both stands out and requires us to re-examine.
According to Foer’s talk it is easier to remember something if it is memorized in a story-like fashion, which is similar to using mnemonic devices.
- Clench your fists
Research indicates that balling up the right hand into a fist makes it easier to memorize numbers and lists. Neuropsychologist, Dr Joanna Iddon, adds that in order to retrieve the information, you clench the left fist as a means of activating that region of the brain.
- Experiment with retrieval practice
A study by Morris et al. in 2005 showed that, unlike other forms of memory improvement, almost every member of the population can benefit from retrieval practice – the exercise of reminding yourself to remember. The more difficult the subject is to remember, the more practice you’ll need.
It may seem obvious, but getting enough sleep is a powerful tool for boosting brain function and, as a result, memory. Researcher Jack Mellor from the University of Bristol discovered that the brain organizes its everyday encounters during sleep, recording only the essentials to memory.
- Learn before you sleep
Studies have shown that information retention is most efficient if you do it right before sleeping.
- Eat chocolate
A team of healthcare professionals in Norway tested more than 2,000 people on memory, planning, attention as well as visual and spatial coordination after monitoring their dietary habits. The results showed that those who consumed 10 grams of chocolate per day got higher test results.
Aerobic exercise not only improves cognitive function, it’s also an approachable technique for enhancing memory. Exercise is also associated with the growth of the hippocampus, a sea horse-shaped part of the brain linked to memory.
- Learn new things
According to scientist Sandrine Thuret, learning increases the production of brain cells. Learning another language, in particular, can be exceedingly rewarding. Research by Dr. Thomas Bak at the Edinburgh University showed that being bilingual may improve the aging brain, even if the second language was picked up at adulthood.
- Reduce Stress
Thuret also states that stress can reduce the production of new brain cells, ultimately affecting memory. And the same can be said with regards to sleep deprivation and malnutrition.
A simple way to reduce stress and depression, both of which are associated with memory loss, is to increase social interactions.
- Inhale rosemary oil
A study conducted at Northumbria University demonstrated similarities between the effects of compounds in rosemary oil and drugs licensed to treat dementia.
According to a report in The Atlantic, students who meditated an hour a day for eight days did better on tests than those who did not.
Traditionally, forgetfulness is thought of as a side effect of growing old, however a 2013 poll found that millennials (18 to 34 year olds) are far more likely to forget their lunch, what day of the week it is, where they left their keys, and whether they showered or not than older age groups. In fact, the results showed that those 55 or older were more than two to three times more likely to remember the answers to these questions than millennials.
The easiest place to observe this phenomenon is at a social gathering where people from all walks of life can almost instantly forget names of other guests.
Perhaps the best place to start is with our lifestyles. By incorporating subtle changes at a young age not only will your memory improve, but you’ll be creating a suitable environment for the entirety of the brain to flourish.