There are many bits of advice and hacks floating around the internet on how to improve your memory.
But are they backed by science?
Are they proven to work because of how the brain, the powerhouse behind memory, functions?
Memory is a resource we rely on throughout life.
In school, at work, for all our daily commitments.
For birthdays, and names, and the passcode to the security system.
And despite what you may hear about memory failing you as you age, you can help prevent it.
In fact, you can improve your memory.
The right sort of brain and memory exercises can even reduce the chances of Alzheimer’s or other memory-debilitating conditions down the line.
In this article, I have compiled for you my best science-backed tips on how to improve memory.
Let’s jump right into them.
7 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Memory
1. Build a Mind Palace
The Mind Palace technique is what memory athletes use to perform incredible feats.
These include memorizing lists of random numbers and words, ranging from the hundreds to the thousands, in just 30 minutes.
The technique they all use – and which anyone can learn – is the Mind Palace technique.
The ancient Greeks and Romans developed and widely used this strategy.
They used it to recall masses of information when written records didn’t yet exist.
Researchers find that people using the Mind Palace technique can recall twice as much information compared to those who don’t.
It can change the actual structure of your brain to resemble that of memory athletes.
How? Because this technique uses a cornerstone of memory-enhancing strategies – mental images.
You visualize a familiar location, your house, the route to work or school, etc.
Your mental map has a fixed beginning and a fixed end.
You picture every step and aspect of it in detail.
Then, as you travel down this route, you begin to place the items on your list of things to remember at consecutive locations of your journey.
By creating mental images, you give the item on your list relevance and meaning.
So, when you want to remember that item, you just think back to its location in your mind palace.
Mental images are much easier to recall than random words or numbers.
This is an example of mnemonic association – recalling information through linking them to mental cues and images.
Using the mind palace or mnemonic association is scientifically proven to improve your memory.
Here’s an Example of How to Use the Mind Palace Technique
Assume you’re trying to remember all the noble gases on the periodic table: helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon, and radon
- Your mind palace is your bedroom – you can picture it and all the furniture inside in perfect detail
- Start at the door, then move clockwise around it
- So, let’s say immediately to the left of the door is your bed. The first element you want to remember is helium – so mentally tie some helium balloons to the bedpost
- The second one is neon. Let’s picture a neon wall fixture above your bed
- The next item is argon. Fluorescent lighting uses argon – so imagine an argon light-bulb in your bedside lamp
- The next one is krypton. Superman is from the planet Krypton. You can imagine a Superman plushie on your desk, or Superman himself chilling on your desk chair
And so on!
Coming up with these mnemonic associations and images, which can be as ridiculous or over the top as you like, can help you recall information easier than memorizing words and numbers!
2. Build Knowledge Brick by Brick
Or chunk by chunk, because the next strategy to improve your memory we’re going to talk about is “chunking.”
When you eat, you don’t swallow the entire plate in one go, right?
You chew each mouthful, one by one, until you’re full.
Building long-term memory works similarly.
You start with a chunk of information first.
You learn it really well until you have a solid understanding and memory of it.
Then, you build the second chunk of information on top of that.
Instead of building a precarious Jenga tower of knowledge, you’re making a solid, reliable tower, with strong foundations.
Chunking involves breaking information into more manageable pieces to process and recall.
It’s a learning strategy I have seen work countless times and is one of my best tips to teach kids and adults how to improve your memory.
3. Work Out Your Brain Cells
As you can guess, short-term memory doesn’t stick around for too long.
You might read up a ton of material and breeze through a test just fine.
But come end-of-semester exams and you find you don’t remember anything.
This is because you were storing the information in your short-term memory.
To build long-term memory, you have to actively engage in retrieval.
In other words, you continuously practice recalling the information stored in your short-term memory.
Retrieval is why regular reviewing and frequent revisions are so critical.
By constantly recalling the information you’ve already learned, the same neurons keep firing and growing.
The stronger they grow, the more the information solidifies as long-term memory.
It’s just like building muscle at the gym.
Going through a series of exercises several times a week gradually develops the part of the body you’re working out.
In this case, it’s the brain.
4. Exercise Not Just Your Brain, but Your Body Too
Not all ways to improve your memory involve your brain exclusively.
As the saying goes, “A sound mind is in a sound body.”
Regular exercise keeps many detrimental health conditions at bay. They can enhance the working of the brain and the body.
Working out gets your heart pumping and gets more oxygen to your brain.
Scientists confirm that it helps grow new blood vessels and maintain the health of the neurons in your brain.
It’s also associated with building up the size of your brain’s hippocampus, the part responsible for memory and learning.
Exercise also amps up the endorphins.
These make you feel uplifted, in a good mood.
In turn, it helps reduce the anxiety and stress that can inhibit the brain’s functioning.
Exercise also helps you sleep better, which leads us to our next point.
5. Sleep Better
Of course, if you haven’t slept well and are too tired, you won’t be able to concentrate.
But proper sleep is necessary for long-term memory as well.
The brain does not shut down when we sleep.
It keeps running in the background.
And in this state of rest, it consolidates the neural pathways which form the basis of our learning and memories.
So, getting enough sleep and rest is another meaningful way of helping those short-term memories convert to long-term memories.
Speaking of consolidating memories –
6. Take Enough Breaks
An integral part of learning is taking enough breaks.
The Pomodoro Technique, a time management system that’s been around since the 1980s, is popular among learning experts and researchers because of its effectiveness.
The strategy involves studying for 25 minutes, then taking a short break.
By doing this, you switch the gears of your brain from focus mode, where it is concentrating hard on what you’re learning, to diffuse mode.
In diffuse mode, your mind relaxes enough to wander.
Why is this important?
Well, because when you aren’t focusing sharply on one thing, your mind can naturally make associations between the information you learned.
Have you ever figured out an answer or solution to a problem while doing something completely unrelated?
A eureka moment in the shower or while making yourself a cup of coffee?
The brain’s different learning modes are the reason why.
Just like after eating, you have to give your body time to digest and fully utilize all the nutrients, your brain needs time to digest all the information and incorporate it into your long-term memory.
So, breaks – wisely and responsibly used – are necessary to improve your memory.
7. Watch What You Eat
A healthy lifestyle helps improve memory in many ways, and maintaining a proper diet is one of them.
The brain is an organ just like the heart and liver and kidneys, and so on.
And eating the right types of food helps keep this organ healthy as well.
The healthier the brain, the better your memory!
So, be sure to include a lot of memory-enhancing foods into your diet, like Omega 3 fatty acids and B vitamins.
The Omega 3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid or DHA is what much of the gray matter of our brains consist of.
So, a diet rich in Omega 3 fatty acids – found in a variety of fish – is excellent for the brain.
And, in turn, for enhancing memory and preventing degenerative brain diseases.
Leafy greens, berries, nuts, and essentially loads of fresh veggies and fruits, etc. are also great for your brain and overall diet.
These are my best recommendations on things you do to improve your memory.
Using a mix of memory-enhancing strategies and living a brain-healthy lifestyle enhances your memory.
It also improves your brain’s long-run functioning – a win-win, right?
So, which of these techniques are you going to try to improve your memory first?
Write in and let me know!
Pat Wyman is a learning expert, university instructor, best-selling author and the CEO of HowtoLearn.com. She invites you to take the free Learning Styles Quiz on the home page.
Her courses, Total Recall Learning™ for Students, Total Recall Learning for Professionals™, Total Recall Speed Reading™and Total Recall Memory™ have benefited over half a million learners with higher grades, increased productivity and the ability to know how to read faster, learn and remember anything.
She’s worked with people in such corporations as Microsoft, Raychem and Sandvine and has won several life-time achievement awards for her work. Pat is a mom, golden retriever lover and big time San Francisco Giants fan! Come on by if you’re ever at a Giant’s game and she’ll welcome you with open arms.