5 Proven Ways to Improve Your Memory

Ever wished you could improve your memory and upgrade it sort of like buying extra storage space for your laptop or phone?

Well, you can improve your memory – and you only need a few research-backed strategies to maximize your potential.

It’s all possible because of your brain’s neuroplasticity, with it’s incredible potential to adapt to any new information and experiences.

Knowing how to tap into your brain’s full potential helps unlock all your memory abilities, from recalling everything you read, to doing a presentation without notes, to grocery-shopping without a list.

Table of Contents

1. Turn What You Need to Remember into Mental Movies

2. Take More Brain-Friendly Breaks

3. Exercise Your Memory with Review and Repetition

4. Eat Memory Enhancing Foods

5. Work Out Your Body to Work Out Your Brain

5 Proven Ways To Improve Your Memory

1. Turn What You Need to Remember into Mental Movies

Improve Your MemoryBeing able to visualize what you need to remember is at the heart of on-demand memory strategies.

Turning text into images and colorful mental movies is the secret sauce that makes your memory work faster and more efficiently, especially during written exams or when giving speeches without notes.

Why? Because neuroscience tells us the brain processes visual images much faster than text.

Research from as far back as the 1970s show that people shown 2,000 images have 90% better recall compared to text recall.

Over the years, research on memory has proven time and time again that image recall is faster than recalling text. (See numerous studies at end of article including those here).

Think about it this way – imagine your national flag. You probably got a picture of it in your mind the instant you read that prompt, right?

Now, what if I asked you to read a description of the flag instead, or write one?

It’d probably take longer, right? Your brain will be working to decode the letters, the combinations making up the words, and what a combination of those words mean.

On the other hand, by conjuring a picture up in your mind, you almost immediately and intuitively grasp concepts and ideas, without your brain having to make its way through a step-by-step linear formula!

Here’s another example – say you’re trying to understand how evaporation works.

According to Wikipedia, evaporation is “a type of vaporization that occurs on the surface of a liquid as it changes into the gas phase.”

What makes this concept easier to understand?

This technical definition?

Or visualizing – creating a mental image of how, when heat is applied to liquid molecules (you might imagine them as marbles in your mind), start getting so active they start bouncing off each other and the ones closer to the surface catapult out into the atmosphere, as vapor?

You can picture how the change from liquid to gas happens by visualizing the concept, and it communicates deeper meaning to you than just words can.

This is because images activate both the cognitive and emotional pathways within your brain. Thus thinking in images cover a greater portion of your brain’s surface area.

Not only are you able to process images faster, you’re able to remember them faster too, because images bypass your short-term memory and directly embed into your long-term memory!

So, practice turning text, or whatever you need to recall into colorful, memorable mental movies in your head.

5 proven ways to improve your memory You can improve your memory by using memory systems to help you remember a series of items. For instance, you can use the Body Peg Memory System to recall items on your grocery list – just visualize each grocery item hanging off a different part of your body, starting at the top of your head and moving down.

Coming up with a funny mental picture of your grocery items hanging off your body will be much more memorable when you’re standing in the supermarket than a long list of words!

For more ways to improve your memory with memory systems and tips on visualization, check out the course Total Recall Learning!

2. Take More Brain-Friendly Breaks

5 Proven Ways to Improve Your MemoryYup – taking breaks between learning and working can actually improve your memory!

Hermann Ebbinghaus, the mathematician who formulated the Ebbinghaus curve of forgetting, illustrates how.

The curve of forgetting demonstrates that the longer the gap between the beginning of a learning session and the end, the steeper the curve.

In other words, the longer the gap between the beginning (primacy) and end (recency) of your learning, the more you’re likely to forget what you learned in the middle, if you make no attempt to retain what you learned.

This is because when you’re focusing on learning something, you’re using your working memory, and your working memory is not unlimited.

As you learn, your brain temporarily stores information in your hippocampus, waiting to create connections with what you already know and convert into long-term memory.

But if you keep inputting information into your working memory without giving your brain the chance to review and store what it’s already learned, it ends up not being able to absorb anything new. In fact, it might even lose things you already know.

This is why you might feel overwhelmed after a stretch of time spent working or learning – your brain exceeds its working memory capacity, and it’s like a glass of water overflowing. You end up losing what’s inside as well as what you already had stored in it.

Improve Your Memory by Just Taking Breaks!

The good news is, just a break of 5 minutes after every 20-25 minutes of learning or work is enough to restore your working memory. Imagine that! You can improve your memory by just taking breaks!

During this time, your brain gets the chance to wander. Because you’re not specifically focusing on anything, it gets to connect what you were learning with what you already know, comes up with solutions and ideas with this information, and begins storing it into your long-term memory.

So, make sure to schedule short brain-friendly breaks for every half hour of work or learning that you do – your memory will thank you for it!

3. Exercise Your Memory with Review and Repetition

5 Proven Ways to Improve Your MemoryYou read in the previous section that, as the Ebbinghaus curve of forgetting points out, you’re more likely to forget what you learned in the middle of your learning session if you don’t attempt to retain it.

https://clixtrac.com/goto/?304619 Reviewing what you learn and actively retrieving this from memory helps you solidify your memory!

Your brain has billions of nerve cells or brain cells, called neurons. When you learn something new and create a memory, these neurons create connections with each other, called neural pathways.

Have you ever experienced a situation where you learn something, like memorizing a bunch of definitions for a test, but just a couple of days later forget most of it?

Since you’re not encountering this information frequently, and not using it or accessing it, your brain decides it’s unnecessary and prunes away the neural connection linked to this information.

On the other hand, when you review what you want to remember, and actively retrieve it from your memory, the neurons involved in this neural connection are constantly activating and you improve your memory!

The more they activate, the stronger and longer lasting the pathway becomes, and as a result the stronger the memory becomes, too!

Think about it this way – you didn’t know how to tie your shoelaces, or drive, on your first attempt, right?

But you kept practicing, retrieving, and applying what you learned. As a result, your brain developed stronger neural connections for the information you need to do these activities, and now you can do them without even thinking about it!

4. Eat Memory Enhancing Foods

5 Proven Ways to Improve Your Memory

Did you know that 60% of your brain is made up of fat? ( https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20329590/ )

And I’m not talking about saturated or trans fats like the type you find in margarine, greasy fast food, processed meats like sausages and refined snacks like cookies and cake. These are definitely bad for you, and along with overall health risks can damage your brain’s ability to learn and remember.

https://clixtrac.com/goto/?304619 I’m talking about the good kind of fat, unsaturated fats, like EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

These Omega-3 fatty acids can help grow your brain by developing new cells and create stronger and better connections with existing ones.

Scientists find that people who have a healthy balance of these fatty acids in their diets have better memory, cognitive functioning, and even reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Omega-3 fatty acids also help protect your brain cells from damage and can slow down or prevent cognitive decline from conditions like Alzheimer’s.

The best and richest natural source of DHA and EPA is fatty fish, like trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel.

Other excellent unsaturated fat sources include nuts like almonds, walnuts and peanuts, seeds like pumpkin and sesame seeds, avocados, olive oil and more.

You can also take Omega-3 fatty acid supplements but make absolutely sure to get your doctor’s approval first.

Other excellent brain foods include berries, especially blueberries. These are very rich in antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation in your brain.

Inflammation – caused by free radicals which can damage your brain cells – can disrupt your memory, create brain fog that makes it hard to learn and remember, and difficult to focus.

Blueberries and other excellent foods like lion’s mane mushrooms (which you can eat as is or in supplement form after consulting your doctor) have amazing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits that can help improve your memory!

5. Work Out Your Body to Work Out Your Brain

Improve Your MemoryJust like working out helps you build muscle and improve your body’s agility, precision, speed, and performance, it does the same for your brain.

When you’re physically active, you’re breathing in deeper and taking in more oxygen. Your blood circulation speeds up, and this carries this oxygen and many of the nutrients and more you read about in the previous section to your brain.

With all this fuel, your brain can create connections between its nerve cells much faster and more efficiently. This speeds up your ability to learn, process information and create and access memory!

Not only that, but the rich supply of oxygen and nourishment to your brain helps grow new cells, in a process called neurogenesis. This takes place in parts of your brain like the hippocampus, which is heavily involved in memory formation and learning!

Exercising also stimulates chemical messengers like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins to spike up in your system. These can help you better focus, stay motivated and in a good mood while you work and learn, clearing out brain fog and putting you in the ideal state of mind to learn and recall faster!

Remember – you already have a high-performance memory. What you need are the strategies on how to make full use of it.

Along with these 5 proven ways to improve your memory, I have many more memory strategies to help you access your brain’s full potential in my Total Recall Learning course, so do check in there for more!

Pat Wyman is the CEO of HowtoLearn.com and an internationally noted learning expert and brain coach.

Pat’s superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, such as Total Recall Learning and How to Read a Book in a Day and Remember It.

Pat is the best-selling author of more than 15 books, a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!

5 proven ways to improve your memory

Related article


  1. Standing L, Conezio J, Haber R N(1970Psychon Sci 19:7374. Google Scholar
  2. Paivio A(1971Imagery and Verbal Processes (HoltRinehart, and Winston, New York). Google Scholar
  3. Shepard R N(1967J Verb Learn Verb Behav 6:156163. CrossRef | Google Scholar
  4. Craik F I M, Lockhart R S(1972J Verb Learn Verb Behav 11:671684. CrossRef | Google Scholar
  5. Craik F I M, Tulving E(1975J Exp Psychol Gen 104:268294. CrossRef | Google Scholar
  6. Baddeley A D(1978Psychol Rev 85:139152. CrossRef | Google Scholar
  7. Cermak L S, Craik F I M, Nelson D L(1979) in Levels of Processing in Human Memory, eds Cermak L SCraik F I M(Lawrence ErlbaumHillsdale, NJ), pp 4576.
  8. Gabrieli J D E, Brewer J B, Desmond J E, Glover G H(1997Science 276:264266pmid:9092477. Abstract/FREE Full Text | Google Scholar
  9. Grady C L, McIntosh A R, Horwitz B, Maisog J M, Ungerleider L G, Mentis M J, Pietrini P, Schapiro M B, Haxby J V(1995Science 269:218221pmid:7618082.
  10. Haxby J V, Ungerleider L G, Horwitz B, Maisog J M, Rapoport S I, Grady C L(1996Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 93:922927pmid:8570661. Abstract/FREE Full Text | Google Scholar
  11. Roland P E, Gulyas B(1995Cereb Cortex 5:7993pmid:7719132. Abstract/FREE Full Text | Google Scholar
  12. Stern C E, Corkin S, Gonzalez R G, Guimaraes A R, Baker J R, Jennings P J, Carr C A, Sugiura R M, Vedantham V, Rosen B R(1996Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 93:86608665pmid:8710927. Abstract/FREE Full Text | Google Scholar
  13. Tulving E, Markowitsch H J, Craik F I M, Habib R, Houle S(1996Cereb Cortex 6:7179pmid:8670640. Abstract/FREE Full Text | Google Scholar
  14. Binder J R, Bellgowan P S, Frost J A, Hammeke T A, Springer J A, Rao S M, Prieto T, O’Reilly W, Cox R W(1996NeuroImage 3:S530(abstr.). CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Shallice T, Fletcher P, Frith C D, Grasby P, Frackowiak R S J, Dolan R J(1994Nature (London) 368:633635pmid:8145849. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Kapur S, Craik F I M, Cabeza R, Jones C, Houle S, McIntosh A R, Tulving E(1996Cognit Brain Res 4:243249pmid:8957565. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Nyberg L, McIntosh A R, Houle S, Nilsson L-G, Tulving E(1996Nature (London) 380:715717pmid:8614466. CrossRefPubMed | Google Scholar
  18. Schacter D L, Alpert N M, Savage C R, Rauch S L, Albert M S(1996Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 93:321325pmid:8552630. Abstract/FREE Full Text | Google Scholar
  19. Klingberg T, Roland P E, Kawashima R(1994NeuroReport 6:5760pmid:7703429. PubMed | Google Scholar
  20. Schacter D L, Reiman E, Uecker A, Polster M R, Yun L S, Cooper L A(1995Nature (London) 376:587590pmid:7637806. CrossRefPubMed | Google Scholar
  21. Buckner R L, Raichle M E, Miezin F M, Petersen S E(1996J Neurosci 16:62196235pmid:8815903. Abstract/FREE Full Text | Google Scholar
  22. Snodgrass J G, Vanderwart M(1980J Exp Psychol Hum Learn Mem 6:174215. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Woods R P, Mazziotta J C, Cherry S R(1993J Comput Assist Tomogr 17:53646pmid:8331222. PubMed | Google Scholar
  24. Talairach J, Tournoux P(1988Co-Planar Stereotaxic Atlas of the Human Brain (ThiemeNew York). Google Scholar
  25. Frackowiak R S, Friston K J(1994J Anat 184:211225pmid:8014115. PubMed | Google Scholar
  26. McIntosh A R, Bookstein F L, Haxby J V, Grady C L (1996NeuroImage 3:143157pmid:9345485. CrossRefPubMed | Google Scholar
  27. Edgington E S(1980Randomization Tests (DekkerNew York). Google Scholar
  28. Efron B, Tibshirani R(1986Stat Sci 1:5477. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Sampson P D, Streissguth A P, Barr H M, Bookstein F L(1989Neurotox Teratol 11:477491pmid:2593987. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Petersen S E, Fox P T, Snyder A Z, Raichle M E(1990Science 249:10411044pmid:2396097. Abstract/FREE Full Text | Google Scholar
  31. Haxby J V, Grady C L, Horwitz B, Ungerleider L G, Mishkin M, Carson R E, Herscovitch P, Schapiro M B, Rapoport S I(1991Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 88:16211625pmid:2000370. Abstract/FREE Full Text | Google Scholar
  32. Zeki S, Watson J D G, Lueck C J, Friston K J, Kennard C, Frackowiak R S J(1991J Neurosci 11:641649pmid:2002358. Abstract | Google Scholar
  33. Sergent J, Ohta S, MacDonald B(1992Brain 115:1536pmid:1559150. Abstract/FREE Full TextGoogle Scholar
  34. Scoville W B, Milner B(1957J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 20:1121pmid:13406589. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Zola-Morgan S, Squire L R, Amaral D G(1986J Neurosci 6:29502967pmid:3760943. Abstract | Google Scholar
  36. Mishkin M(1978Nature (London) 273:297298pmid:418358. CrossRefPubMed | Google Scholar
  37. Aggleton J P, Hunt P R, Rawlins J N P(1986Behav Brain Res 19:133146pmid:3964405. CrossRefPubMed | Google Scholar
  38. Sutherland R W, McDonald R J(1990Behav Brain Res 37:5779pmid:2310495. CrossRefPubMed | Google Scholar
  39. Squire L R(1992Psychol Rev 99:195231pmid:1594723. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Moscovitch M(1992J Cognit Neurosci 4:257267. CrossRef | Google Scholar
  41. Bookheimer S Y, Zeffiro T A, Blaxton T, Gaillard W, Theodore W(1995Hum Brain Map 3:93106. CrossRef | Google Scholar
  42. Price C J, Wise R J S, Watson J D G, Patterson K, Howard D, Frackowiak R S J(1994Brain 117:12551269pmid:7820564. Abstract/FREE Full Text | Google Scholar
  43. Nyberg L, Cabeza R, Tulving E(1996Psychonom Bull Rev 3:135148. Google Scholar
  44. Tulving E, Kapur S, Craik F I M, Moscovitch M, Houle S(1994Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 91:20162020pmid:8134342. Abstract/FREE Full Text | Google Scholar
  45. Bottini G, Corcoran R, Sterzi R, Paulesu E, Schenone P, Scarpa P, Frackowiak R S J, Frith C D(1994Brain 117:12411253pmid:7820563. Abstract/FREE Full TextGoogle Scholar
  46. Buckner R L, Raichle M E, Petersen S E(1995J Neurophysiol 74:21632173pmid:8592204. Abstract/FREE Full Text | Google Scholar
  47. Jennings J M, McIntosh A R, Kapur S, Tulving E, Houle S(1997NeuroImage 5:229239pmid:9345552. CrossRefPubMed | Google Scholar
  48. Kapur S, Rose R, Liddle P F, Zipursky R B, Brown G M, Stuss D, Houle S, Tulving E(1994NeuroReport 5:21932196pmid:7865775. PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Martin A, Haxby J V, Lalonde F M, Wiggs C L, Ungerleider L G(1995Science 270:102105pmid:7569934. Abstract/FREE Full TextGoogle Scholar
  50. Blaxton T A, Bookheimer S Y, Zeffiro T A, Figlozzi C M, Gaillard W D, Theordore W H(1996Can J Exp Psychol 50:4256pmid:8653097. PubMed | Google Scholar
  51. Martin A, Wiggs C L, Ungerleider L G, Haxby J V(1996Nature (London) 379:649652pmid:8628399. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Levi-Montalcini R, Milner B(1980) in Nerve Cells, Transmitters and Behavior, ed Levi-Montalcini R(Academia ScientariumVatican City), pp 601625. Google Scholar
  53. Ojemann G, Dodrill C(1985J Neurosurg 62:101107pmid:3964840. PubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Mayes A R, Gooding P, Gregory L, Hunkin N M, Nunn J A, Van Eijk R, Williams S C R, Brammer M, Bullmore E(1997NeuroImage 5:S624(abstr.). Google Scholar
  55. Ingle D J, Goodale M A, Mansfield R J W, Ungerleider L G, Mishkin M(1982) in Analysis of Visual Behavior, eds Ingle D JGoodale M AMansfield R J W(MIT PressCambridge, MA), pp 549586. Google Scholar
  56. Suzuki W A, Amaral D G(1994J Comp Neurol 350:497533pmid:7890828. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Eichenbaum H, Otto T, Cohen N J(1994Behav Brain Sci 17:449518. Google Scholar
  58. Gabriel M, Moore J, Brown M W(1990) in Learning and Computational Neuroscience Foundations of Adaptive Networks, eds Gabriel MMoore J(MIT PressCambridge, MA), pp 233282. Google Scholar
  59. Standing L, Conezio J, Haber RN(1970) PsychonSci:19:73-74.
  60. Paivio A(1971) Imagery and Verbal Processes (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, New York. (Google Scholar)

Related article