Updated: Feb 24
Article medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD — By Jacquelyn Cafasso
1. Learn something new
Memory strength is just like muscular strength. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. But you can’t lift the same size weight every day and expect to get stronger. You’ll need to keep your brain constantly challenged. Learning a new skill is an excellent way to strengthen your brain’s memory capacity.
There are many activities to choose from, but most importantly, you’ll need to find something that forces you out of your comfort zone and commands your full attention.
Here are some examples:
learn a new instrument
play mind games, like Sudoku or chess
learn a new type of dance, like the tango
learn a new language
2. Repeat and retrieve
Any time you learn a new piece of information, you’re more likely to mentally record that information if it’s repeated.
Repetition reinforces the connections we create between neurons. Repeat what you hear out loud. Try using it in a sentence. Write it down and read it aloud.
But the work doesn’t stop there. Research shows that simple repetition is an ineffective learning tool if used on its own. You’ll need to sit back down later and actively try to retrieve the information without looking at where you wrote it down. Testing yourself to retrieve the information is better than repeated studying. Practicing retrieval creates more long-term and meaningful learning experiences.
3. Try acronyms, abbreviations, and mnemonics Mnemonic devices can be in the form of acronyms, abbreviations, songs, or rhymes. Mnemonics have been tested since the 1960s as an effective strategy for students. You’ve probably been taught a few mnemonic devices for remembering long lists. For example, the colors of the spectrum can be remembered with the name ROY G. BIV (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet).
4. “Group” or “chunk” information Grouping or chunking refers to the process of dividing newly learned information into chunks to produce fewer, larger chunks of information. For example, you may have noticed that it’s much easier to remember a phone number if the 10 digits are grouped into three separate chunks (e.g., 555-637-8299) rather than one long number (5556378299).
5. Construct a “mind palace.” The mind palace technique is often used by memory champions. In this ancient technique, you create a visual and complex place to store a set of memories. For more instructions on how to create memory palaces, watch 2006 U.S. Memory Champion Joshua Foer’s TED talk.
6. Use all of your senses Another tactic of memory connoisseurs is that they don’t just rely on one sense to help retain information. Instead, they relate information to other senses, like colors, tastes, and smells.
7. Don’t turn to google right away
Modern technology has its place, but unfortunately has made us “mentally lazy.” Before you reach for your phone to ask Siri or Google, make a solid attempt to retrieve the information with your mind. This process helps reinforce the neural pathways in your brain.
8. Lose the GPS Another common mistake is relying on the GPS every time you drive. Researchers foundTrusted Source in 2013 that relying on response techniques — such as GPS — for navigation, shrinks a part of our brain called the hippocampus, which is responsible for spatial memory and moving information from short-term to long-term memory. Poor hippocampus health is associated with dementia and memory decline. Unless you’re totally lost, try to get to your destination using your brain instead of just following the instructions on your GPS. Perhaps use GPS to get there, but use your brain to get back home. Your brain will thank you for the extra challenge.
9. Keep yourself busy A busy schedule can maintain your brain’s episodic memory. One study linked busy schedules to better cognitive function. This study, however, was limited by self-reporting.
10. Stay organized An organized person has an easier time remembering. Checklists are one good tool for organization. Manually writing down your checklist (instead of doing it electronically) also increases the likelihood that you’ll remember what you’ve written down.
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