Four tricks to improve your memory

October 2013
Have you ever noticed how when you are stressed out you forget stuff? Busy people are often lamenting the hitherto effortlessly juggled balls they have recently been dropping all over the place.

The problem is that when you are stressed and busy all the things you need to keep your memory working efficiently get sidelined or forgotten about(!) These vital ingredients for a good memory include good sleep, regular exercise and good food – so not the can of coke, chocolate bar and coffee that passed for a meal yesterday then? 

Sleep allows your memories to be consolidated and filed away properly; good brain foods like wholegrains, fatty fish, nuts, seeds and fresh fruit give your brain the energy and nutrients it needs to function at its best; regular exercise actually increases the number of neurons in your brain.

So if you make a little time for all those things that are so vital yet so easily cast aside when you are busy you should actually be more effective.

If, however, that’s never going to happen or you just consider yourself a forgetful type here are four tricks to improve your memory:

1. Make up a story that connects items in a large list or visualize yourself walking through a room or building of your choice that is filled with items you need to memorise. It’s about connecting dots or finding a pathway between them. Images and stories are often easy to recall than simple facts.

2. Say or do something to consolidate the memory: repeat the person’s name out loud as you shake their hand; say “I am putting my keys in this drawer!” out loud, shout “Hooray!” or do a little dance as you leave your phone on the arm of the sofa. It all helps to make the action a conscious one.

3. Combine your senses to reinforce the memory: think about what you are seeing, smelling or feeling as well as what you are hearing; be entirely present in the moment. For example, consider a person’s defining facial feature and make a connection with their name e.g. Ol’ Tony Blue Eyes, Beryl and her Bushy Brows, Cyril the Squirrel etc.

4. Don’t cram if you want the memory to be effortlessly recalled. Build up to it slowly, going over previously learned things so the memory is stored in the longer-term, more protected cortex.

More than anything, when you want to make a memory, you need to do it consciously. Really think about what you are seeing, feeling, smelling, touching, hearing and doing and make a connection with what you are trying to remember. Oh and get some sleep!