From tying a string around their finger to sticking Post-it notes everywhere imaginable, people do all sorts of things so they won’t forget the important stuff. Here are ten more tricks you can use to try to improve your memory.
10. Get Enough Sleep
When we don’t get enough sleep, we have a hard time remembering what we’ve learned. That’s because memory consolidation occurs most often while we’re sleeping. According to the National Sleep Foundation, “sleep actually triggers changes in the brain that solidify memories, strengthening connections between brain cells and transferring information from one brain region to another.”
Sleeping, or even taking a quick nap, shortly after learning new information helps us remember that information better in the long term. Furthermore, research has shown that we may even be able to learn new information while we’re asleep. Scientists tested this by exposing study subjects to a sound and a pleasant smell while they slept. When they awoke in the morning and heard the sound, they started sniffing.
9. Eat the Right Foods
Certain foods, like those rich in B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, for example, can improve memory consolidation and slow rates of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
What to eat/drink:
–gum (Possible reasons — 1. Chewing gum increases activity in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that plays a critical role in memory. 2. Chewing gum increases oxygen to the brain, thereby helping to improve focus and attention.)
-sugar (Research shows that a spoonful of sugar can boost the memory of older people.)
It’s also important to keep in mind that certain foods can impair memory and cognition. In fact, research shows a positive association between saturated fat intake and Alzheimer’s.
What to avoid or cut back on:
Studies have shown that regular exercise can improve memory, including spatial memory. Spatial memory refers to the ability to recall information like the inside of a friend’s house, the geographical layout of a city, or where a specific article appears in a newspaper.
A study led by Dr. Eelco V. van Dongen of Radboud University in the Netherlands found that performing aerobic exercise four hours after learning new information improves associative memory. In associative memory, we remember certain people, places or events when we come in contact with something associated with that person, place or event. For example, hearing a certain song on the radio may cause us to think about an ex.
A study conducted by researchers at McMaster University in Canada found that young adults who did six weeks of high-intensity exercise showed significant improvement in high-interference memory. High-interference memory is when you are able to distinguish between similar yet distinct items. For example, being able to tell your car from another one that’s the same make and model. “It’s pretty amazing to show that exercise can improve memory, especially in young adults. We typically think of young adults as being at the prime of brain functioning, but we can still improve this very important aspect of memory in these individuals over a short period of time,” Jennifer Heisz, a cognitive neuroscientist and assistant professor of kinesiology at McMaster University, told Psychology Today.
Even if high-intensity exercise isn’t your thing, you can still reap the benefits with short-term aerobic exercise.
Stress can make us forgetful. In fact, research has shown that the stress hormone cortisol hinders “working memory.” Working memory is what helps us keep track of short-term information. Examples include taking notes during a lecture, doing mental arithmetic, or keeping a mental grocery list.
Here’s what you can do to relax:
-Take a break.
-Get hormone replacement therapy. A study conducted by the University of Southern California found that “estrogen treatment after menopause protects the memory that is needed for short-term cognitive tasks from the effects of stress.”
-Do nothing. Avoid any activity or distractions (running errands, stalking your ex on Facebook, etc.) that could hinder memory formation. Just take about 10-15 minutes to empty your mind and focus on absolutely nothing.
The reminders-through-association approach basically says that having little cues around can help us remember to do things later. Here’s an example of association as described in the study that appeared in the journal Psychological Science:
“Imagine that just before drifting off to sleep one night, you suddenly remember that an important application is buried under a stack of papers on your desk at work, and you need to mail it tomorrow. How will you ensure that you remember? …You might deliberately contemplate what distinctive cues near your desk are likely to catch your eye tomorrow when you arrive at work. You may recall that a bouquet of Valentine’s Day flowers arrived late yesterday afternoon and are now decorating your desk—and that they are especially distinctive because flowers rarely grace your desk. The reminders-through-association approach that we introduce here involves cognitively associating mailing the application (buried on your desk) with the sight of the distinctive roses (also on your desk).”
According to Psychological Science, these reminders are often more effective than written or electronic reminders. The journal also notes that these reminders are underused and undervalued.
5. Practice Remembering Something
Spending just a few seconds actively forcing yourself to remember something can significantly improve your ability to remember it long-term. That’s according to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers investigated the effect of active rehearsal on memory by showing subjects several clips from short films or videos posted on YouTube and then testing them, a week later, on what they saw. The study concluded that actively rehearsed clips were remembered much better than unrehearsed clips.
Here’s a portion of the researchers’ significance statement published in the journal: “Using MRI scanning, we measured patterns of brain activity while watching the videos and showed that, in a network of brain regions, similar patterns of brain activity are reinstated when rehearsing the same videos. Within the posterior cingulate, the strength of reinstatement predicted how well the videos were remembered a week later. The findings extend our knowledge of the brain regions important for creating long-lasting memories for complex, lifelike events.”
4. Positive Thinking
In the words of American philosopher, self-help author, and a motivational speaker Wayne W. Dyer, “Change your thoughts, change your life.” These words rang true for researchers at Harvard University who discovered that positive subliminal messages improved memory performance in people aged 60 and over.
Some study participants were subliminally presented with positive age-related words like “astute”, “sage” and “wise”. Other participants were shown words like “confused”, “Alzheimer’s” and “forgets”. According to the results, those who were shown positive words showed improvements in memory performance and memory self-efficacy.
“This research highlights the potential for memory improvement in old individuals when the negative stereotypes of aging that dominate the American culture are shifted to more positive stereotypes,” the study authors concluded.
3. Read Out Loud
Reading out loud can increase your recall skills by up to 15 percent. That’s according to a study published in the journal Memory. Study participants were asked to either read silently, listen to someone else read, read aloud, or listen to a recording of themselves reading. Those who had the best recall rates were those who read out loud.“Say the information that you want to remember out loud and you’ll have a higher likelihood of remembering it. Yes, it’s that simple!” psychologist and study co-author Colin MacLeod told Inc. via email.
2. Learn a New Skill
Research shows that learning a new skill can help improve your memory…and the more challenging the skill, the better. Dr. Denise Park, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas, conducted a study in which 200 aging adults were randomly assigned different learning activities, such as quilting or digital photography. The test subjects spent 15 hours a week over the course of three months learning their new skills. Afterward, they were given memory tests and compared with several control groups that participated in everyday activities like playing games, watching movies, and listening to music.
The people who showed significant gains were the ones who’d learned a new skill. “We found quite an improvement in memory, and we found that when we tested our participants a year later, that was maintained,” Park said, according to an article on NPR.org.
1. Pay Attention
Duh! This one seems obvious enough.
According to Jee Hyun Kim, of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, the reason why we don’t remember simple things like where we put our eyeglasses or if we unplugged the iron before heading out the door to work is because those tasks don’t require much focus.”Attention is critical for initiating memory formation,” Kim wrote in her comic strip titled How Memory Works.
“And the way most modern technology is built is that we’re only training our ability to switch attention, not maintain and focus it. Both abilities are extremely important… but focusing attention is the most important in terms of forming long-term memory. That’s one of the reasons mindfulness practices work. Mindfulness is really all about paying attention. And mindfulness training has been shown to enhance the pre-frontal cortical network, which we know is important in forming memory,” Kim added.
What things do you do to keep your memory sharp? We’d love to hear from you!