Memories Are Made of This
Tips for Improving your Memory
If my memory boosting tricks serve me right, this song was Dean Martin’s biggest hit, recorded in 1956. Now THAT’s some memory, right? Nah. I looked it up. I was barely seven years old when that song came on the scene.
That may be one of the best memory improvement tips – don’t clutter your mind if you don’t need to. After all, there’s little doubt that cellphones, iPads, laptop computers and all those digital devices have compromised our memory with their digital intrusions in our lives. We may think that we no longer need to remember anything when we have a library of answers in our pockets, but do we?
We’ve become what we think are “multi-taskers” (even though there isn’t such a thing) in that we talk on our cellphone while we email, watch a movie and scan an eBook, sometimes while in the gym on a treadmill or pushing our bodyweight on our Total Gym. The better alternative, of course, is to unplug: finish each task before moving on to the next, check e-mail and text messages only a few times a day and stay away from watching TV while the laptop or iPad is in your lap.
Right… Like you are really going to do that. Ok, let’s get serious here about improving memory. That’s what this article was supposed to be about, if I remember correctly.
Memory is not all that complicated, really. Strengthen the connection between neurons, or synapses, in our brains, and there you have it. We develop memory traces that grow into repetitive connections in our brain that allow us to learn facts, recall life events, how to perform certain tasks, understand concepts, and even spatial or 3 and 4D recall that allow us to put our bodies into proper form when we exercise.
One study found that by drinking a cup of coffee shortly after you learn something, the connection grows.1 Another found that the smell of rosemary helps improve memory.2 Another investigation reported that eating blueberries and strawberries helps prevent memory decline.3 And of course, other experiments tout the value of stress-busting meditation on memory.4 But can coffee, rosemary, blueberries and meditating, assuming you remember all of this, be the answer to walking down memory lane without forgetting what you were doing there in the first place?
Of course, we’ll try almost anything to improve our ability to remember where we put our keys, the name of the person we just met at the party, what we were absolutely going to do when we leave the bathroom, what we went to the store to buy and our best friend’s birthday.
Here are eight tried-and-true tricks I use myself and find helpful in improving memory. And I did remember to write this article so it must be working.
1. I never stop advancing my education; I always keep learning and challenging my brain through reading, writing, and stretching my skills to ensure continued brain activity.
2. I use technology whenever possible to help me avoid cluttering my mind with unimportant facts that I can store elsewhere other than my brain. With less muddle, and more tidy organization, my mental energy is reserved for improved focus and creating new brain connections. Chunking is another way to avoid complicating the mind with clutter. Break a list of numbers, for example, into smaller more easily managed chunks. Have a 10 digit number to recall? Three sets of numbers are easier to recollect than a string of 10 numbers all at once.
3. I am a constant “acronymologist” and “mnemonicologist.” It helps me remember key points for presentations, serves as easy prompts and reminders for quick recall, and an easy way to memorize important lists. TANBE = There are no barriers, ever. Want to remember the names of the Great Lakes for some reason? Try HOMES: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. Now, why did I want to remember those names?
4. Touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing are real memory boosters. The more I involve these in building memory links to something I want to recall, the better I remember. For example, I met someone who’s name was Bryan. I immediately associated this to thoughts of brie cheese and the way it smells (brie, Bry-an), the way rayon feels to the touch, a movie I saw from Bryan Singer of X-Men: Days of Future Past, and the unique sound of Bryan’s voice. Boom! Instant ease of recalling his name!
5. Me, not exercise? I’m the Senior Fitness Consultant for Behavior Sciences for the American Council on Exercise, a devotee of Total Gym and therefore know full well the value of exercise on memory and cognition. Regular exercise is especially valuable for Baby Boomers, but even for younger folks, sitting on your rear end too long can squish your brains. Exercise gets your blood circulating which brings more oxygen to the brain and improves memory!
6. Life is exciting, so why allow yourself to fall into a routine? I enjoy creating new, novel, experiences because I know it helps my brain remember new information more easily. It’s all about making those memorable, unique connections. You know that really innovative, original and unusual restaurant you went to? Think you’ll ever forget it?
7. Yawn. Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to yawn while you were reading. It’s just that it’s almost time for my memory boosting nap. You see, sleep is when the “consolidation process” of memory takes place and that’s what insures our memories hang on for the long-term. Sleep deprived? You’ll start inventing false memories about things that actually never happened.
8. Think all of this is funny? Good! It may help improve your memory. Laughter is great medicine for the brain and the body… and memory! My friend and colleague, Dan Goleman, Ph.D., author of Emotional Intelligence noted, “Laughter seems to help people think more broadly and associate more freely.” Find ways to add humor and laughter into your life and you’ll activate those brain connections, and maybe even remember a punch line or two.