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The memory toolbox

75 Tips and Resources to Go from Amnesic to Elephantic

Many people expect increasing memory loss as they age, but this memory loss can be reduced or stalled with some simple memorization techniques, physical exercise, and a reduction of stress. In fact, impaired memory has more to do with chemicals that are released in the brain when an individual suffers from chronic stress. But, you can reduce the obstacles and increase your memory capacity with the seventy-five tips and resources listed below. In fact, you can go from amnesic to elephantic within a few short weeks. 

Some of the tips you may already know, but we’ve repeated them because they may have slipped your mind. Other tips are from recent news stories that contained information you may not have heard. The links will take you to those news items and to other resources that you can use to increase your capacity to remember anything you deem important.

Be in the Moment

  1. You can’t remember something if you’ve never learned it, so focus on learning.
  2. You don’t need to enroll in a college to learn – you can learn something from educational television programs, from online courses, from books, or from other individuals.
  3. It only takes about eight seconds to process data through your hippocampus into the appropriate memory center, so it doesn’t take long to absorb information.
  4. You need to pay attention to your environment so that you can encode this information into your brain.
  5. To learn how to stay in the moment, don’t focus on the past or worry about the future while you’re learning.
  6. Don’t multitask, as you create a “brain drain” when you focus on more than one activity.

Create a Learning Environment

  1. Note the environments that make it easier for you to concentrate and try to replicate those environments for learning. You may be accustomed to background noise (like traffic), or you may need complete silence, depending upon the task and your learning habits.
  2. To that end, it would help if you understood your learning style. Once you understand what works for you, you can create an environment that stimulates your strengths.
  3. Create a learning environment at home. This is crucial for adult learners who will be taking online courses, while balancing work, family, and other factors.
  4. If you plan to learn online, know which computer systems will be required before you can begin this task successfully.
  5. If you are a visual learner, make sure you have tools to create visuals that will help you retain information.
  6. If you’re an auditory learner, purchase a tape recorder so that you can use it to repeat instructions or information.

Use All Your Senses

  1. If you’re learning something, involve as many senses as possible to help retain the experience.
  2. Drawing and writing includes the use of motor skills that help you to remember information as you stimulate motor pathways.
  3. If you utilize these motor skills in a task, don’t try something new for a few days. Instead, repeat some of the exercises listed immediately below a few times during the first week so that they become ingrained with your learning habits.
  4. For instance, if you lack charts and diagrams for your reading materials, create them yourself so that you can add sight to sound to help retain information.
  5. Take notes on index cards or in a notebook as you listen to a lecture or a similar presentation so that you can help retain information.
  6. Sound includes talking to yourself — although this action may not be appropriate during a lecture, you can read your notes aloud when you’re alone.
  7. Talk with another person about the information you’ve gathered. This action will incorporate more than one sense and it will help you to categorize information as well.
  8. If you’re studying information that includes models (like a car engine), touch various parts (as long as it’s safe to touch them) to help memorize those parts.
  9. Attach your ideas to an inert object for your learning process. For instance, connect the introduction of a speech to the entrance of the house, move on to the next room to connect the introduction to the next idea, and so on throughout a building.
  10. Along the same lines, you can attach steps within a learning process to actual stairways or to stairs that you draw.
  11. Although taste and smell both evoke strong memories, they aren’t very convenient for organizing or holding information in your mind. But, you can try to remember a difficult task by sucking on a mint or by eating a fruit. The taste and smell may stimulate your thought processes when you try to remember the information that you learned.

Use Mnemonic Devices

  1. Mnemonic (the initial “m” is silent) devices can provide clues to help you remember things. For instance, you can use visual images to memorize names, places, and events. If you wanted to remember Tom’s name, think of a tom cat and connect that person to that image. Or, use something more obvious, like Queen Victoria for Victoria. Just place an imaginary crown on Victoria’s head and you might remember that person’s name the next time you meet them.
  2. Use positive or amusing images rather than unpleasant ones, as the brain often blocks out distasteful memories.
  3. If you make the images colorful and three-dimensional, they’ll be easier to remember.
  4. “Every Good Boy Does Fine” is a sentence that many musicians use to remember the lines in a treble staff (E, G, B, D, and F). Medical students use silly sentences to remember anatomical features. Try this tool when you need to memorize a sequence of difficult words or a series like the biological taxonomy (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species): “Kids Played Cards On Furry Gray Skins.”
  5. “FACE” is the other tool that musicians use to remember the spaces between the lines on the treble staff (F, A, C, and E). This is called an acronym, or using the first letter of a word to create a new word. Other examples include SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus), ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), and HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior – the great lakes).
  6. Use alliteration to help memorize certain data. “She sells seashells by the seashore” is one example of alliteration. You can group certain words within a list to create a silly alliterative sentence that will be easy to remember.
  7. With that said, use alliteration to remember peoples’ names. When you meet a large man named Stan, you could call him “Substantial Stan” (but not to his face!) so you can remember his name. If he loses weight, however, you might be in trouble.
  8. Rhymes also are useful for memorization. You might remember this one: “In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” If you need to remember that your business partner is allergic to peanuts, you could make up a rhyme like this: “I’ll feel like a klutz if I offer him nuts.”
  9. Chunk” information, or arrange a long list into smaller units or categories that will be easier to remember. Your Social Security number, for instance, is easier to remember as three “chunks” of three, two, and four numbers rather than a long string of numbers. Phone numbers, credit card numbers, passwords, and other long sequences can be memorized in chunks as well.
  10. When you relate a speech to a house (see #21), you’re using what is called a “Method of loci.” For instance, if you’re learning certain body parts, you can place one in the fridge, one in the oven, and another in the bathroom cabinet. Or, use your route to work to associate learning with various landmarks.
  11. Connect new data to information you already know. For example, if you already know how to cook a turkey, use that information to relate to how you might cook a goose. You’re merely building on information you’ve already retained and relating it to a new recipe. The new recipe will be easier to remember.

Organize

  1. Disorganized people report more memory problems than those individuals who are accustomed to organization. This ability to organize is external as well as internal…External organization can free your brain up for more creative endeavors. Internal organization requires a less stressful lifestyle.
  2. Write things down, but write them down in appropriate places. For instance, write addresses in address books, and write grocery lists in a special notebook that you’ve designated for that list. Accordingly, use specific places in the house for certain items. For instance, if you hang the keys on a hook by the door when you enter, you won’t need to sap your time or brain power to find those keys.
  3. Lists are great for handling stress – even if the list is a long one, it will be rewarding to cross items off as you complete them.
  4. Learn how to prioritize. Get the small things done first so that your list is shortened quickly. For instance, as you go through your email, reply to the ones that need a response immediately so that they don’t pile up. In that vein, you really don’t need to remember all the names of the individuals you met at that business meeting. Focus on the less than ten names of individuals who you want to meet again.
  5. Use online or paper calendars to remember important dates. This will help you to be more social, on time, and employed. Plus, you can free up your mind for more creative endeavors.
  6. Use both words and pictures to help retain information about such things as meeting dates and places.
  7. Break detailed ideas down into simple thoughts that you can convey to someone else (or to yourself). This effort is similar to ‘chunking’ (see #32), and it will help you to remember complex ideas.
  8. Similarly, if you understand basic concepts, this memory will help you to retrieve isolated details about that concept.
  9. When you can’t write something down, visualize those ideas as being compartmentalized in your brain, much like you would file information away into a filing cabinet. But, be careful and try to make those lists, as an overstuffed file system in your brain can contribute to memory losses.
  10. Keep a pad, pencil and small flashlight by your bed to write down ideas that you have at night. If you forget these tools, just move something out of place so that you’ll remember that idea in the morning (just throw a tissue or book on the floor so you see it in the morning – those items will trigger memories of the previous evening).
  11. Increase your scholarly productivity with tools that will help you stay organized online.

Overlearn

  1. Spend some time with new material a few hours after you’ve been introduced to it. Review notes and try to consolidate the notes into a broad concept or idea.
  2. Review notes and other information at intervals throughout the next few days. This is called “Spaced Rehearsal” or “Spaced Repetition,” and it’s a more effective method for learning than cramming.
  3. Review material until it becomes second nature. The best way to accomplish this task is to discuss material with another person.
  4. When you use overlearning, you improve recall speed.

Retain a Positive Attitude

  1. If you don’t want to learn something, chances are you won’t learn it.
  2. Tell yourself that you want to learn and that you can learn and remember the information at hand.
  3. If you constantly tell yourself and others that you have a bad memory, this action actually hampers the ability of your brain to remember.
  4. A positive outlook and positive mental feedback sets up an expectation for success.

Exercise Regularly

  1. Exercise increases oxygen to the brain, and oxygen is important for brain function.
  2. Physical exercise reduces the risk for many disorders that relate to memory loss, such as dementia and cardiovascular disease.
  3. A mix of programs that involve both aerobic exercise and strength training are of greatest benefit, with exercise sessions lasting at least 30 minutes.
  4. Exercise may enhance the effects of helpful brain chemicals and protect brain cells, and it may increase the flow of blood to the hippocampus (see #3), enabling it to function better.
  5. The hippocampus is especially vulnerable to age-related deterioration that can affect how well you retain information, so it’s important to maintain an exercise routine as you age.
  6. Exercise helps to control blood sugar levels, and studies have found that those with impaired glucose tolerance and/or chronic stress tend to have a smaller hippocampus. Since the hippocampus is vital to memory retention, this is not a good thing.
  7. Exercise may increase self-confidence, and may reduce anxiety and depression and help you to retain a more positive attitude about life.
  8. If you work at a job that is sedentary, or if you watch too much television, get an exercise bike or take a break to walk around the block. The exercise will help you stay connected and stimulated.
  9. Walking is not strenuous (unless you power walk), so your leg muscles don’t take up extra oxygen and glucose like they do during other forms of exercise. If you find yourself stressed, take a few minutes to oxygenate your brain with a leisurely walk.
  10. Movement and exercise increase breathing and heart rate so that more blood flows to the brain, enhancing energy production and waste removal. As you increase your strength, you also increase your capacity to remember.
  11. Finally, physical exercise can protect your brain and its mental processes, and may even help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Manage stress

  1. Cortisol, the stress hormone secreted under stress by the human adrenal gland, near the kidneys, can damage the hippocampus if stress is unrelieved.
  2. Stress can produce an enzyme called, “protein kinase C,” which impairs the short-term memory and other functions in the prefrontal cortex, the executive-decision part of the brain. In other words, stress can make it difficult to remember and to concentrate.
  3. Physical exercise can help to relieve stress. Even a simple walk can help to clear the mind.
  4. Jokes, soothing music, and even a short nap can help to break the stress.
  5. On the other hand, arousing, exciting, momentous occasions, including stressful ones, get filed away very readily. If you can remember your first date, your first job, 9/11, or when Kennedy was shot, these examples prove that some stressful occasions can create vivid memories.
  6. It has been discovered that people who are more prone to chronic distress are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than their more carefree counterparts.

Other Good habits

  1. A good night’s sleep is necessary for memory consolidation. Sleep disorders (especially in aging women) can leave you tired and unable to concentrate during the day.
  2. Quit smoking – smoking constricts arteries that deliver oxygen to the brain. Research has proven this memory loss in smokers.
  3. Relaxation through meditation, tai chi, yoga, or other techniques that slow respiration, slow metabolism, and release muscle tension can make a huge difference in your overall health and stress levels. Invest about ten to fifteen minutes per day with these techniques.
  4. Investigate biofeedback programs or games that provide real-time information and tracking. These tools can help you learn effective techniques for reducing stress.
  5. Staying properly hydrated can do more for your body and mind than eating, at times. Drink your recommended 8-10 glasses day.

The Memory Toolbox: 75 Tips and Resources to Go from Amnesic to Elephantic – written by OEDb staff writers. Reposted with permission from the Open Education Database.

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