Practice makes perfect when it comes to just about anything – including your memory. Developing techniques to hone your recall of everything from names and phone numbers to more complex processes can make a world of difference.
We all struggle with staying focused in our daily lives thanks to endless distractions. Many are great at multi-tasking, and it gets all the praise, but it can detract from everything, including memory. Meditation is one the greatest tools to practice in order to improve your focus.
Start with 5 minutes a day, preferably first thing in the morning (after you have your morning water and use the restroom ,of course). Sit with closed eyes, and your back straight, and focus on your in-breath and out-breath. Breath in for a count of 5, breath out for a count of 5. You will find this to be very relaxing. Just follow your breath, and this will begin to train your brain to focus like a laser beam. This powerful practice will be able to be carried with you more and more throughout the day, as your practice is developed.
2. Organize and categorize
This works best if you have a list of things to remember. Breaking up the list into categories and fitting each piece into one of those categories allows for greater recollection when you need it. When you need to find information in a book, typically you look at the index or table of contents. You probably have a series of files on your computer or on your desk. Compartmentalizing that which you have to remember can work in a similar fashion.
3. Cut back on alcohol
Here’s where moderation is the key. You don’t have to completely cut out alcohol, but you know those mornings where the night before is kind of fuzzy? Well you’re not just impacting your memory for that one specific event. You could be doing permanent damage.
4. Use visualization
Visualization can be a powerful tool for all sorts of things, including memory. Instead of just trying to remember that you have to stop at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, actually envision yourself driving there, walking to the counter and being handed the prescription. The more elaborate your visualization, the better your recall of the information will be.
5. Word association
This is a great technique to use to remember names. Memorizing some of the symbols on the Periodic Table of Elements, for example, can be a challenge. Lead is Pb and is based on the Latin root word for lead: Plumbum. Thinking of a word association (especially one that’s kind of humorous or unique) can help. For example, “I’m plum out of lead.” I thought of that word association that I learned many years ago. I’ve never forgotten it.
6. Repeat, repeat, repeat
Thanks to technology, we hardly have to remember phone numbers. But what happens when you do? A dead phone battery and no pen or paper to write it down means you’ll have to rely on your memory (maybe). Repetition seems obvious and simplistic. It is, but it works.
7. Tell a story
This is an instance where creativity can pay off. Suppose, for example, that you have to remember to pick up apples and milk from the store. You also have to go to the post office and stop at the veterinarian’s office for vitamins for your cat, Boots. A story to help you remember these things could be something like: “Boots was peppy after taking her vitamins. She decided to run all the way to the post office to mail her package. Luckily she took an apple for her journey. By the time she got home, she was so thirsty she drank an entire gallon of milk!” Silly? Absolutely! Memorable? You bet!
You have probably made your acquaintance with Roy G. Biv as you learned about the visible color spectrum. When you learned the planets, you may have also learned that “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles.” Mnemonics are not just for grade school, those catchy/silly phrases can help you remember something more boring like grocery list. Trust me, they stick!
There’s a reason that phone numbers and social security numbers are broken up the way they are. Our brain can store only about four to seven different items in our short-term memory. One way to get past this limit is to use a technique called chunking. When you’re given a long number to remember, the more chunking you can do, the more likely you are to recall the data. For example, if you need to remember 10271977, it would be easier to remember as 10-27-1977.
10. Physical activity
As you age, you can see changes in your physical self. There are also a number of cognitive changes happening. Similarly, as you work to improve yourself physically through exercise and activity, you improve cognitive function through physical movement as well.