Have you ever wished you could remember all the new names, faces, numbers, addresses, images and tasks that you come across every day of your life? Imagine the time saved and embarrassing moments spared if you could remember every detail of every day. Unfortunately, experts agree that a perfect photographic memory is a thing of fiction. This is not to say that you cannot allow yourself to have a brilliant memory, it just means that, like all things worth achieving, having a good memory will take a bit of practice.
Fortunately for us, people have been practicing methods for improving their memories since classical times, so we have a good 2,000 years of experience to guide us. These years of exploration have proven that in order to grow a good memory we need to create the right conditions, just like growing good vegetables! You can do this by practicing the following:
Exercise your body and brain
Healthy body, healthy mind, as they say. The more oxygen that you make available to your brain the better your memory becomes. Activities like aerobics and yoga greatly improve one’s metabolism and increase the amount of blood flowing to the brain. Although your brain isn’t actually a muscle, you can keep it in good shape by mentally challenging yourself. Puzzle games like Sudoku, Tetris and crosswords can help keep the mind agile. Learning a new language or how to play a musical instrument can take a little more effort to do but will do wonders for your memory. Mentally exercising your brain has been proven to improve the physiological function of your brain.
You are what you eat, and some foods are better for your body and memory than others. As far as looking after your memory goes, you should eat foods that are high in antioxidants. Not only will a diet rich in fresh olive oil, berries, avocado, broccoli and spinach help your memory but it will probably also help reduce cholesterol. Omega oils are the holy grail of brain foods and you can find them in a variety of foods, especially linseed oil, fresh fish and a variety of different sprouted seeds, including alfalfa.
Chronic and even temporary stress make it more difficult to remember. A relaxed person remembers more and probably lives longer too. Luckily, exercising your body helps you relax and reduces stress, so if you practice our first step, you are already well on your way to reducing stress. The pressures of modern life are sometimes unavoidable and it is good practice to try to not get too worked up about circumstances that are beyond your control. If you ever start to feel stressed or anxious at work or home, take a five-minute break. Get some air and clear your head, and when you return to the task at hand you will be more equipped to deal with any problems you may be facing. Healthy eating also helps the body deal with stress.
Now that we have equipped our brains with the best conditions for our memories to flourish we can start to learn the techniques most often used to develop a more powerful memory. Over hundreds of years the following tools have proven to be the most effective in aiding memory:
Time and repetition
Solid memories take time to form; when you are committing something to memory make sure there are as few distractions around as possible and you will be able to remember it more quickly. Repeat what you are trying to learn over and over again. The more you repeat something the more it sticks with you. Write it down, draw it and imagine it as often as possible and it will soon stay with you.
Group together things you need to remember
Random lists and unrelated things are much harder to remember. If you group related topics or objects, it makes it easier for your brain to store information. You are more likely to remember to buy orange juice and water, then salad, than you are to remember to buy orange juice and salad, then water. Your brain prefers it when objects are placed in logical groups. The same goes for organising your life – keep things you use all the time together; if you always keep your keys, wallet and mobile phone together in the same place when you are at home, you are far less likely to leave any of them behind when you dash out the door in the morning.
Believe it or not it’s often easier to remember a whole sentence than just one word. For example, a small child learning to spell the word “BECAUSE” will probably find the sentence “Betty Eats Cake And Uncle Sells Eggs” easier to remember than repeating the letters B-E-C-A-U-S-E over and over again. This is because your brain remembers images and stories easier than it remembers abstract information like strings of letters or numbers. Another example of this sort of “first-letter mnemonic” is the nonsense name “Roy G Biv”, which contains the first letters of all the colours in the rainbow. Another simple mnemonic is the old favourite of tying a knot in a handkerchief. This may sound like something of an old wives’ tale but the concept is simple – every time you reach for your handkerchief you will be reminded of the reason you put a knot in there. Lots of fun can be had with mnemonic games and stories, and once you get into the habit of using this technique it becomes one of the best tools in your good memory toolbox. There is a huge variety of books on the subject and the internet is an unquenchable resource for any topic.
Finally, we arrive at the most advanced and oldest technique for retaining large volumes of information. It is a kind of mnemonic called the method of “loci” or “memory palaces”. This method dates back as far as the time of Aristotle. A simple memory palace can be created by visualising a familiar space such as your house. You create a route through your home with your mind and associate the things you need to remember with objects you would need to pass on your way through. This will help you not only remember large amounts of information but also put the information in the correct order. Of course it takes a while to firmly implant this space in your mind, but once it is there you can even just leave bits of information you need to remember in different parts of your memory palace. This concept takes a while to get used to and a fair amount of practice to perfect, but history has shown that the method of loci is the most effective tool for memorising large amounts of information. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss this too deeply but there is ample information available on the internet and at any good library. The topic of memory palaces is quite fascinating and is definitely something worth delving into if you are interested in dramatically improving your ability to remember.
Take your time developing these skills and remember the old saying, practice makes perfect. If you apply yourself to learning or trying any of these techniques, and you feed your brain with the right things, you will have an excellent memory in no time at all. But always remember to do it in your own time and that different things work better for different people. Experiment with it, learn from your experiments and most of all have fun with it. Good luck with improving your memory, it’s something we could all benefit from, especially to perform well in our professional lives.