Behavioral Science

30 Practical Memory Improvement Techniques You Can Do — RIGHT NOW

by . June 12th, 2014

While we are interconnected like never before, a good memory can be one of the most invaluable tools in your arsenal.

Who wouldn’t want to remember important details, like names and faces at conventions, or the when you’re due for an audit or a dental appointment? Even as search engines give you nearly bit of info you could possibly need, there are plenty of critical times using them would be impractical, and you’ll need to remember something important -regardless.

We often take for granted just how far memorization techniques can take us. For instance, in the past 1,300 years, countless hafiz(حُفَّاظ)‎ have memorized the entirety of the Quran, and thousands of mentalists since the time of Plato have astounded audiences with feats of seemingly impossible memorization.

La persistència de la memòria - Salvador Dali, 1931
La persistència de la memòria – Salvador Dali, 1931

Most of these feats are actually within your reach. There’s no magic involved, though many of the memory improvement techniques below require you to put a bit of effort in them.

30 Memory Improvement Techniques Anyone Can Do

30.) Avoid Distractions

While some specific forms of distraction – which we’ll find later in the list – can be beneficial for working memory,  unnecessary distractions can easily prevent you from really taking in whatever you planned on studying. Irritating noises and visuals can derail your attempts to improve your working memory even before you start. Some locations can also be emotional triggers that keep you from being in “the zone”.

29.) That Said, Avoid the Internet

Search engines and the internet have altered how we store memory on a scale never before seen. We’re now far less likely to try to remember simple bits of info that we could simply Google – part of a phenomenon called transactive memory. Transactive memory is a system where groups compartmentalize information storage.

For instance, a spouse might be relied on for information on movie schedules, or pecan pie recipes, and a friend for information on where to get the best dentist or car mechanic. The internet has greatly changed the speed and scope by how this happens.

While Google is still your best friend, it’s given transactive memory a much wider hold over what we remember than was the case in previous generations. If you want to improve working memory, try to avoid looking at your smartphone, or try doing without it for a couple of hours.

28.) Drink Green Tea

Green tea contains polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that protect against free radicals that can damage brain cells. Among many other benefits, regular consumption of green tea may enhance memory and mental alertness and slow brain aging.

27.) Drink Wine – in Moderation

Again, in moderation. Getting black-out drunk is obviously not what you’re aiming for. What you’re out to get is a good serving of resveratrol, a compound recently linked to an improvement in short-term memory.

26.) Drink Coffee

We’ve definitively proven caffeine can improve attention and focus for a while now. But a moderate serving of caffeine can help your long-term memory as well. A recent study by Johns Hopkins researchers strongly suggests that caffeine also enhances long-term memory in addition to working memory.

25.) Memorize Simple Things – Then Work Your Way Up

Your working memory is pretty much “use it or lose it”. Memorize small everyday details, such as how many days there are in each month, or the correct order of bus stops, and subways stations in your city. Song lyrics and poetry also works. Imagine how impressed your friends and coworkers will be next karaoke night when you belt out In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida with your eyes closed.

*Don’t. This is the worst song ever to choose on karaoke. 

24.) Play Memory Games

While you shouldn’t expect a significant boost from most games, the “use it or lose it” principle still applies. Also, some games are better than others. Crosswords and Sudoku in particular, have been shown to help not just memory, but planning and language “circuits” in our brains as well.

23.) Chew Gum

This tried and tested trick used by students, pilots, and researchers the world over has solid grounding in several studies. Chewing gum can help your short-term memory and keep you focused on tasks.

22.) Get More Sleep

Sleep is when we are able to collate the things we have experienced throughout the day. It is when our long-term memories are formed. Having enough sleep also helps you get better used out of your short-term memory — you won’t get distracted as easily.

More: Attack of the Killer Z’s – How Napping Boosts Productivity

Getting enough sleep is probably the single best thing single best thing you can do to improve both your long-term and short-term memory.

21.) Eat Right

A nutritious diet rich in fruits and vegetables as well as omega 3 acids can lay the groundwork for better brain function as well as overall health. The right nutrition is necessary to increase blood flow to the brain and help it build stronger, more resilient connections.

Also, getting a stroke or an aneurysm rarely does anything positive for your brain. Proper nutrition is one of the best ways to avoid getting these.

20.) Meditate

Meditation can help keep you get a better grip on the things that truly matter. A 2013 study on meditationand working memory has added even more to the mountain of evidence linking meditation with better focus.

19.) Exercise

Regular exercise not only improves your cardiovascular health and help with your brain’s blood flow, it’s also key to releasing a cocktail of neurochemicals necessary for focus, memory, and cognitive processes.

18.) Learn a Memory-intensive Hobby

Learning how to play an instrument, read poetry, and how to act can help improve your working memory. These hobbies force you to focus and practice focus. Nothing’s more lame than a singer or actor who whips out an iPhone just to read a few simple lines.

17.) Use Humor

Funny bits from real-life and fiction are especially easy to recall – hence the meme abuse we’d been seeing the last few years. Associating things you want to memorize with something funny can go a long way into helping you remember important points.

16.) Use Pleasant Imagery

We tend to block out unpleasant memories and remember pleasant ones. Associating information with something pleasant can help you better remember bits of information you don’t want your brain throwing out.

15.) Touch and Smell if You Can!

We’re much better able to retain information from media that we could physically smell and touch. This is partly we’re much better at retaining information from print materials vs. something you read onscreen.

If it’s something you need to remember – write or print it out!

More: Why Print Still Matters – 3 Reasons Why Successful Businesses STILL Rely On Print Materials

14.) Play with Symbols

Any graphic designer and marketer worth their salt knows just how important symbols can be. Logos and symbols allow meaning to be automatically communicated without further thought. A classic example is traffic lights.

Associate objects you see everyday with items you need to remember. A more advanced take on this is at #3 on this list.

More: You’ll Never Guess How Much These 15 Logos and Trademarks Cost

13.)  Make Simple Rhymes – The Funnier the Better

Mnemonic rhymes are a classic tool for helping remember nearly anything. How do we turn screws? Lefty loosey, righty tighty. How do you (allegedly) avoid a hangover? “Beer on whisky? Very risky! Whisky on beer, never fear…” How many days in each month? “Thirty days hath September…”.

Dirty rhymes along the lines of “There you sit, broken-hearted…” and “Beans, beans…” are also extremely easy to remember and can be a good starting point for your own mnemonics.

12.)  Teach!

Teaching a subject will force you to focus and help you remember important details better. It will also force you to organize ideas in ways that will help you recall details you might otherwise forget.

11.) Review Notes the Day After

You will always likely forget things you’ve learned fairly soon regardless how much sleep or how much red wine and green tea you’ve had.. Repetition is key to reinforcing neural connections and long-term memories that are built during sleep. Another plus to reviewing notes is that it can help you track how much you’ve actually retained and help you figure out which study methods are better for you.

10.) Repeat Stuff, Repeat Stuff.

When you repeat things out loud, you are strengthening your memory by anchoring it to your speech and hearing. It’s also a great way of helping other people remember things:

Warning: Ear worm. Slightly NSFW.

9.) Distribute Learning Periods

As billions of people find out the hard way, cram sessions are NOT the way to retain things. The US Air Force Academy finds marathon study sessions (3 hrs. or more) are not as effective as light study sessions (1-2 hrs.) distributed at different times throughout the week.

8.) Watch and Listen Critically

You probably already listen to music and watch movies. Add another layer of enjoyment to these things and improve your memory by attempting to watch and listen more actively than you’re used to. This can be kind of a drag to do alone, but it’s a lot of fun in groups.  Afterwards you could all have some wine (or coffee) and discuss what you remembered.

7.) Combine Methods

Not ever method here will work for everyone. It makes sense to try everything that you could, within reason. Multiple methods also provides more avenues for your memories

6.) Lay Off the Weed!

Say all that you want about marijuana – it WILL mess up your focus. Studies show that moderate use can lead to a disruption attention, memory encoding, and consolidation. There is strong evidence to show it can adversely affect context-dependent memory as well.

5.) Study Difficult Things During Daylight Hours

Students who study subjects during daylight hours were found to score at least 16% better than their nocturnal counterparts. Contact center workers were also found to have better cognitive function when given more daylight. While the results of these studies are inconclusive, it won’t hurt to study when you’re actually bright and perky, instead of haggard and miserable.

4.) Draw and Doodle

Unlike most other distractions, doodling can be a great way to retain focus as you receive information. How this happens is not exactly clear. One explanation is that it forces you not to daydream as much as you normally would – doodling forces your brain to expend just enough energy to stop it from daydreaming but not so much that you forget what’s going on. Another hypothesis is that the motor movements associated with doodling give your budding memories more anchor points to latch onto.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear that it works. Try it sometime!

3.) Create a Memory Palace

The memory palace, mind palace, or method of loci is a fairly advanced technique where you create a mnemonic system based on physical locations. This method and variants of it are regularly used by memory champions the world over.

The memory palace involves memorizing the layout of a building, compound, or any place with different discrete features. Whenever you need to remember something you walk through the location and associate certain feature with items that you wish to remember. When you need to remember something, you visualize yourself walking through the location and retrieving the item you need.

2.) Go On an “Information Diet”

Seriously. You should probably start right after finishing this post. Too much information can overwhelm you and distract you from the things that really matter.


Office Distractions: Part One – How Divided Attention Costs Business

Office Distractions: Part Two – Simple Ways To Stay Focused At Work

1.) Write (Not Type) Stuff Down

Writing by hand can help you retain what you’re trying to memorize far better than typing. When writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper — strengthening neural connections in a way typing can’t exactly match.

Plus unlike doodling, you actually have something to look through and review when you forget. School does teach one thing right, after all.

Have you tried any of these memory improvement techniques? How did it work out? Comment below!

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Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.