Three Tips to Improve your Memory

"Sometimes, you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory."

Dr Seuss

Without the ability to form memories, we couldn't store all that is meaningful to us. We wouldn't be able to learn and apply new skills. We wouldn't be able to navigate or adapt to the ever-changing world in which we live. For those who haven't watched the movie Memento, watch it if you can't imagine (or want to imagine in more detail) what it would be like to be unable to form new memories.

Our brains are by far the most complex computer system, more complicated than any smart phone or robot. And we haven't come close to recreating a computer model that holds the capabilities of the human brain. We are nowhere near creating a model that is as advanced. But that is a different topic to be addressed at a different time.

I've heard many people tell me that they have been cursed with a poor memory that they can do nothing about. This is absolutely not true. Memory is a learned tool, and like a muscle, it must be used and challenged in order to become stronger. But in order to work it like a muscle, one must have the proper techniques and tools in order to organize and store information in their brains. Anyone and everyone has the inborn ability to improve their memory, if only they learn the proper techniques. Here are three tips to get you started on improving your memory today.

1. Change your attitude:

It all begins with faith in yourself. Like I said above, almost daily someone tells me that they have been doomed to a brain with 'poor memory.' This self-defeating inner dialogue only results in a downward spiral since it discourages one from learning (what's the point in learning or reading if one's brain cannot retain?). The good news is that once a person learns the right memory retention techniques and eliminates negative self talk, the sky's the limit. Ask Kevin Horsely, author of Unlimited Memory: How to Use Advanced Learning Strategies to Learn Faster, Remember More and be More Productive. For years, he suffered from dyslexia. He was unable to finish even one book on his own by the time he graduated high school (which was a difficult feat for him). But shortly thereafter, he began buying books on improving memory and he was eventually able to overcome all his dyslexic issues. He even brought himself to a point where he was finishing four books a week. In 1995 he won fifth place in the World Memory Championships, and is now teaching others how to maximize their memory. 

2. Learn the techniques

Think of your brain as a memory storage facility full of files. Now imagine the current state of organization of your brain: Is it full of haphazardly placed folders that are difficult to access? If so, the problem is not your memory. Rather it is that you have not learned the tools to efficiently store memory. Imagine being able to store your memory files into organized compartments that are easy to access when you need them. This is essentially the goal, but you need the tools in order to do that. How better to learn than from people who are experts in the field? This is why I recommend books. There are plenty of memory books from which one can learn. The one I most recently found helpful for improving my own memory is the one I mentioned above: Unlimited Memory: How to Use Advanced Learning Strategies to Learn Faster, Remember More and be More Productive by Kevin Horsley. The book offers many insightful techniques from which to learn. Here are just a few of the many which I have learned to use on a daily basis. 

-Senses (use them!). Use all of five your senses to remember what you are attempting to learn. For instance, if I wanted to remember a person named Horlsey, think of the word HORSE. Imagine what that horse would look like, how it would feel, smell, taste, sound.

-Exaggerate - when trying to remember something, exaggerate the way it appears in your mind. For instance, if I were trying to remember the name of a person named Carol, I would imagine a lady who sings Christmas carols, holding a huge wreath that smells strongly of pine, dressed up in a loud green and red dress with a big red bow tie at the waist. 

-Energize - animate whatever memory you are attempting to form. Let's keep with the example of learning the name 'Carol' above. Imagine Carol in her outfit described above, singing the most outlandish Christmas song you can think of, on ice skates and skating into the street and performing complicated professional twirls and jumps while she sings. 

The three techniques above should be combined when forming new memories, and are called the SEE principle. Also, remember that the more illogical and eccentric that your imagery is, the better.

-The storage method. Use images of objects that you are familiar with to store new memories. For example, if you want to memorize a list of groceries you need to buy, using the SEE principle, place the objects on different parts of your car. If you need eggs, imagine golden eggs that you break and smear over the hood of your car. If you need oranges, imagine a large orange on the roof of the car. Etc. etc. In addition to using automobiles to store information, one can also use one's own body, rooms of a house, or any other structure that is held within one's long term memory. Essentially, you are storing short term memory onto your already present long term memory to create medium term memory (LTM+STM = MTM).

If only I had read this book during medical school, my life would have been much simpler!!!

3. Make Memory a Habit:

Improving memory is a choice that everyone has the right to make. As Kevin Horsely mentions at the beginning of his book, "our memory is just a habit, and habits can be improved with the right kind of training and practice."  The brain is not a static entity.  Therefore you are not blessed with good memory or cursed with poor memory. Rather, neurons making up the brain are dynamic, constantly forming new connections. The more you practice your 'memory muscles' the more neural connections your brain will make and the stronger your memory will become. It takes approximately 28 days to make something a habit, so why not start today?