10 tips for boosting your memory
1. Try to reduce stress
Do you ever sit down after a particularly stressful day at work and as you start to relax, suddenly realise with horror that you have forgotten to do something quite important during the day? Stress is one of the most common causes of poor memory performance. Stressful situations, lasting weeks or months, have been shown to impair communication between the cells in the regions of the brain responsible for learning and memory. The good news, however, is that if you can take steps to reduce your stress levels, your memory performance will start to return to normal after just one week.
2. Get enough sleep
Sleep is very important for memory consolidation – the brain’s method of transferring new material and information to our long-term memory. Research suggests that deep sleep is the key not just to storing information, but also to retrieving information when we need it – in other words, to remembering. So how often do you sleep well, both in terms of quality (not waking up too often) and quantity (number of hours)? If you are sleeping badly, or not getting enough sleep, think about what you can do to improve the situation, as it may well be having an impact on your ability to store and recall information.
3. Reduce multi-tasking
We are leading increasingly busy lives and multi-tasking has become second nature to many of us. The brain is less efficient at multi-tasking, however, than we have been led to believe. When the brain is trying to do two things at once, it ‘switches’ tasks rather than doing both simultaneously, which can have an impact on memory. Research has shown, for example, that people who learn something new while multi-tasking are less able to remember what they have learned at a later date. Try to concentrate on doing one thing at a time and you may find your memory improves.
4. Rehearse information quickly
In short term memory, how much we can remember is directly related to how much information we can ‘squeeze’ into approximately 15-30 seconds. When we are trying to remember things we often ‘rehearse’ the information by repeating it either out loud or silently in our heads. The quicker you can do this rehearsal, the more information you are likely to remember. If you speak slowly, for example, you may only be able to rehearse four or five facts in the 15-30 second time slot you have to get the details into your short term memory. Speed the process up, and you may find you can rehearse and recall as many as nine pieces of information.
5. Group information
We’ve all been in a situation where we need to remember say a phone number or a car registration plate and don’t have a pen immediately to hand to write it down. Research has shown that if you ‘rehearse’ the information in groups of three, it can make a big difference to your ability to remember it. Try it for yourself. Take the number ‘145870236’ and try to remember it as a whole. Then break it down in to three groups – 145 870 236 – and see how much easier it is to remember!
6. Chunk it up
‘Chunking’ information is another useful strategy you can employ to help you remember things. If you are giving a talk or presentation, for example, try to break the information down into clusters. This will not only help you remember what you need to say – but will also make it easier for the audience to take in and retain what you’ve told them. This is a technique that can also be usefully applied to learning. If you break the details of what you are trying to learn into meaningful ‘chunks’ you will remember more of it.
7. Make it meaningful
We are more likely to remember information if it is meaningful to us. Some people, for example, can remember all the FA cup winners from the last 20 years. Others would find that almost impossible, but know the birthdays of all their friends. A good way to make information meaningful is to relate something you are trying to remember to something that you already know. You can ask yourself questions to encourage this process – ‘Why do I need to learn this?’, ‘How does this fit with what I already know?’ for example. Think beyond the facts and information being presented to you and consider why they make sense and then you are much more likely to remember them.
8. Pay close attention
When people complain that their memory is poor, it very often isn’t because of stress, lack of sleep or any underlying physiological issue – it’s often because they simply haven’t put enough time and energy into trying to remember the material. Be honest with yourself. How often have you blamed poor memory when you haven’t made any real attempt to remember information? Or do you create a self-fulfilling prophecy by telling yourself ‘I’m not going to be able to remember everyone’s name, so I’m not going to waste my time and effort trying’. Your ability to remember information will be much improved if you ensure you are paying proper attention and making a real effort to remember what you are being told.
9. Use imagery/association
One of the biggest (and often most embarrassing) memory-related problems is an inability to remember people’s names. Repetition helps, so try to use the person’s name as much as possible during your conversation with them, as well as when you say hello and goodbye. Some people find that creating a visual image related to the name can also help them to remember it. Does the person look like anyone famous, for example, or is there an aspect of their face (glasses, moustache, nose?) that is particularly striking. If the visual image is exaggerated or humorous, it will help you link it in your mind to the person’s name.
10. Think about the context
If you are struggling to recall a particular piece of information, try to reinstate the context in which you first heard it. It helps if you are physically able to do this (i.e. return to the room where a meeting was held) but if you can’t do that, it’s often enough just to create a visual image of the situation you were in. Think about the physical surroundings, the smell and the temperature. Re-instating the emotional context can also help, so think about the mood you were in, how you were feeling and what others were feeling at the time.