3 Science-Backed Ways to Improve Your Memory
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In this age of smart phones, smart TVs, smart watches, smart glasses—the list is becoming endless—the only thing that seems to be getting duller may be our own brains.
Think of all the things we used to be forced to memorize, which have become relics of a quaint and incomprehensible past. Can you imagine actually memorizing someone’s phone number anymore? And we all know that person who can’t find his own friend’s house without staring at his GPS.
Our ability to memorize is taking a back seat to convenience, and if you’re like me, you’ve noticed the detrimental effects.
It’s not all bad—professor of psychology Daniel Wegner has argued that new technology and search engines may be becoming helpful “virtual extensions of our memory” (sort of like what you do when you leave it to your significant other to remember important dates).
But there are disturbing consequences. A 2013 poll from The Trending Machine National showed that Millennials age 18-34 are “significantly more likely than seniors ages 55 or older to forget what day it is (15% vs. 7%), where they put their keys (14% vs. 8%), forget to bring their lunch (9% vs. 3%), or even to take a bath or shower (6% vs. 2%).”
A balance between memory and convenience must be achieved, and it is clearly time to fight back.
Here are three tips based on new scientific research that you can use to gain back control over your memory.
1. Associate Your Memories With Physical Objects
Here’s a common memory problem that can cause you huge embarrassment at the office: forgetting someone’s name. Whether you’re meeting a new employee or on the phone with an important client, finding a way to remember names can be the difference between making a great impression or committing a serious social blunder.
Next time you meet someone, try to associate his or her name with a physical object, like signs, buildings, billboards—basically anything that you can see, feel, or touch counts. Essentially, you’re connecting something tangible with more abstract information such as names, numbers, dates, or appointments, making them easier to remember.
So, if you meet Pete, for example, and he’s got a pen in his pocket, think of him as Pen Pete. The possibilities for object association with abstract information is nearly infinite, so get creative. (In my case, the more ridiculous my associations are, the more memorable they become.)
You’re probably used to using this physical object strategy when trying to remember directions—“turn left at the big red sign.” This is a natural association that has worked beautifully for the entirety of human existence. So why not apply it elsewhere?
2. Don’t Just Memorize by Repetition—Also Pay Attention to Nuance
Everyone is familiar with the old saying, “practice makes perfect.” Interestingly, scientists have found that while repetitive practice can enhance your ability to remember the “big picture” outline of an object, it is detrimental to remembering the minute details.
New research suggests that, although developing “muscle memory” is an efficient method for memorizing information and learning new tasks in a general way, it will impair your ability to memorize and learn in a thorough manner.
Think about it: If you’ve ever memorized a presentation without actually understanding what you’re saying, you know what happens. You either can’t remember what you’re supposed to say, or you come off sounding like a robot. God forbid that you get interrupted and can’t find your place again.
When it comes to memorization, rote repetition is not enough. Repetition needs to be complemented by an understanding of the details to successfully present in a way that commands your audience.
So what should you do? Practice repetitively—but ensure that your repetition is supported by a solid foundation of understanding.
3. Doodle Like Crazy
This will seem counterintuitive to some of you, but my fellow doodlers have known this truth for a long time—doodling while ingesting non-visual information helps to increase memory retention rate significantly.
A 2009 study in Applied Cognitive Psychology demonstrated that people who were asked to doodle while listening to a list of names were able to recall 29% more of the names on average over non-doodlers. Doodles don’t even have to be related to the topic at hand. Per The Wall Street Journal, “Jesse Prinz draws people’s heads to help himself pay attention during lectures and the speeches at conferences he attends.”
How can doodling be this effective? Studies suggest that the act actually helps you to remain more focused and retain more information because it helps your brain retain a baseline of activity that may otherwise vanish during a dry lecture or speech. In other words, doodling keeps you awake and focused!
So next time you’re in a meeting, bust out a writing utensil and start drawing—though you may want to sit toward the back!
As we continue our journey into the 21st century, improving technology will only make the world even more convenient. We’ll have to remember less and even begin to rely heavily on automation in every facet of our lives.
While it would be easy to settle in to all of this convenience, aim to keep your memory sharp and your wits about you.