Improve Your Memory
Getting Your Body and Mind Ready to Remember
It's not just printers that seem to break down at the most stressful moments. Our memories also have a nasty habit of failing us when we need them most!
But we can protect ourselves from the worst lapses of memory. With the right approach, it's possible to turn memory into a valuable asset.
People who use their memories well are often seen as knowledgeable, smart, competent, and dependable. Whether it's remembering key statistics during a negotiation, quoting a precedent-setting action when making a decision, or impressing clients with your knowledge of their product lines, being able to remember can be a major advantage.
This article explains how you can stop struggling with your memory, and start taking more control. Imagine what it would be like if you could absorb all the information that's important in your role, and always have it at your fingertips!
Take Care of Your Health
The basis for a good memory is a healthy mind and body. You can't expect your brain to function at its best if you don't take care of the body that feeds it. Here are some key issues that you need to address:
- Eat well – Make sure that key vitamins are in your diet, including folic acid, vitamin B12, and antioxidants. These improve the sharpness of the mind. If necessary, take vitamin supplements.
- Drink plenty of water – Most of us are dehydrated and don't even know it. When you don't drink enough water, your body and mind can become weak and tired. Water makes red blood cells more active and gives you more energy.
- Get enough sleep – During sleep, your brain recharges itself. Studies have shown that your brain needs sleep to change new memories into long-term memories. 
- Manage stress effectively – Ongoing stress has many harmful health effects. Learn to limit and control the stress in your life. Use physical relaxation techniques, thought awareness and rational positive thinking, and imagery to reduce your levels of stress.
- Cut out bad habits! – Limit caffeine and alcohol use. (Excessive alcohol can seriously affect your memory.) If you can, sit down less and do more of the physical activities that you enjoy. Get that all-important oxygen flowing to your brain!
Speak to an appropriate health-care professional before making any significant changes to your diet or exercise regimen – or if you think that health issues may be affecting your memory.
These basic health tips will help you to maximize your brain's abilities. You'll remember more if you're alert, focused and energized. Feeling well is a big part of thinking well.
Mnemonics are thinking tools that make information easier to recall. They use images, senses, emotions, and patterns to trigger your memory.
Here are some of the most effective mnemonic techniques:
The Number/Rhyme Mnemonic – This allows you to remember ordered lists.
Start with a standard word that rhymes with the number.
We recommend: 1 – bun, 2 – shoe, 3 – tree, 4 – door, 5 – hive, 6 – bricks, 7 – heaven, 8 – gate, 9 – line, 10 – hen.
Then create an image that associates each word with the thing you're trying to remember.
To remember a list of South American countries using this system, for example, you might start with:
- One – bun/Colombia: a BUN with the COLUMn of a Greek temple coming out of it.
- Two – shoe/Venezuela: VENus de Milo emerging from the sea on a SHOE.
- Three – tree/Guyana: friends called GUY and ANnA sitting in a TREE.
- Four – door/Ecuador: a DOOR in the shape of a circle/globe with a golden EQUAtOR running around it.
The Number/Shape System – This is another technique for learning numbered lists.
Create images that relate to the shape of each number, then connect those images to the items on your list.
Typical images would be: 1 – spear, 2 – swan, 3 – handcuffs, 4 – sailboat, 5 – meat hook, 6 – whistle, 7 – cliff edge, 8 – egg timer, 9 – balloon on a string, 10 – golf club and ball.
Let's use the same example as above:
- One – spear/Colombia: the shaft of the SPEAR is a thin marble COLUMn.
- Two – swan/Venezuela: this time, VENus is standing on the back of a SWAN.
- Three – handcuffs/Guyana: GUY and ANnA have been handcuffed by police officers.
- Four – sailboat/Ecuador: the SAILBOAT is moving across the golden line of the EQUAtOR on a globe.
The Alphabet Technique – This works well for longer lists.
In this system, you associate the things you want to remember with particular letters of the alphabet, from A to Z. This is an efficient way of remembering ordered lists of up to 26 items.
You could balance an Apple on top of a COLUMn to link Colombia to the letter A. Then you might imagine VENus eating a Bagel for B, and so on.
The Journey System – This technique uses familiar journeys to store any information you want to learn.
You choose a journey you know well. Maybe it's the route from your home to work, or the path through a park you visit often. You associate each thing you want to remember with a particular landmark on the journey, picking images that will jog your memory. Eventually, when you return to the landmarks in your "mind's eye," all the information should still be there – in exactly the right order.
You might picture GUY and ANnA sitting on a familiar park bench to remind you about Guyana.
The Roman Room System – This approach also uses location to support your memory.
If the sequence of items on a list isn't important, simply associate them all with a chosen room. Use your imagination to visualize the items in place. Connect them with real furniture, ornaments, or any other existing objects within the room whenever possible.
Maybe the line of the EQUAtOR runs right through your bathroom – to remind you of Ecuador!
Our Bite-Sized Training session Remember! will help you to review and practice some of these mnemonic techniques.
Mind Maps (also called concept maps or memory maps) are an effective way to link ideas and concepts in your brain, and then "see" the connections. Mind Mapping is a note-taking technique that records information in a way that shows you how various pieces of information fit together. There's a lot of truth in the saying, "A picture speaks a thousand words", and Mind Maps create an easily remembered "picture" of the information you're trying to remember.
This technique is very useful for summarizing and combining information from a variety of sources. It also allows you to think about complex problems in an organized manner, and then present your findings in a way that shows the details as well as the "big picture."
The Mind Map itself is a useful end product: colorful, interesting, organized, and personal. However, the process of creating it is just as helpful for your memory. Choosing the structure, and working out the design, forces you to really understand what you're studying – which helps to build long-term memories.
5 Ways to Challenge Your Brain
As with other parts of your body, your brain needs exercise. You can do that by using it in different ways, on a regular basis. Here are five ideas to get you started:
- Learn a new skill or start a hobby. Find activities that build skills you don't normally use in your daily life. For example, if you work with numbers all day, develop your creative side with art classes or photography.
- Use visualization on a regular basis. Since much of memory involves picturing and associating images, it's important to build this skill. Visualize favorite places to help you relax, or use visualization to prepare for an upcoming challenge.
- Keep active socially. When you communicate and interact with people, you have to be alert. This helps to keep your brain active and strong.
- Challenge yourself with memory games and puzzles. Most games require some element of memory – both the "classics" such as chess and backgammon, as well as new puzzle apps and video games. But there are also plenty of activities specifically designed to give your memory a workout, including trivia challenges and pair-matching games.
- Focus on the important things. You can't possibly remember everything, so be sure to give your brain important things to do – and don't overload it with "waste." The "garbage in, garbage out" philosophy is very true here! Every day, pick the things you really want to remember – and remember them!
While it's important to develop a good memory, remembering unnecessary things (such as tasks you need to do, or things you need to buy) is hard work. What's more, because this consumes short-term memory, it can diminish your ability to concentrate on more important matters, and cause your stress levels to rise.
Write these things down on your To-Do list. That way, you can conserve mental energy for the things that are really worth committing to memory.
Your memory is a valuable asset that you should protect and develop. Even if you no longer have to memorize information for exams, the ability to remember quickly and accurately is always important.
You have only one brain – so treat it well, give it plenty of exercise, and don't take it for granted. You never know when you'll need its skills to be at their best.
Experiment with mnemonic techniques for the things you need to know. There are opportunities all around you to challenge your thinking and stretch your memory skills.
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