Does it seem like other people around you have a sharper memory? Chances are, you’re just forgetting how great your brain retention really is. Memory is critical to success – and it certainly might come in handy when you run into that girl from French class at a party or sit down for a US History exam. Photographic memory is a superpower – and since most of us are mere mortals, here are just a few tweaks you can make in your everyday life to strengthen your ability to retain information.
1. Say it Out Loud. When you are studying for an exam, try talking to yourself (as long as you aren’t bothering anyone.) This is why working in study groups often aids in memory retention – you are interacting physically with the material, fusing sound with content. Similarly, repeating a person’s name out loud when you’re introduced increases your odds of retaining their moniker and avoiding awkward run-ins later on.
2. Find Strange Connections. Need to remember to grab your lunch out of the refrigerator in the morning? Leave a banana on top of your backpack. Seeing something unusual or out of place will trigger your memory instantly. (PS: you can even write little reminders to yourself on the banana – if you’ve never written on a banana peel with a pen before, you are missing out on a bizarrely exhilarating experience.)
3. Be Creative With Names and Associations. “Harry Harry Bo Barry…” (ok that really doesn’t work.) But whenever you meet someone new, try to make up a unique rhyme or give their name a distinct connection in your mind – like “Hairy Pits Harry,” or visualize the diner scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally. Mnemonic devices really work. Some of them may even still haunt you from elementary school (I ate and I ate and got sick on the floor, 8 x 8 = 64…)
4. Respect Your Brain. Don’t take your brain for granted; understand how it works, and don’t abuse alcohol and mind altering substances. Everything that enters your brain goes through a process of encoding (absorbing information) and then consolidating (creating long-term meaning). Retrieval is the final step, where you locate the memory and apply it to a situation. Chemicals found in drugs and alcohol can seriously alter your brain’s ability to function.
5. Move Your Body. The hippocampus is actually larger in those who are physically active. Give your body a work out and boost your booty and your memory simultaneously. Win win.
6. Find Ways to De-Stress. When you are stressed out, it’s no surprise that your mind is in overload – your hormones interfere with your brain’s ability to encode and retain information (which is why we often forget certain conversations or details in traumatic situations.) Practice your deep breathing, hold a few yoga poses daily, and talk about your stresses with friends and family so they don’t all bottle up and cloud your mind.
7. Fuel Your Brain With Whole Foods. Relying on processed foods when you eat is (literally) like sprinkling gold fish flakes into a shark tank. Whole foods supply much needed nourishment to your constantly evolving brain, so indulge frequently in meals containing omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon) or grab a handful of nuts and berries rich in antioxidants that boost brain cell production.
8. Improve Your Sleeping Patterns. Lack of sleep can fuzz up your memory and block you from retrieving pertinent information. Without an adequate 8-10 hours a night, chances are, you’ll be dozing off during class or simply day dreaming about sleep when you need to be alert and active. (Here are a few thoughts on that…)
9. Practice the art of “Focus.” Every day, make it a habit to notice small details around you. That leaf on the sidewalk is decaying…That guy has one nostril bigger than the other whenever he smiles…There’s a thread hanging off the back of her jeans pocket…Taking a moment to hone in on the small things will actually sharpen your senses and ability to retain information in the long run.
10. Tease your Brain. Generate new brain cells by taking your proverbial brain-dog for a run. Puzzles, crosswords, and memory games keep your mind active and ready to pounce when you actually need it, like when you’re at the grocery store.
Pop quiz: Without scrolling up, can you recall 10 tips for improving your memory? 5 tips? Maybe give this one another read – out loud.