Post No.: 0334
Like with absolutely any other skill you wish to improve – you’ve got to want it, learn it, practise it, use it and then review your progress regularly. Plan and set ‘SMART’ objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timed). It needs planning, application, a bit of challenge and lots of dedication. This is no different with improving your memory. And no matter whether you think you are naturally good or bad at remembering things – your ability to remember information can be improved with a few furry techniques and deliberate practice!
The main thing is working with the way your brain naturally works. More than for any of your other main physical senses, a larger part of your brain is dedicated to processing and storing visual information. Visual information is far more easily memorable so use image creation principles – visualise what you want to remember, and make these images in your mind weird, animated, three-dimensional, colourful, humorous, huge and exaggerated (like that gibbon I saw the other night dressed in a red tutu performing a grand plié – he went so low I glimpsed his double entendre and now it’s an image I cannot forget :S)! Novel things are more likely to be remembered. Create vivid visual images that have attached significance to what you want to memorise. (That’s why most of us take photographs or videos, particularly of key events we want to remember in our lives – seeing an old photo again triggers a lot of memories associated with the moment it was taken.)
Use journeys if you want to memorise lists of things – visualise a journey through familiar locations by using the ‘memory palace’ technique, where you imagine walking through this place in a logical and consistent manner, and along the way you encounter the objects or events you want to remember as you go. Make them link together into an interesting, even wacky, story, and again make these images in your mind colourful, animated, interactive, funny and so forth in order to make them more unusual and memorable. So link sequences of items into an interesting journey or story. If you will be in a particular physical location where you’ll need to remember a series of information then you could use that physical location as the ‘memory palace’ instead, and attach the story to the real-world objects there. Practise makes this technique easier to do so don’t worry if it seems difficult at first.
Use associations – associate an item you want to remember with existing strong memories that you have. Get all of your different senses involved too. How does it smell? What’s the temperature? What can you hear in the background? One sensory cue will hopefully trigger another until you can recall what you want to remember. Look for distinctive details and attach the memory to that. Memories are in essence clusters of neurons that are primed to fire together or in a certain order. The more neurons involved, the more reinforced and stronger the memory, and vice-versa. So the more pieces of information we can connect and associate together, the stronger these memories will be, and that’s the principle we want to exploit here. Revision basically exploits the same principle – here, the more different times or events, rather than things, you associate with a certain thing to remember, the more reinforced that memory will be.
Encode, store and revise information in a logical framework to aid future recall. A coherent story or logical order helps. Nobody efficiently learns the colours of the rainbow or the planets in the solar system in a meaningless order. If a bunch of items don’t naturally have an order then try to arrange them into one that seems logical or interesting to you.
A closely related technique is creating acronyms or backronyms to help remember strings of words or the meanings of words. You could even use the phonetic alphabet to attach images to letters if that helps you. Visualise the words or the string itself.
For numbers, try number rhyme association (e.g. 0 = hero, 5 = hive) to remember strings of numbers. Break down large numbers into subgroups of two, three or four digits (e.g. the number ‘352493’ into ‘35’, ‘24’ and ‘93’). Attach (personal) meanings to these numbers (e.g. a number might coincidentally be a friend or celebrity’s birth year). Vocally repeating a string of numbers along with a tune or melody, or turning anything into a song or jingle, can help too.
Use diagrams – draw lists, graphs, mind maps (schematic drawings that show how different related concepts or things link together) or illustrations on paper or on a screen first, and then study them. This visual information can then be more efficiently encoded and, even when you close your eyes, you’ll still be able to visualise the diagram and remember the parts like a picture rather than a mere bunch of words. Use vivid colours and images to organise the information. For example, for a speech – organise the keywords into headings and subheadings, showing their relationships between each other. The main topics could be written in large at the centre with connected points related to those topics branching outwards from them like a tree or web, with smaller writing the less crucial the points are to remember. You could even assign timescales to each relevant heading or concise keyword if your speech must fit into an allotted time limit. Then reinforce the memory by using an image journey with the same number of stages, and most of all rehearse it! Woof.
Although relying on external aids to remember things can mean that you won’t be practising memorising those things inside your own head – if something is truly important then write it down in or on a place you’ll see it when you’ll need to remember it, or set an alarm. This sounds pretty obvious but I say this because it’s best not to rely on asking or telling other people, “Remind me to…” You can use other people as a potential backup if you forget something yourself but if remembering something is your responsibility then don’t try to shift that responsibility onto somebody else. This is a recipe for arguments if, come the time, you believe they failed to remind you of something! You’ve probably seen that happen before, or even been there!
Science still has a lot to discover about organic memory formation and recall (or at least I need to, and would like to, learn more about it, along with all of the other stuff I still want to learn more about too – there’s never enough time in the day for this pup!) It’s down to physical processes for sure, whether it exhibits any analogies to current non-biological computers or not. Writing, rewriting, deleting/forgetting, copying and pasting memories by manipulating individual neurons and their connections by using some far future technology does not seem to be against the laws of physics in a fundamental sense (whether this technology will be amazing or utterly scary!) One thing that’s for sure though is that someone might lose some of their memories as a result of a knock to their head, but they won’t come back as a result of another knock to the head, which has been a common trope in fiction – that’ll be like knocking down a sandcastle, then hoping another knock will rearrange the sandcastle back to how it was before(!) It’s incredibly highly unlikely. Another bout of concussion is actually more likely to worsen the state of a person’s brain. Likewise, trying to ‘knock some sense into someone’ is probably the most ironically senseless thing one could attempt!
…Anyway, until robust memories can be written directly into our brains with minimal effort, we do have some techniques to improve our ability to remember certain things like items, numbers, lists and sequences. All in all, think creatively. Memorable things tend to be salient, which may mean weird, wacky or emotional. Use imagery (spatial awareness, novelty, vibrancy and use your other senses too), use links (associations with significant events or with something already familiar) and organise (logical patterns, such as ordering by alphabet or grouping by type). Concentrate and consciously commit information into your memory – if your attention is divided between two things then the chances of remembering either thing, never mind both, will be slim, hence a problem with multi-tasking. You must encode the information into your brain clearly first before you have any chance of remembering it later! And this may take effort. And periodically revisit and revise what you want to remember for the long-term. It’s like learning any other skill – it takes time, effort, repetition and persistence.
Woof! Please reply to the tweet linked to the Twitter comment button below to share with us what other techniques you’ve come across that could help our brains to remember stuff?