Do you feel that you have a poor memory? According to Helpline.org, a non-profit online health information resource, you may just have some less-than-effective habits when it comes to taking in and processing information. Barring disease, disorder, or injury, you can improve your ability to learn and retain information. Memory is the mental activity of recalling information that you have learned or experienced. Like muscular strength however, the more you work out your brain, the better you’ll be able to process and remember information.
Give your memory a workout
Novelty and sensory stimulation are the foundation of brain exercise. If you break your routine in a challenging way, you’re using brain pathways you weren’t using before. This can involve something as simple as brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, which activates little-used connections on the non-dominant side of your brain, taking a course in a subject you don’t know much about, learning a new game of strategy, or cooking up some recipes in an unfamiliar cuisine. Anything new or out of the ordinary keeps your synapses firing and your brain healthy. In addition to exercising your brain, Helpline.org suggests eight basic things you can do to improve your ability to retain and retrieve memories:
1. Pay attention. You can’t remember something if you never learned it, and you can’t learn something – that is, encode it into your brain – if you don’t pay enough attention to it. It takes about eight seconds of intent focus to process a piece of information through your hippocampus and into the appropriate memory centre. So, no multitasking when you need to concentrate! If you distract easily, try to receive information in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
2. Tailor information acquisition to your learning style. Most people are visual learners; they learn best by reading or otherwise seeing what it is they have to know. But some are auditory learners who learn better by listening. They might benefit by recording information they need and listening to it until they remember it.
3. Involve as many senses as possible. Even if you’re a visual learner, read out loud what you want to remember. If you can recite it rhythmically, even better. Try to relate information to colours, textures, smells and tastes. The physical act of rewriting information can help imprint it onto your brain.
4. Relate information to what you already know. Connect new data to information you already remember, whether it’s new material that builds on previous knowledge, or something as simple as an address of someone who lives on a street where you already know someone.
5. Organise information. Write things down in address books and datebooks and on calendars; take notes on more complex material and reorganise the notes into categories later. Use both words and pictures in learning information.
6. Understand and be able to interpret complex material. For more complex material, focus on understanding basic ideas rather than memorising details. Be able to explain it to someone else in your own words.
7. Rehearse information frequently and ‘over-learn’. Review what you’ve learned the same day you learn it, and at intervals thereafter. What researchers call ‘spaced rehearsal’ is more effective than ‘cramming’. If you’re able to ‘over-learn’ information so that recalling it becomes second nature, so much the better.
8. Be motivated and keep a positive attitude. Tell yourself that you want to learn what you need to remember, and that you can learn and remember it. Telling yourself you have a bad memory actually hampers the ability of your brain to remember, while positive mental feedback sets up an expectation of success.