Ways to Improve Your Memory

By American Geriatrics Society (AGS), Health in Aging Foundation

Part of Staying Sharp For Dummies Cheat Sheet

You can do a wide variety of things to improve your memory. However, no one thing alone can give you the stellar memory skills you want and deserve. You have to be willing to make lifestyle changes to help you stay sharp.

Relax your brain

You need a calm and alert mind to be able to use your memory skills to their full potential. The basic ways to tune yourself up to be ready to remember are to get enough sleep and relaxation.

Exercise your memory

You need regular exercise to keep your body running properly. Your distant ancestors didn’t sit around all day being couch potatoes. They didn’t have couches. Of course, with today’s modern conveniences, being inactive is much easier than it used to be. But that’s no excuse. You simply have to incorporate exercise and activity into your daily routine.

Stimulate your mind

If you want to improve your memory, you have to exercise your mind. A lazy mind produces lazy memory ability.

Think of intellectual exercise as a way to keep your memory skills sharp. Engage yourself in the following:

  • Reading
  • Taking classes
  • Learning new things
  • Traveling
  • Engaging in stimulating conversation and debate

Pay attention

Remember to pay attention because you have to pay attention to remember. If you don’t pay attention, you won’t be able to move short-term memory into long-term memory. When psychological tests measure short-term memory, they’re also measuring someone’s ability to pay attention. Attention is so critical to memory that whatever you can do to improve your attention, do it.

Stay organized

By keeping yourself organized, you’ll be better able to code the things you want to remember into memories. Staying organized doesn’t mean being rigid. It means being able to differentiate your experiences and code those experiences into relevant associations to make memories that you can retrieve later.

Associate, pair, and connect

Your brain has multiple systems that provide multiple ways for you to code memories. If you use several of these systems to code information, your memories will be richer, and you’ll be able to retrieve them more easily. The more ways you can remember one thing, the better the chance you’ll remember it. If, for example, you’re trying to remember a car, you’ll be far more successful at recalling it later if you take in the car’s make, shape, color, interior design, and seat comfort.

Use memory aids

Using memory aids, such as mnemonics, provides you with ways to trick yourself into remembering. Here are three useful and easy-to-learn mnemonics.

  • The peg system: The peg system involves associating a letter or number with a word that you want to remember. For example, by associating each letter of the alphabet with a number, you can remember a string of numbers by remembering letters arranged as a word, or vice versa.

    Say your name is Deb and you want to select a PIN by associating it with your name. If you assign a number to each letter of the alphabet in order, the PIN is 4 (D), 5 (E), 2 (B). From now on, Deb is 452, and vice versa.

  • The loci system: When you use the loci system, you abide by the old real-estate rule: location, location, location. By coding your memories with specific locations, you can remember the contents of a speech by mentally attaching the first part of the speech to, say, the windows, and so on. Then later, when you’re giving the talk, you can look at those locations and be reminded of what you want to say.

  • The story system: Suppose you want to remember to alert your co-workers of an upcoming project so they can finish it by the deadline. To ensure that you remember, you tell yourself a story about a cowboy who overslept while his cattle escaped the ranch. By the time he rounded them up, he’d missed the opportunity to sell them because the neighboring ranchers beat him to it. Such a vivid little story can help you remember to be sure you remember to alert your co-workers to meet the deadline.