Improving our memory is a life-long journey for most. From learning new facts as children in school to the mental checklist you make when going to the shops, recalling key dates and details throughout our lives can start to become tougher as we begin to get older. Unless we are one of the rare few people with a photographic memory, many of us will rely on diaries, calendar reminders and post-it notes to remember all of the information we hold in our brains.
If you’ve forgotten where you left your keys or worry you’ve left the iron plugged in when you leave home, you’re certainly not alone. While these small moments of misplaced information might serve as minor inconveniences, we begin to worry when forgetfulness interferes with daily life, like where we live or how to manage everyday activities we’re used to doing.
While remembering phone numbers and passwords is mostly a thing of the past with new technology, there is still plenty we need to recall on a regular basis. So, how can we improve our memory retention to draw on the information locked away in our minds when we need it?
There are a number of tried and tested methods recommended by doctors and scientists that can help us improve our memory. Whether we simply want to keep ourselves sharp or are starting to experience the effects of a neurological condition such as dementia or Alzheimers, there’s good reason to want to remember as much as we can for as long as possible.
Sometimes we need to remember things briefly, recalling them only for a short time before discarding the information to create space for new data. However, there are other things we need to cement in our long term memory because we need to recall the information time and time again. If you’re working on improving your memory retention, we recommend that you give some of these methods a try.
1. Improve your focus and concentration
While it might seem obvious, we absorb information significantly better when we are focused. When we give our full attention to a task, we retain the information associated with that process much better than if we are distracted. If you are trying to read a book while watching TV at the same time, you don’t do either of those activities justice. You’re unlikely to recall key details from either the TV show or the plot of the book you’re reading, and there’s also the possibility you mix the two and cross the wires, creating something entirely new from a blend of both.
When you are trying to remember something, whether it’s for learning or simply for leisure, avoid distractions as best you can. Put your phone away, turn off the TV and find a quiet space where you dedicate your full attention to concentrating on the task at hand. This should improve your memory and the information you retain, with results noticeable quite quickly.
2. Organisation is key
The information we retain is found to be organised into clusters of related data within our memory, so presenting it in such a way aids how we preserve the information and recall it at a later time. Whether you’re studying, learning a new hobby or getting to know more details about a topic you love, organising the way it is presented will offer a better chance of retaining information.
Try to group things of a similar nature together, enabling the brain to do less work by removing the need of reorganising it later. If you take in the information in groups that are related, you’re pre-organising the filing system that our brain behaves as.
3. Visual cues
There are four core methods that people learn by and which of these are the most effective changes from person to person. Some people may strongly find one method more effective, while others will benefit from a mix of several approaches. The four learning methods are:
● Visual learning
● Auditory learning
● Kinesthetic learning
● Reading/writing learning
Humans are visual beings, so it is little surprise that research by the Social Science Research Network found 65% of us are visual learners. If you are trying to learn and remember something, try applying a visual approach. That could be photographs, diagrams, colour coding or any other visual cue that will help you commit something to memory.
4. Keep learning
An active brain has been linked to improved memory in old age. It has been linked to both those with higher tertiary education and therefore extended learning, but could also be applicable to the continuation of learning after this period of your life too. Learning can be related to a new hobby of interest or it may be something you need to learn, such as information for work.
If you have a deep interest in a particular subject look into whether there are some short courses available online or within a local community group. By keeping your brain active and engaging it regularly, you encourage the development of forming new memories.
5. Do it once, do it twice and then do it again
Repetition is key to locking things into our memory. It’s why when we are taught to study during our schooling years by using repetition as one of the key processes. Whether you drive the same route to work every day, make the same recipe over and over or repeat words day in, day out when learning a new language, the more you do it, the more you remember. If you are trying to improve your memory, try repeating the action multiple times. Whether you do something at the same time every day or multiple times in a single session, it should help it stick in your mind.
6. Brain training
A popular way of helping to improve memory is through brain training. What is brain training you might ask? It’s often games and puzzles that help you mentally exercise your mind. In the same way you train muscles with weight and cardiovascular training, you train your brain through mind activating activities.
The key to an effective session of brain training is finding something that you enjoy and that appeals to your senses. Just like we usually performed best in the subjects we enjoyed most in school, we also remember more when we engage with activities that we find enjoyable. If you want to play games or puzzles when brain training, opt for those which you aren’t familiar with. These will flex that brain muscle more than an option you’re already comfortable with. Sudoku and crossword puzzles are a great example. Learning a new language, reading and planning activities are also all great ways to train your brain to improve your memory.
7. Get moving
While we’re on the topic of training, physical exercise also plays a vital role in memory retention. Exercise is part of a balanced lifestyle promoting overall health and wellness. It also releases chemicals in the brain that can support a healthy mind. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate movement a day. You can do anything from walking or yoga to swimming, running or cycling. The key is to keep moving, and when you do, it’s not only your brain that will benefit!
Sleep is essential for a healthy brain. If you’ve suddenly found yourself more forgetful than usual, reflect on how much sleep you’ve been achieving. A study by the National Sleep Foundation found memory consolidation, which is the process of retaining key information and discarding unrequired information, takes place during sleep. This means that the restorative role of sleep is instrumental in supporting optimal memory function. If you aren’t getting your recommended eight hours of sleep each night, your memory could be suffering as a result.
9. Brain food – eat better for a healthy mind
A healthy diet is incredibly important to maintaining good brain health, as well as other physical benefits of course. Harvard Health has published an article which explores the negative impact that a diet high in saturated fats can have on brain function. High levels of LDL cholesterol not only affect the heart and arteries but also your brain.
However, HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol, which is found in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish and nuts are all found to have a positive effect on the brain. By preventing damage with clogged blood vessels, those with a diet including healthy levels of HDL cholesterol can benefit from reduced risk of stroke and memory loss.
If you’re looking to improve your memory retention, try these tips and see if you can achieve the results you desire. It is important to note that if you are concerned about your memory loss, forgetfulness or have severe and sudden changes, you should consult your doctor.
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