Michael Tristan Tolston

A good memory might seem like a lot of the desirable things in life: you either have it or you don’t. It’s easy to think when you walk in a room and don’t recall the reason, or when you leave the grocery store only to turn around and walk back in to get that package of flour you forgot,  that you fall hopelessly into the second category. This fatalistic thinking can lead to negative self-talk that is psychologically harmful and can be difficult to overcome. Luckily, there are techniques for improving memory that can not only help you recall your grocery list, but might also make you able to actually think more creatively.  In fact, psychological and neuroscientific research has shown that people can learn to improve their memories, and in doing so, improve their capacity to learn new things and combine information in more creative ways. Here are just a few quick tips to improve your memory.

  • Say it Out loud: There is a chance that you may have met people who talk to themselves when trying to remember something. This might seem a little odd, but experimental psychologists have found that saying what you want to remember out loud is actually an effective strategy and leads to better retention.
  • Improve your Sleep Quality: Many people might think that sleep is just for resting your body and letting your mind relax. However, neuroscience has shown that your brain is actually still hard at work during sleep. In fact, sleep is critical in order to allow your brain to process your day and create new memories. During sleep, a person’s memories are consolidated and as a result, they are strengthened and passed on to the brain’s long-term storage. To ensure that this process is properly completed and that you reap the benefits of long-term storage, you should try to get around 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep every night. 
  • Repetition: Periodically reviewing and reminding ourselves what it is that we want to remember is important. Psychological research shows that the probability of being able to actively recall a piece of information decreases over time (the so-called “forgetting curve”)  and repetition helps reduce (but not eliminate!) our forgetfulness. This is good to know. However, rather than mindlessly repeating information and hoping that it will “stick,” it’s better to work hard the first time so that repetition is more effective and doesn’t have to happen as often.
  • Actively Encode: Don’t just try to passively absorb information or mindlessly read and reread texts. Actively engage the information by trying to identify the key themes and then fit them into your broader understanding of the world. Ask yourself questions about the meaning of content and then try to answer them. This takes effort and may feel uncomfortable at first, but this discomfort (i.e., cognitive load) is a good thing and indicates that you are learning! 
  • Use a mnemonic strategy: To really supercharge your memory, consider learning to use a mnemonic strategy, like the method of loci. This particular method is a technique that depends on mentaly arranging items to be remembered in spatial relationships between “loci” (i.e., memorable locations along known routes in familiar buildings). It helps you to recall information by connecting it to a specific location in a map that is well known to your mind. It’s a powerful strategy based on easy-to-learn techniques, but it takes time to master. Psychologists are exploring ways to use the method of loci to help people suffering from depression to create and sustain positive memories in order to help regulate their moods.

Along with following these tips, exercising regularly and eating  a balanced diet filled with brain-healthy nutrients (like omega-3 fatty acids) will help boost your brain power. Know that with perseverance and practice, almost anyone can develop a great memory.

Dr. Michael Tristan Tolston.  Michael is an experimental psychologist based in Dayton, Ohio, with research experience in the areas of applied neuroscience, interpersonal trust, human-machine trust, human-human, and human-machine teaming, individual and team training. Part of his work focuses on helping people to become more productive and efficient in their work environment.