Have you ever run into an old friend or found a dusty box of toys in your parents' attic that provoked hidden memories you forgot you even had?
The human brain is a complex and labyrinthian database and your standard, on-the-fly methods of memorization are akin to buying a $3,000 MacBook and using it to exclusively play Minesweeper. Unlocking the hidden potential in your mind isn’t as simple as taking a limitless pill, despite what Bradley Cooper will tell you, but these 11 methods will help jump-start your memory, improve your cognitive retention, and hopefully make sure you never forget that guy in accounting’s name ever again. Is it Don? Maybe Dan. I’ll just call him “dude.” It's way too late to ask.
1. Music makes remembering easier
Isn’t it weird that you could remember every word of “The Real Slim Shady” when you were 11, but have trouble memorizing a four item grocery list? Using music (not LISTENING TO MUSIC, but incorporating knowledge into song) is one of the most applicable ways to get knowledge to stick to the gooey insides of your brain. Think of all the little ditties you learned in grade school that you can still belt out. How many days does April have? You know, don't you.
How it can work for you: Putting your grocery list to the tune of "Billy Jean" will make sure you leave with everything you need. “...she said that I am the one, that needs to pick up Capri Sun.”
2. Create a "palace" for your memories
Considered an advanced form of memorization, the Method of Loci has you create a “palace of memories," by visualizing a mental space, like a house, where each room contains a nugget of knowledge. By “walking through” the house, you can “collect,” and therefore, recall, items you need to memorize. Use your own home, or a place you know exceedingly well, and “store” the items/info you need to remember in each room. It's all about leaning on and exploiting spatial memory, where your brain devotes a large portion of power.
How it can work for you: Your friend asked you to bring beer, tupperware, ketchup, and Monopoly to his party. Using this method, you visualize your own home, with the items placed strategically throughout. Inside your front door, the floor is drenched with beer. When you reach the kitchen, there is tupperware overflowing from your sink. In your bathroom, someone replaced the soap with ketchup. Then, when we get to your bedroom, your girlfriend is playing Monopoly in bed. This tour of memories, a story or sorts, will make it more difficult to forget something due to the vivid, easily relatable cues it brings to the surface.
3. Remember names...the first time you hear them
You know this guy. He works in accounting. You've talked to him every day for a year. You know he has three kids, is allergic to shellfish, and recently had a mean case of scabies. But, you don't know his name. You are past the point of no return—it's been far too long. There's three things you can do, right when you meet someone, to help infuse their name inside your cerebellum: repetition, spelling, and association. Or you can just hope he comes to work wearing a name tag one day.
How it can work for you: When someone introduces themselves for the first time, just don't say hello and continue the convo, say their name out loud...OUT LOUD. Repeat it a few times in your head. Then, ask them to spell it. If their name is Jim, it might be kind of weird (but then you'll definitely remember that dude's name is Gym). And finally (and most importantly) make associations and connections. His name is Jim. He also smells like alcohol (weird, for 11 a.m. on a Wednesday...) Jim Beam? Jim. Now, you'll never forget.
4. Link your information together
Make a short story involving and linking the things you need to remember, and use that to keep what you need to remember in check with a connectable narrative. Even if what you need to remember is totally unrelated, piecing together a quick story will help you better contain loose objectives and details. Using the mnemonic linking method, you can make these connections
How it can work for you: Tomorrow, you need to pay the electric bill, pick up your dry cleaning, call your Mom, and record Family Feud on your DVR before 5 p.m. Your story: your power goes out, (PAY THE ELECTRIC) and you spilled red wine all over your favorite pants (PICK UP DRY CLEANING), the pants your Mom gave you for your birthday (CALL MOM). This upsets you even more, being the family (FAMILY FEUD!) orientated man you are. Narrative created. Objectives, stuck in brain.
5. Store your memories in chunks
Despite sounding like the newest Ben and Jerry’s flavor, the chunking method is an effective way to memorize large quantities of information off the top of your head. The human brain can hold approximately seven items (like numbers) in our working memory at a time, but separating items into “chunks” will help you encapsulate more info, using less brain power. It’s like putting all the information you need into separate storage bins, and pulling them out when you need them.
How it can work for you: Let’s use the grocery list example again, let’s say you need 12 items. Separate them into areas: food, cleaning supplies, drinks, and hygiene. Despite having a dozen items to keep fresh in your brain, having four categories, with three items in each, segments the info you need to store, and gives your brain an easier path to applying all that information.
6. Keep hitting the "snooze" right after you learn something
Everyone can relate to the snooze button. It’s the reason I get to sleep in for two increments of 10 minutes every morning. It’s also a great analogy for our next method of memorization. To remember a random bit of information, sometimes, the best method is simple, frequent repetition in a small increment of time.
How it can work for you: Your new girlfriend tells you her birthday. It’s June 21. You cannot forget this for obvious reasons. It’s June 21. Go about your business, but five minutes later remind yourself: June 21. Five minutes later: June 21. You're driving to work 10 minutes after that? June 21. Repeat the phrase in your head throughout the day. June 21. Wait an hour. June 21. This may seem excessive, but if you have ever forgotten you partner’s birthday, you’ll know the pain of repetition is nothing compared to a woman scorned.
7. Write everything down, even if you never look at it again
The old-school magic of a pen and paper can still be useful in our digital age, believe it or not. Even if you're never going to refer back to it, you are way more likely to retain information you write down. The act of writing something out, longhand, stimulates our brain in a way that typing or speaking doesn’t—it’s as simple as that.
How it can work for you: If you are trying to remember a phone number, for instance, write it down longhand a few times. This act alone will help you rely less on your contact list. if you are taking notes on something, write it out longhand—even if you're just going to put it on your computer later. You will retain the information better, guaranteed.
8. Use memory pegs to remember long lists
The peg system is a more complex mnemonic device, but if you can master it, it can become a serious weapon in your memory arsenal. It consists of pre-memorizing a system that you can easily reference. Basically, you create a pre-set system (that never changes) that lets you reference connections and segment the information you need in a an easily memorable, unchanging, and rigidly organized list with vivid imagery to complete the puzzle. One very common pegging method is using words that rhyme with numbers. Sounds confusing, right? Check out this example...
How it can work for you: You can start a pegging system using rhymes, like this: 1=fun, 2=glue, 3=free, 4=door, and so on. This is your master list. When needed, you associate the words or items you want to remember with those pegs. If you are packing for a trip and need to remember to bring underwear, a toothbrush, a razor, and your bathing suit, you’d work them into your system.
Underwear: taking off your underwear often leads to FUN
Toothbrush: if you brushed your teeth with GLUE, you’d have some serious issues
Razor: razors aren’t FREE, in fact, yours cost over $200
Bathing suit: when it’s all wet, you hang your bathing suit on the DOOR.
This takes time and effort, obviously, because you’ll need to memorize a list (like the rhyming one above) first. But once you do that, you’ll be able to slot in whatever you need with relative ease. It may sound ridiculous, but it works for some people.
9. Use a keyword to create associations
If you're trying to learn a new word, like the name of a company, a foreign word, or a previously unknown phrase, the best way to keep that information from slipping into the badlands of your brain is to connect the uncharted to something you already know. By attaching an understood entity to a new concept, you can help your brain connect the dots without having to work so hard. These mnemonic associations can be some of the most helpful memory tools, if used correctly.
How it can work for you: Imagine you're traveling in Paris. You’ve never been before, and the only French you know was delivered via a Christina Aguilera/Lil’ Kim song. Your friend tells you to meet him at the Relais Christine hotel. Immediately, bring up some associations, or it will slip your mind. Remember that Christine girl from college that ran the relay in track, and totally shot you down when you asked her out? Painful, sure—but now you have an association that will stick. Relais (relay), Christine. It may sound silly, but it works.
10. Focus...like really focus, to retain knowledge
It's almost embarrassing that this should be included in an article about memory tricks, but nowadays we're constantly bombarded with distractions: our smartphones alone are enough to keep us loaded with digressions for eternity (or at least till your battery dies). If you need to remember something, turn everything else off and give 100 percent of your attention to the matter at hand.
How it can work for you: How to make it work: If you're doing work on your computer, or say, taking notes in class, you can turn off your wifi to ensure no Facebookin’, Instagrammin’, or Redditin’ goes on while you're focusing. Aside from that, turn your phone on silent, get some white noise going, shut your door, and focus on remembering what you need to retain. It’s simple advice, but so few of us actually do it.
11. Use acronyms to consolidate info
Using the acrostic method is a nifty mnemonic trick medical students and common idiots alike can utilize to make processing and storing information as hassle free as possible. In the case of doctors, the phrase "On old Olympus's towering top a Fin and German viewed some hops," is used to help memorize cranial nerves. My guitar teacher taught me "Big Cats Eat Fish," to help me memorize the two notes in a natural scale that only have a half step between them. And of, "H.O.M.E.S.," is an excellent way to remember all the names of the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior.)
How It can work for you: Aside from the examples listed above, using acronyms in daily procedure can be quite effective. Bringing up the classic example of a grocery list (guys, I am really, really bad at remembering groceries), let's say you need bread, onions, Ovaltine, guacamole, eggs, Raid, and salmon. Just remember B.O.O.G.E.R.S., and you'll be golden.
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