Scientific inquiry is wonderful. The mystery of the brain and memory's intricacies are endlessly captivating. However, most days, it feels like a victory to remember when you last showered, and if that means you can sleep an extra 10 minutes.
That's why this new study is of particular interest. The research says that follow-through on daily tasks may be improved by linking those tasks to physical objects that will be encountered at the right time to spur action.
The research showed that having a visual cue in a place where the to-do item can be enacted causes a higher rate of recollection and execution than instances of the task being executed in the absence of a visual cue. TL;DR: leave a post-it by the garbage, and you'll remember to take out the garbage.
The study tested this theory a number of ways, including having a group take a digital survey where they were told if they grab a paperclip from a bin on their way out that $1 would be donated to charity. Half of that group saw a message that said there would be an elephant statue near the door to remind them to follow through. 72% of the people who were given the elephant statue message remembered to deposit their paperclip, while just 42% of the control group remembered.
This is great news, because now the food wrappers littering desks in offices everywhere have an excuse for never making it to the trash: They're memory objects, and must never been thrown away.
Here are three other memory hacks that will make sure you never forget to mail another Mother's Day card.
The Palace Technique
This is the technique used by memory champion Dominic O'Brien (who once memorized 54 decks of cards in sequence, having seen each card just once) and Hannibal Lector (in the book, not the movie). With it, you take a place you know well -- a childhood home, the drive to work -- and associate the things that need remembering with the objects in the "memory palace." Litemind has an in-depth breakdown of using the technique.
Pretty straightforward. Take a nap. Research published in Nature Neuroscience suggests that a daytime nap breaks down the brain's resistance to learning new material by reducing interference. The study said 90 minutes is the sweet spot, but any amount of rest can help you approach material with a more receptive mind.
Next time you're in a meeting, try drawing a crude map of the room. Lay out the table and note where each person is sitting, and maybe a characteristic that will help you remember them. Dustin/Glasses, Gideon/Loves Star Wars, etc. This can help with name recollection. To take it a step further, you can number everyone and use that in notes to both help with shorthand and to create a visual to go with the notes that can also improve recollection. It also forces you to write down names, and research has shown that writing things down improves recollection. Lifehacker has more on what name maps looks like.
There are gads more techniques out there, but the new research is fascinating, in part, because the experiment itself provides a practical technique worth trying that, in many ways, echoes the association cues that are seen in other techniques.
Now, you just need a cue to remember the techniques to improve your memory.