I used to pride myself on my memory, but the older (and busier) I get, the more I find things slipping through the cracks. Going to the grocery store sans list? Never again. I even have a saved note on my iPhone just to remember the names of everyone in the massive family I married into. Of course, put on any pop hit from the '90s and somehow I still remember every lyric... thanks, brain. If you can relate, These memory tricks straight from the experts can help you prevent (or at least reduce) those frustrating memory lapses.
There is something so infuriating about having something on the tip of your tongue but being unable to come up with it. It's even more aggravating when you specifically told yourself, "Oh, I won't worry about writing that down. I'll remember it." Recently, my midwife explained to me that forgetfulness and absentmindedness are normal parts of pregnancy (also known as good old Pregnancy Brain). My best friend was quick to inform me that I should get used to it, because pregnancy brain simply morphs into Mommy Brain, and mothers everywhere know the struggle. Many of us have come to view "good memory" as a gift that you're simply given or not – and apparently, raising a child can even make you lose it. However, research is showing that memory, like a muscle, can be trained and improved over time... you just need to learn how to do it. That's where these tricks come in.
1. Create a Memory Palace and visualize corresponding stories – the weirder, the better.
Speak to any memory champion and they'll likely tell you about you about this trick. Known as Memory Palace or Method of Loci, this memorization tactic involves incorporating the things you want to remember into a physical space with which you're familiar. This could be your own home, your workspace, or even your own body. In an article for Smithsonian.com, memory champion Boris Konrad explained how he utilized this method to remember a list of randomized words using his own body as a map.
"If the words for feet are 'moss' and 'cow,' he might picture walking on a mossy field, getting bits of moss stuck on his socks and watching a smelly cow grazing on that moss," the article explains. "If the next location, the knees, is assigned the words 'queen and bell' Konrad then imagines walking off the moss to sit on a stump. Suddenly the Queen of England promptly appears to sit on his knee. She then pulls from her pocket a bell which she beings to ring loudly."
By using Method of Loci you can transform a list of varied, meaningless words into a more easily-remembered story in a location that you already have strong associations with. This is also why the weirder, more outlandish images you can create, the better – you're less likely to forget things that are truly bizarre.
2. Get enough sleep.
I don't know about you, but I am never more scatterbrained than I am after a night of tossing and turning. Mamas know that quality sleep is a rare commodity with little ones, but making it a priority has perks beyond reducing your eye bags. As it turns out, getting a good night's sleep is a key factor in memorization.
Dr. Arielle Tambini is a postdoctoral research fellow and cognitive neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, studying the psychological and neural mechanisms supporting human long-term memory. "The best thing to do is to try to allow enough time to sleep! Sleep is associated with both an improvement in our ability to learn and retain new information," Dr. Tambini tells Romper. "The research area that I'm most excited about also suggests that not just sleep - but other types of downtime while we are awake (just simply resting and relaxing) can also be beneficial to help our brains retain new information that we have just learned about."
3. Remove distractions.
When science writer Joshua Foer sought out to understand the logistics behind memory competitions, he knew he needed to put himself in the competitor's shoes to really understand it all. One trick that he adopted from memory competitors? His "competitive memorizer's training kit," which consisted of a pair of earmuffs and blacked-out safety goggles. This was a key component to memorization because, as Foer explained in his 2012 TED Talk, "Distraction is the competitive memorizer's greatest enemy."
You're much more likely to remember something when you're giving it your full and total attention. Even if you don't go full earmuffs-mode like Foer, you can still take steps like turning off the television or going into a quieter room. The less stimuli coming at you, the more likely you are to remember whatever it is you're trying to.
4. Repeat the information over and over.
The odds of memorizing something you've read or heard once is pretty slim. Instead, it's all about repetition... hence why those songs on repeat from your childhood are forever ingrained in your brain. And it's not just about rereading or re-listening to something over and over again, but also spacing it out over time. This is what memory gurus call the Spacing Effect.
"This effect has been demonstrated in over 200 research studies from over a century of research. Generally speaking, multiple practice sessions over time results in better long-term memory than a single practice session of equivalent duration or an equivalent number of repetitions," stated an article from the UC San Diego Department of Psychology. In other words, don't practice that toast for your sister's wedding speech ten times the night before. Practice it every night for a week or so leading up to the wedding, and you'll be golden.
5. Use mnemonic devices.
A mnemonic device is "a simple shortcut that helps us associate the information we want to remember with an image, a sentence, or a word," explains PsychCentral, and they can work wonders for helping you memorize things of all subjects. Coming up with rhymes and acronyms for lists you want to remember are two extremely common mnemonic devices that you can incorporate into your everyday life. For example, "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally," can remind you to pick up paprika, eggs, milk, Diet Coke, apples, and spinach at the grocery store.
My husband is a neuroscientist, and on one of our earliest dates I decided to knock his socks off with my own remarkable knowledge about the brain. "The hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for memory," I proudly recited. "I remember that one, because you'll never forget seeing a hippo at camp." Of course, he let me know that memory is much more complex than that and many brain regions contribute to it – but this anecdote proves how powerful that silly mnemonic device from high school psychology class was. After all, I was using it as small talk almost 10 years later.
6. Exercise regularly.
Everyone knows that exercising regularly has massive benefits for your physical health, but did you know it can improve your memory too? In an article for the Harvard Health Blog, Heidi Godman, medical journalist and the site's executive editor, explained how incorporating physical activity into your daily routine can potentially reduce memory lapses.
"Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t," Godman explained. Problems in these areas are associated with memory issues and cognitive impairment, while increased volume is associated with healthy functioning. Additionally, regular exercise can alleviate stress and help you get better sleep, two things that can benefit memory in themselves.
7. Test yourself.
Removing distractions, using a "memory palace," and taking advantage of the spacing effect are excellent ways to memorize novel information, but then it's important to test yourself and see what you've actually retained. As Rosalind Potts, PhD and teaching fellow at the University of College of London, explained to NBC News, this testing is all about "giving you practice retrieving information you’ve learned and establishing that connection in the brain."
Part of the power of testing your memory is simply making your brain do the work. As Foer learned during his time among competitive memorizers, "great memory" is not a gift but rather a result of discipline and focus. Memory tips and tricks only work "because they make you work," he explained in his TED Talk. "They force a kind of depth of processing, a kind of mindfulness, that most of us don't normally walk around exercising."