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How to Boost Your Memory

Updated on June 3, 2011

Memories ...

What is MEMORY?

Our memories are stored in different places within the brain. There are three phases of memory - encoding, storage and recall. The ‘encoding’ phase involves taking in information through our senses. The next phase is ‘storage’. Storage is preserving the information received. ‘Recall’ is retrieving the stored information. Recall brings stored memories to the fore when needed.

ASSOCIATIONS AND CUES

Cues and associations are signposts. We are able to link them to a particular memory, and they help us to recall it. The more cues and signposts you have, the better chance you have of retrieving the information. For example, a colour or image associated with a name may enhance your abilities to recall.

ARE YOU LOOSING YOUR MEMORY?

If you feel that your memory is lapsing, pinpoint the area of memory that is letting you down. Once worked out you can use different techniques to help improve it.

For example, if you can’t recall someone’s name, maybe you were inattentive when you were introduced and the name never went into ‘storage’ properly. If you know the name but it won’t surface for you when needed, the problem may have to do with ‘recall’.

Forgetting things is perfectly normal. We can’t be expected to remember absolutely everything all the time, so the mind and memory filters out anything irrelevant. For example, we’ll often hold something in working memory, but it doesn’t make it fully into ‘storage’. We are to forget past events so that we are able to retain new information.

COMMON MEMORY LAPSES

The majority of our memory lapses happen when we do not pay enough attention. This can happen when we forget people’s names whom we’ve recently been introduced to, or not being able to put a face to a name and vice versa.

Another form of common memory lapse happens when we do familiar, automatic actions or do things habitually. For example, you may not remember whether you turned off the oven after cooking or not, as this may be something you automatically do without thought.

To combat this form of memory lapse focus briefly on what you are doing whilst you are doing it. Two seconds of bringing your consciousness into the present moment could make all the difference to your memory recall.

Another way to help improve your memory when it comes to things you do on ‘automatic pilot’ is to get into the habit of pausing when you do something like turning off the oven. Stop and say to yourself, “I’ve just turned off the oven.”

A sensory clue such as the sound of a switch or click of a button will also enhance recall.

REMEMBERING NAMES

The brain stores the sound and vibration of a person’s name in a different location to the information about them. That is why it is possible to recall who a person is, but forget their name entirely.

Repeating a name to yourself can keep it in the forefront of your memory, but does not necessarily ensure that it moves to more permanent ‘storage’. You may need to create a mental link or cue to their name.

To help improve your ‘recall’ abilities, imagine the person’s name written across their forehead. Create a mental image of the name. Associate something to do with the name – a rhyme or descriptive word.

REMEMBERING HIDING PLACES

When we choose to hide valuables we most often look for the safest place. Because we put thought and effort into deciding where that hiding place should be, you would expect to easily remember it. Sometimes though, our memory may draw a blank when trying to remember our safe hiding place. Mentally and/or physically retracing our steps may sometimes help. Another trick is to envision yourself holding the item you hid, then picturing yourself thinking of a place to hide it. This often jogs the memory of where you hid the item in the first place.

EVERYDAY ITEMS

Remembering where you left your car keys need not be an issue. The most obvious solution to missing car keys is to store them in the same place every day. Make a special, permanent home for them such as a hook by the door, a bowl on a table, a top drawer ... whatever suits you and your lifestyle.

If you can’t find your umbrella, have a think about the last time it rained. This may give you a clue as to the whereabouts of your umbrella. Make a point to keep your umbrella in a cupboard or another convenient ‘home’ so that you always know where it is.

Having trouble finding your car in the car park? Once you park your car, take a moment to look around and make note of any signposts or landmarks that are obvious. When shopping, make sure you leave the store (or mall or centre) by the same door you entered. This cue can jog your memory coupled with the visual cue of your chosen landmark or signpost.

Can’t remember what you needed from the shops in the first place? Make a list. Having trouble remembering to take the list with you when you go shopping?? Keep the list in your purse, wallet or handbag and add to it when needed – but keep it in the same place.

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With a little extra time, thought, effort and practice we are able to encode, store and recall our memories with ease.

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