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How to Improve Your Memory

Updated on July 25, 2010

I used to be good at game shows. I could answer most of the questions when I was watching at home and I did pretty well on the couple of occasions I tried my luck in front of the cameras.

Then life kind of got in the way and I didn’t watch any game shows for a few years. Until a few weeks ago. What a shock that was! I still knew most of the answers, in the sense that I knew they were somewhere in my head – but I couldn’t access them.

This (as far as I can remember) was one of the most frustrating feelings I’ve ever experienced. It’s okay not to know the answers because then you feel you’re learning something – but this malfunctioning retrieval system scared the crap out of me.

This probably sounds overly dramatic but I’m a thin end of the wedge kinda guy, believing that if you don’t nip something in the bud it will inevitably get worse (that’s what being a dentist does to you!)

So I looked into ways to improve my memory, and I’ll share what I found with you through this series of articles.

The first thing that struck me was that I have no trouble recalling dental or general medical and surgical information. Why should these areas be different? The obvious answer is because I use them every day in my career. So, practice would appear to be crucial to memory. Does this practice have to be specific to particular topics or does general mental exercise help across the board? In other words, would I be (even) worse at game shows if I didn’t have a job that requires me to recall enormous amounts of information every hour?

There are two main components to remembering things:

1. locking the stuff in your brain.
2. retrieving it when you need it.

To have an efficient memory we need to work on both of these.

All the sources I consulted agree that you have to exercise your brain in the same way that you exercise a muscle to make it work better. They also agree that reading is a major part of this.

I’m not sure it’s as straightforward as that because many of the people I know who feel their memory is slipping are academics who rarely ever stop reading. I also read a lot, both for pleasure and business.

So maybe it’s important what you do with the things you read? There seems to be no consensus on this. Some experts suggest you treat what you read – be it news or sports results – as if you were swotting for an exam and run back through the main the points in your memory immediately afterwards.

Reading stories aloud to children is also good because it enhances the imagery in the reader’s mind (and in the children’s minds), which aids recall.

Perhaps surprisingly, reading poetry aloud does not help develop memory in most people. This seems to be because, while poetry lovers conjure up the images in their minds, other readers do not; for them, the meaning is either not grasped or is quickly forgotten.

The message would appear to be that you should read something you enjoy because then you will remember it – and THAT is the practice. So read something that gives you pleasure then think about it a couple of times during the next twenty-four hours.

And you’re already on your way to having a better memory.

In the next article we’ll look at how playing games can improve your memory - don’t forget to check it out here:

Tom Nolan is a dentist with over 30 years’ experience.

If you found this article useful, you should check out his book

Watch Your Mouth – An Owner’s Manual.

Also available as a download. This book is packed with practical advice and will tell you everything you need to know to keep your mouth healthy, trouble-free and beautiful for the rest of your life.

You can get in touch via Tom's practice: The Dentist in Town


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      Toni Page 8 years ago

      Oh sorry, I forgot what I was going to say!