When it comes to the functioning of your brain and your memory the saying is “use it or lose it”. But there are plenty of other things you can do to stay mentally sharp and keep your memory strong. There are even ways to get a better memory at any age, with science showing us that neuroplasticity puts an end to the thinking that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. For humans anyway, anything is possible.
1. Stay Active
Keeping a strong mind means keeping the body active as well. It might be hard to make the connection between keeping the body moving and keeping the mind sharp, but research shows that the less active you are, the more likely you’ll be to experience memory loss at an early age. You don’t have to exercise like mad in order to keep your memory sharp. Consider taking a daily walk. You can take a different route each day in order to keep the mind engaged as well as the body.
2. Don’t Overdo Alcohol
You’re born with a finite number of brain cells, so it’s a good idea not to kill them off with excessive amounts of alcohol. The liver can only process so much at one time, so binge drinking can be very taxing on the brain. You might find that you have trouble remembering what happened the next day, but the real damage will come later in life when you’re trying to recall important information and are unable to due to a decreased mental capacity caused by alcohol abuse earlier in life.
In order to aid the brain in remember things you want it to, it helps to visualize what it is you want to remember. The brain works by created visuals of things, for example when you read the word “cat” your brain doesn’t conjure up an image of the letters c-a-t, but rather the word conjures up images of what a cat is. So rather than try to get your brain to remember arbitrary symbols, attach the meaning of those symbols to visual cues and concepts for easier retrieval.
4. Use Associations
The brain works by building a large neural network of associations. That’s why there are certain words, phrases, and images that automatically get us to think about certain things. For example, if your Aunt Sally’s favorite flower is roses, seeing or smelling them might make you think of her. So if you want to remember someone’s name, it’s good to build an association around it. That way all you have to do is remember the association, and the name should come up without effort.
5. Believe You Can Do It
A big part of memory is self-efficacy when it comes to remembering things. if you have repeatedly told yourself that you have a bad memory, or that you don’t remember things easily, you have been conditioning yourself to not remember things well. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like so many things in life, a strong belief that you can do it is the starting block for success. Start with something small to remember and build up from there. These small successes will establish the confidence you need to remember larger and more important things.
6. Use Mnemonics
This is a trick you might have used to remember lists of things in high school, such as the names of the planets. It involves using phrases like My Violent Evil Monster Just Scared Us Nuts. It provides clues to what it is you’re trying to remember, and provides order and structure so you don’t forget the details, like which planets come first. If you have to remember a list of random items, it might be easier to establish a mnemonic in order to keep it organized and help you remember the first letter of each item on that list.
7. Use Rehearsal
Rehearsing what you need to remember is a great way to commit it strongly to memory, as it will add repetition to the game, and also involve different parts of the body, and therefore different parts of the brain. If you go through the process of imagining what it will be like to recall the information you need, and stir up the feelings that you’ll have once you successfully remember something, you’ll be more likely to replicate it in reality. Practicing a successful delivery is key to remembering all sorts of things.
8. Break It Up
It is easier to memorize larger topics in phases, so that you don’t become overwhelmed by the task. You can gradually start digesting bigger chunks as you go along and get more familiar with the material. What we’re trying to avoid here is the feeling like there’s simply too much to remember. You want to feel like you’re in control of the material, rather than at its mercy. Mastering the basics of what it is you’re studying is key, as this forms the proper foundation for more advanced material later.
9. Keep Things Organized
It’s harder to remember things if your brain can’t see any order to them. That’s why you should take the time to organize the data you want to remember in a meaningful way. When you go to remember it you’ll have an easier time, because the brain will have compartmentalized it in a similar way to how you organized it in the physical realm. The more complex the subject matter, the more important organization becomes. You might have a cluttered desk or a messy room, but you can still work to organize your information before trying to lodge it in your brain.
10. Use Gestures
When you use tapping, clapping, snapping, or other hand, arm, and body gestures in conjunction with what it is you’re trying to remember, it commits it to your muscle memory, which can help to trigger your actual memory. Think of an instance where you had to remember a phone number and it helped to actually pretend to dial the number in order to jog your memory. It’s the same concept, only this time you are doing it deliberately, instead of just something you use in pinch when you can’t remember a number.
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