How to improve your memory

Have you ever forgotten someone’s name or frantically hunted for your car keys during the morning rush?

You’ve got plenty of company.

“Everybody forgets things,” says Sarah Walz, who offers free learning workshops, including how to improve your memory, to students and staff at NAIT as part of her role as coordinator of Academic Support Services. With the right habits, it turns out everybody can remember things, too.

Why we forget

Forgetting is easy. Maybe the material isn’t meaningful, you don’t review it or you are distracted when you receive it. Information overload, which can include volume or speed, doesn’t help either, says Walz.

Being unorganized also contributes. “Poor techniques in storing [memories] can be part of it.” For example, haphazard notes are hard to review later, making it difficult to absorb the material.

Feeling tired, hungry or stressed can also make us forgetful. It’s just harder to stay focused, says Walz.

Improve your memory

To help improve your memory, Walz recommends you try to

  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Exercise and eat well
  • Practice relaxation methods to reduce stress
  • Take breaks – on average, concentration falters after 30 to 45 minutes. If you’re in a long meeting or class, stand up and take a 5 to 10 minute break
  • Plan – Be organized and consistent. If you place keys in the same tray daily, for example, the brain will remember where they’re located
  • Put it in your own words – If you’re trying to memorize something from paper, summarize it in your own words in writing and discuss it with someone
  • Acronyms – These can be quite effective, says Walz, such as HOMES to remember the Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior)
  • Follow the VCR3 formula:

Visualize – Connect mental images to what you’re trying to remember. Imagery is a powerful tool, says Walz. Imagine an explosion when you put down your wallet, for example, to lock its location into your brain. “The more bizarre imagery you can make, the more likely you are to remember it.”

Concentrate – Remove distractions. Focus fully and avoid multi-tasking.

Relate – Connect information to something familiar. For example, you meet someone named Larry and associate it with your brother-in-law of the same name.

Repeat – If you struggle with people’s names, Walz suggests saying the person’s name in your head 3 times or repeating it during the introduction. “Nice to meet you, Susan.”

Review – Take another look at the material within 24 hours and at regular intervals to make it stick.


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