How to improve memory and recall what you’ve learned fast

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Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

Is it really possible to improve your memory? If you’ve ever found yourself forgetting where you left your keys or blanking out information on important tests then you have probably wished that your memory was a bit better. Fortunately, there are plenty of things that you can do to help improve your memory.

Obviously, utilizing some sort of reminder system can help. Setting up an online calendar that sends reminders to your phone helps you keep track of all those appointments and meetings. Creating daily to-do lists can ensure that you don’t forget important tasks that need to be completed.

But what about all the important information that you need to actually cement into your long-term memory? It will take some effort and even involve tweaking or dramatically changing your normal study routine, but there are a number of strategies you can utilize to get more out of your memory.

Before your next big exam, be sure to check out some of these tried and tested techniques for improving memory. These 11 research-proven strategies can effectively improve memory, enhance recall, and increase retention of information.

Focus Your Attention

How to improve memory and recall what you've learned fast

Attention is one of the major components of memory. In order for information to move from your short-term memory into your long-term memory, you need to actively attend to this information. Try to study in a place free of distractions such as television, music, and other diversions.

Getting rid of distractions might be a challenge, especially if you are surrounded by boisterous roommates or noisy children.

Set aside a short period of time to be alone.

Ask your roommates to give you some space or ask your partner to take the kids for an hour so you can focus on your work.

How to improve memory and recall what you've learned fast

Most people have occasional lapses in memory, such as forgetting a new acquaintance’s name or misplacing the car keys.

Most of the time, this is simply a sign that a person is a bit too busy or is preoccupied. On the other hand, having a consistently poor memory can be problematic for someone.

Many factors play a role in memory loss, including genetics, age, and medical conditions that affect the brain. There are also some manageable risk factors for memory loss, such as diet and lifestyle.

While not all memory loss is preventable, people may be able to take measures to protect the brain against cognitive decline as they age.

In this article, learn about eight techniques to try to help improve your memory.

How to improve memory and recall what you've learned fast

Share on Pinterest There are many brain training activities online that may help improve a person’s memory.

In a similar way to muscles, the brain needs regular use to stay healthy. Mental workouts are just as essential to gray matter as other factors, and challenging the mind can help it grow and expand, which may improve memory.

A large trial from the journal PLoS One found that people who did just 15 minutes of brain training activities at least 5 days a week had improvements in brain function.

The participants’ working memory, short term memory, and problem solving skills all significantly improved when researchers compared them to a control group doing crossword puzzles.

The researchers used brain training activities from the website Lumosity. The challenges work on a person’s ability to recall details and quickly memorize patterns.

Physical exercise has a direct impact on brain health. As the author of research in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation notes, regular exercise reduces the risk of cognitive decline with age and protects the brain against degeneration.

The results of a 2017 study suggest that aerobic exercise can improve memory function in people with early Alzheimer’s disease. The control group did nonaerobic stretching and toning.

Aerobic exercise increases a person’s heart rate and can include any of these activities:

  • brisk walking
  • running
  • hiking
  • swimming
  • dancing
  • cross-country skiing
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  • twitter
  • instagram

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She’s also a psychotherapist, international bestselling author and host of the The Verywell Mind Podcast.

Is it really possible to improve your memory? If you’ve ever found yourself forgetting where you left your keys or blanking out information on important tests then you have probably wished that your memory was a bit better. Fortunately, there are plenty of things that you can do to help improve your memory.

Obviously, utilizing some sort of reminder system can help. Setting up an online calendar that sends reminders to your phone helps you keep track of all those appointments and meetings. Creating daily to-do lists can ensure that you don’t forget important tasks that need to be completed.

But what about all the important information that you need to actually cement into your long-term memory? It will take some effort and even involve tweaking or dramatically changing your normal study routine, but there are a number of strategies you can utilize to get more out of your memory.

Before your next big exam, be sure to check out some of these tried and tested techniques for improving memory. These 11 research-proven strategies can effectively improve memory, enhance recall, and increase retention of information.

Focus Your Attention

How to improve memory and recall what you've learned fast

Attention is one of the major components of memory. In order for information to move from your short-term memory into your long-term memory, you need to actively attend to this information. Try to study in a place free of distractions such as television, music, and other diversions.

Getting rid of distractions might be a challenge, especially if you are surrounded by boisterous roommates or noisy children.

Set aside a short period of time to be alone.

Ask your roommates to give you some space or ask your partner to take the kids for an hour so you can focus on your work.

A crash course in training your brain for amazing recall

Let me tell you something utterly amazing about your brain. Better yet, let me show you something you can do to increase your brain’s ability to memorize information easily… and for the long-term. In short, take a moment with me here and I’ll demonstrate a way you can consciously use your own brain’s hardware to make you feel—and seem to others—truly gifted.

First, consider this challenge. Pretend that I ask you to go to the grocery store for me to buy a particular list of 10 items. Furthermore, suppose that I was going to dictate these items to you and that I would not let you write them down—yup, that’s right. All you can do is listen to me and do your best to memorize them. After that, you’d get in the car, drive to the store, and start shopping based on your memory of what I’d said.

How would you go about doing this? Would you make a mental acronym of the items? (POM, for example, might help you recall that you’ll need to get pizza, oranges, and mustard.) Would you make up a song about the items? Maybe you’d try to make a mental map of the store and walk through it to get the items. All of these are clever approaches, to be sure. And yet none of those are the approach most people would take, which is to merely repeat the items over and over and over again, one continuous loop of “pizza, oranges, mustard… pizza, oranges, mustard….”

Regardless of the technique used above, the average person can successfully recall seven or eight of 10 items posed in such a fashion—and he can only do so in a scattershot fashion. He might recall that “mustard” was somewhere on the list, but he may not recall that it was the third item he was told to buy. The reason for this hit-or-miss memory is that, in most of the examples above, a relatively minuscule portion of the brain is being used to retain the information—the hippocampus. This portion of the brain is not really adapted to storing information in a sequential or long-term way. So imagine the power and efficiency of your brain’s ability to retain information if you could use a whole lobe of it, say 20 percent of your brain’s matter, to help you out—instead of something about the size of a lima bean. You can.

I’ve written before about the visual portion of the brain. We’ll put it to the test today. Let’s tap into the occipital lobe and, by doing a simple experiment, see if you’re not able to dramatically increase your own memory. We’ll use that simple list of 10 random grocery items to judge its effectiveness. As silly as what I am about to ask you to do may seem, I promise you this: if you really try it, if you really suspend disbelief, and if you really follow my directions, you will be able to recall that list of 10 items perfectly. I don’t mean that you’ll be able to eventually remember all the items; I mean you will have immediate recall of each item, in the order they were given, the very instant you want them, even if I ask you to list them for me out of order. (For example: “Tell me what the seventh item was, followed by the third and then the tenth.”)

It starts with this odd list. Keep it handy. We’re going to use it a lot initially. You’ll recognize it as the words from an old nursery rhyme (“One, two, buckle my shoe, three, four, shut the door,” etc.). Here’s what I’d like you to do with this list.

As I rattle off the 10 items (provided on the link you’ll find below), you are going to consult that nursery rhyme list and use it to create a picture in your mind. You’ll do this by associating the item I ask you to get with one of the items given in that list. For example, if the FIRST item I ask you to recall is a bag of oranges, then you’ll make a mental picture of “oranges” somehow associated with a “bun.” You might imagine a bunch of oranges nestled in a hot dog bun. Or maybe you’ll picture a sliced orange sitting in between the top and bottom of a hamburger bun. It’s entirely up to you, but I can tell you this: the odder the picture, the more details you create, the stronger that memory will be.

When I ask you to recall the SECOND item—say, a gallon of milk—you should make a mental picture that places “milk” and a “shoe” together. You’re drinking milk from the shoe, perhaps; or maybe you’re kicking that gallon of milk down the hallway with your high-heeled shoe. It’s up to you.

We’ll continue in like fashion. I’ll give the items in sequential order, you make the mental pictures. Initially, consult that nursery rhyme list—it’s fine! We are using that list as a matrix to help you organize the data I’m about to give you (the grocery list). Just DO NOT write down the list of items I ask you to buy—that’d be cheating. Go slowly so that you have enough time to really create each image. If I go too fast, just hit pause on the two-minute video you’re about to watch. When we are done, I’ll ask you to answer the questions in the paragraph below. Again, trust me on this: if you really try it, crazy as it seems, it will work. Ready? If so, then click this link and get ready to hear the 10 items I want you to purchase. Go!

You’re back! Great.

Now, breathe deep, relax and answer these questions. Again, you may consult that memory matrix as you complete this questionnaire. (The answers are at the end of this article.)

  • What was the third item I asked you to buy, the one you associated with the “tree”?
  • What was the eighth?
  • In this order, what was item number 9, then 1, then 6?
  • Which numbered item was the “hamburger meat”?

So, are you amazed? You needn’t be. You were successful because you actively sought to use a large portion of your brain to do something that it naturally wants to do all of the time. Think about it: do you recall a time when you studied for a test and recalled that the answer to the test question lay in your notebook… it was on the right-hand page… in the upper-right corner…. Or do you recall precisely where you were when you heard of the attacks on 9/11? Of all the ways your brain tries to help you recall information, for most of us, it does so in a visual format. By virtue of the experiment above, you’ve just proven that harnessing that power of the brain can dramatically improve your own abilities.

Now, it’s up to you to put that newfound talent and knowledge to everyday use.

The original list of all ten items (in order): oranges, chocolate syrup, 50 lbs. of dog food, broccoli, air freshener, ice cream, 1 lb. hamburger meat, loaf of bread, blank data CDs, and heavy whipping cream

How to improve memory and recall what you've learned fast

Most people have occasional lapses in memory, such as forgetting a new acquaintance’s name or misplacing the car keys.

Most of the time, this is simply a sign that a person is a bit too busy or is preoccupied. On the other hand, having a consistently poor memory can be problematic for someone.

Many factors play a role in memory loss, including genetics, age, and medical conditions that affect the brain. There are also some manageable risk factors for memory loss, such as diet and lifestyle.

While not all memory loss is preventable, people may be able to take measures to protect the brain against cognitive decline as they age.

In this article, learn about eight techniques to try to help improve your memory.

How to improve memory and recall what you've learned fast

Share on Pinterest There are many brain training activities online that may help improve a person’s memory.

In a similar way to muscles, the brain needs regular use to stay healthy. Mental workouts are just as essential to gray matter as other factors, and challenging the mind can help it grow and expand, which may improve memory.

A large trial from the journal PLoS One found that people who did just 15 minutes of brain training activities at least 5 days a week had improvements in brain function.

The participants’ working memory, short term memory, and problem solving skills all significantly improved when researchers compared them to a control group doing crossword puzzles.

The researchers used brain training activities from the website Lumosity. The challenges work on a person’s ability to recall details and quickly memorize patterns.

Physical exercise has a direct impact on brain health. As the author of research in the Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation notes, regular exercise reduces the risk of cognitive decline with age and protects the brain against degeneration.

The results of a 2017 study suggest that aerobic exercise can improve memory function in people with early Alzheimer’s disease. The control group did nonaerobic stretching and toning.

Aerobic exercise increases a person’s heart rate and can include any of these activities:

  • brisk walking
  • running
  • hiking
  • swimming
  • dancing
  • cross-country skiing

How to improve memory and recall what you've learned fast

Being able to pick up skills quickly is critical in today’s workplace.

Whether you’re a student, a professional, a parent, or a retiree — all of us are learning new things everyday. It could be how to play the guitar, a new language, how to find the square root of a number, or how to speak in front of an audience without losing your cool. Our minds are constantly evolving with new information.

Undeniably, learning new skills can be frustrating and time-consuming, but what if science could help speed the process up a little?

SEE ALSO: 6 Neuroscience Tips to Detox Your Mind and Stop Overthinking

There are a number of ways to train your brain to memorize things faster and optimize learning.

1. Exercise to clear your head

Working out is good for our bodies, but our brain reaps many benefits as well. Exercise can improve learning and memory, so if you’re having writer’s block or just can’t seem to get through that tough math problem, try walking it off or squeezing in a quick gym session.

A 2013 study found that exercise has immediate benefits on cognition in both younger and older adults — after a simple 15-minute exercise session, study participants showed an improvement in memory and cognitive processing.

2. Write down what needs to be memorized over and over

It can seem like a lot more work to continuously jot down the same thing over and over, but this simple activity can work wonders for your memory recall. Research has shown that listing out facts or problems improves the ability to memorize them instead of trying to passively learn them by re-reading.

Further, another study found that taking lecture notes by hand instead of typing them out on a computer helped students better recall the lesson content.

3. Do yoga

Yoga is an easy way to improve your brain’s grey matter, which is involved in muscle control and sensory perceptions like speech, memory, decision-making, and seeing.

Research has shown that people who practice yoga show fewer cognitive failures. Amazingly, another 2012 study found that just 20 minutes of yoga boosted study participants’ brain functions, leading them to perform better on brain functioning tests both speed-wise and accuracy-wise.

4. Study or practice in the afternoon

Even if you consider yourself a “morning” or “nighttime” person, at least one study has shown that buckling down and focusing on a task in the afternoon can have a greater effect on long-term memory training than other times of the day.

5. Relate new things to what you already know

According to the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, a great brain-based technique for memory retention is to relate new information to what you already know.

“For example, if you are learning about Romeo and Juliet, you might associate what you learn about the play with prior knowledge you have about Shakespeare, the historical period in which the author lived and other relevant information,” the university writes.

6. Stay away from multitasking

In our technology-driven world, we often mindlessly pick up our smartphones to answer a text or check a social media feed while we’re in the middle of another task. In some situations, the ability to multitask can prove handy, but when it comes to learning a new skill or memorizing information, it’s best to focus on that one thing.

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance suggests that multitasking undermines our efficiency — particularly for complicated or unfamiliar tasks — since it takes extra time to shift mental gears each time an individual shifts between multiple tasks.

7. Teach other people what you’ve learned

Sharing your newly learned skills or knowledge is an efficient way to further solidify the new information in your brain, according to Loma Linda University. The process of translating the information into your own words helps your brain better understand it, and there are a number of innovative ways to break something down to teach it to others. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Improving your memory is easier than it sounds. Most of think of our memory as something static and unchanging. But it’s not — you can improve your memory just as you can improve your math or foreign language skills, simply by practicing a few tried and true memory building exercises.

There are two kinds of memory — short-term and long-term. Short-term memory is the kind of memory our brain uses to store small pieces of information needed right away, like someone’s name when you meet for the first time. Research has demonstrated that short-term memory’s capacity is about seven pieces of information. After that, something has to go.

Long-term memory is for things you don’t need to remember this instant. When you study for a test or exam, that’s long-term memory at work. A memorably moment in your life, events with family or friends, and other similar kinds of situations also get stored in long-term memory.

So how do you go about improving your memory? Read on to find out.

Your Memory is in Your Brain

Although it may seem obvious, memory is formed within your brain. So anything that generally improves your brain health may also have a positive impact on your memory. Physical exercise and engaging in novel brain-stimulating activities — such as the crossword puzzle or Sudoku — are two proven methods for helping keep your brain healthy.

Remember, a healthy body is a healthy brain. Eating right and keeping stress at bay helps not only your mind focus on new information, but also is good for your body too. Getting a good night’s sleep every night is important as well. Vitamin supplements and herbal extracts aren’t the same thing as getting vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids naturally, through the food you eat.

Improve Your Memory

So you want to improve your memory? You need to focus on what you’re doing and the information you’re looking to encode more strongly in your brain. These tips will help you do just that:

  1. Focus on it. So many people get caught up in multi-tasking, that we often fail to do the one thing that will almost always improve your memory — paying attention to the task at hand. This is important, because your brain needs time to encode the information properly. If it never makes it into your memory, you won’t be able to recall it later. If you need to memorize something, quit multitasking.
  2. Smell, touch, taste, hear and see it. The more senses you involve when you need to encode memory, usually the more strong a memory it becomes. That’s why the smell of mom’s home-baked cookies can still be recalled as fresh as though she were downstairs making them just now. Need to remember someone’s name you met for the first time? It may help to look them in the eye when you repeat their name, and offer a handshake. By doing so, you’ve engaged 4 out of your 5 senses.
  3. Repeat it. One reason people who want to memorize something repeat it over and over again is because repetition (what psychologists sometimes refer to as “over learning”) seems to work for most people. It helps not to cram, though. Instead, repeat the information spaced out over a longer period of time.
  4. Chunk it. Americans remember their long 10-digit telephone numbers despite being able to hold only 7 pieces of information in their brain at one time. They do because we’ve taught ourselves to chunk the information. Instead of seeing 10 separate pieces of information, we see 3 pieces of information — a 3 digit area code, a 3 digit prefix, and a 4 digit number. Because we’ve been taught since birth to “chunk” the telephone number in this way, most people don’t have a problem remembering a telephone number. This technique works for virtually any piece of information. Divide the large amount of information into smaller chunks, and then focus on memorizing those chunks as individual pieces.
  5. Organize it. Our brains like organization of information. That’s why books have chapters, and outlines are recommended as a studying method in school. By carefully organizing what it is you have to memorize, you’re helping your brain better encode the information in the first place.
  6. Use mnemonic devices. There are a lot of these, but they all share one thing in common — they help us remember more complicated pieces of information through imagery, acronyms, rhyme or song. For instance, in medical school, students will often turn memorization of the bones in the body or symptoms of specific illnesses into sentences, where the first letter of each word corresponds with a specific bone or symptom. Learn about more mnemonic devices and memory here.
  7. Learn it the way that works for you. People often get caught up in thinking there’s a “one size fits all” learning style for memorizing new material. That’s simply not the case — different people prefer different methods for taking in new information. Use the style that works for you, even if it’s not the way most people study or try and learn new information. For instance, some people like to write things down when they’re learning something new. Others may benefit more from recording what they’re hearing, and going back to take more detailed notes later on at their own leisure.
  8. Connect the dots. When we learn, we often forget to try and make associations until later on. However, research has shown that memory can be stronger when you try and make the associations when you first take in the information. For instance, think about how two things are related, and the memory for both will be enhanced. Connect new information to existing information or experiences in your mind.

As we age, our memory sometimes seems to get worse. But it doesn’t have to. By following these eight tips, you can keep your memory sharp at any age, and improve it any time.

Think You Might Have ADD? See Below Resources:

Last medically reviewed on September 3, 2010

How to improve memory and recall what you've learned fast

As a professor of cognitive psychology, I teach about memory, especially about when and why our memories often fail us. Students are excited to apply this material to their everyday lives.

During a recent class, a student asked whether other faculty were familiar with this research and remarked that it would be helpful if everyone structured their lessons with this knowledge in mind.

I offer the following tips taken from basic memory research. All of these findings can be easily applied to how you teach your classes and advise students.

  1. Attend to information. How often are your students checking text messages while listening to your lecture, arguing that they are really good at multitasking? Remind your students that most failures of memory are not problems with retrieval but with encoding. Most of the time we do not have difficulty pulling information out; the problem is that we never got it in to begin with. To make this point, I use the classic Nickerson and Adams (1979) penny task and ask students to draw the head of a penny from memory. They quickly realize that they have “forgotten” which direction Lincoln is facing or are unsure which phrases are on the heads or tails side. Explain to your students that they didn’t forget what a penny looks like. The truth is that they never bothered to encode the information. To remember something, they need to engage in controlled processing. They have to block out other distractions and focus on the task at hand.
  2. Engage in deep processing and self-reference. Deep processing involves thinking about the meaning of the information and connecting it to personal experiences. To make this point, I use a modified version of Craik and Tulving’s (1975) study and present students with a list of adjectives, such as “creative,” “methodical,” or “serious.” For some of the words they are asked a question about how it is spelled; for example, “Does the word contain the letter T?” For other words, they are asked, “Does the word describe you?” Later, students are asked to recall as many of the words as possible. Students are significantly more likely to recall words from the “describe list” because they had to think about the meanings and apply the words to themselves. Simply reading over a paragraph of text or listening to a lecture does not guarantee encoding it into memory. What one thinks about while listening or reading is what matters.
  3. Generate cues. Students often request that I provide more examples of the concepts we are discussing. Although instructor-provided examples and explanations are important, I teach my students that it is more important that they come up with their own examples and cues. Research by Mäntylä (1986) reveals that participants recalled 36 percent more concepts when using self-generated cues than when using cues developed by someone else.
  4. Create context. Instructors know that students often come to class unprepared. Students argue that they prefer to hear the lecture before reading the chapter. To explain why skimming the chapter before class is important, I read my students an oddly worded passage from a study by Bransford and Johnson (1972). First, I show half of the class a picture that creates context for what they are about to hear. For this half of the group, the strangely worded passage is clear, and they find they are able to recall large portions of it after hearing it just once. The group not shown the picture fails to make sense of what they have heard and have difficulty recalling details. Without looking at material before class to create context, it is difficult for new material to make much sense.
  5. Test frequently. This is the easiest strategy and can have the most impact on students. Contrary to expectation, Roediger and Karpicke (2006) found that seeing a passage only once and then forcing yourself to recall it from memory leads to better retention than repeatedly reading the passage. Incorporate brief tests or quizzes into your course, and encourage your students to self-test as they study. Reading a passage and then stopping to ask yourself what you just read is going to be more effective than reading it twice.

Students may have heard much of this advice before. However, taking the time to put students through these demonstrations will allow them to experience how these small adjustments can influence their recall. They will then see the value of changing the way they study.

References:

Bransford, J.D. & Johnson, M.K. (1972). Contextual prerequisites for understanding: Some investigations of comprehension and recall. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 11, 717-726.

Craik, F.I.M. & Tulving, E. (1975). Depth of processing and retention of words in episodic memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 104, 268-294.

Mäntylä, T. (1986). Optimizing cue effectiveness: Recall of 500 and 600 incidentally learned words. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 12, 66–71.

Nickerson, R. & Adams, M. (1979). Long-term memory for a common object. Cognitive Psychology, 11, 287-307.

Roediger, H.L. & Karpicke, J.D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological Science, 17, 249-255.

Dr. Debora S. Herold is a senior lecturer in the Psychology Department at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. She presents at regional and national conferences on the scholarship of teaching and learning. Her session, Teaching Them How to Learn, was one of the top-rated sessions at the 2016 Teaching Professor Conference.

This article originally appeared on Faculty Focus in 2016. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

Surprising ways to retain sharp memory using brain games that strengthen mental functioning

How to improve memory and recall what you've learned fast

As we grow older, we all start to notice some changes in our ability to remember things.

Maybe you’ve gone into the kitchen and can’t remember why or can’t recall a familiar name during a conversation. You may even miss an appointment because it slipped your mind. Memory lapses can occur at any age, but we tend to get more upset by them as we get older because we fear they’re a sign of dementia, or loss of intellectual function. The fact is, significant memory loss in older people isn’t a normal part of aging—but is due to organic disorders, brain injury, or neurological illness, with Alzheimer’s being among the most feared.

Most of the fleeting memory problems that we experience with age reflect normal changes in the structure and function of the brain. These changes can slow certain cognitive processes, making it a bit harder to learn new things quickly or screen out distractions that can interfere with memory and learning. Granted, these changes can be frustrating and may seem far from benign when we need to learn new skills or juggle myriad responsibilities. Thanks to decades of research, there are various strategies we can use to protect and sharpen our minds. Here are seven you might try.

1. Keep learning

A higher level of education is associated with better mental functioning in old age. Experts think that advanced education may help keep memory strong by getting a person into the habit of being mentally active. Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Many people have jobs that keep them mentally active but pursuing a hobby or learning a new skill can function the same way. Read; join a book group; play chess or bridge; write your life story; do crossword or jigsaw puzzles; take a class; pursue music or art; design a new garden layout. At work, propose or volunteer for a project that involves a skill you don’t usually use. Building and preserving brain connections is an ongoing process, so make lifelong learning a priority.

2. Use all your senses

The more senses you use in learning something, the more of your brain will be involved in retaining the memory. In one study, adults were shown a series of emotionally neutral images, each presented along with a smell. They were not asked to remember what they saw. Later, they were shown a set of images, this time without odors, and asked to indicate which they’d seen before. They had excellent recall for all odor-paired pictures, and especially for those associated with pleasant smells. Brain imaging indicated that the piriform cortex, the main odor-processing region of the brain, became active when people saw objects originally paired with odors, even though the smells were no longer present and the subjects hadn’t tried to remember them. So, challenge all your senses as you venture into the unfamiliar. For example, try to guess the ingredients as you smell and taste a new restaurant dish. Give sculpting or ceramics a try, noticing the feel and smell of the materials you’re using.

3. Believe in yourself

Myths about aging can contribute to a failing memory. Middle-aged and older learners do worse on memory tasks when they’re exposed to negative stereotypes about aging and memory, and better when the messages are positive about memory preservation into old age. People who believe that they are not in control of their memory function are less likely to work at maintaining or improving their memory skills and therefore are more likely to experience cognitive decline. If you believe you can improve and you translate that belief into practice, you have a better chance of keeping your mind sharp.

4. Economize your brain use

If you don’t need to use mental energy remembering where you laid your keys or the time of your granddaughter’s birthday party, you’ll be better able to concentrate on learning and remembering new and important things. Take advantage of calendars and planners, maps, shopping lists, file folders, and address books to keep routine information accessible. Designate a place at home for your glasses, purse, keys, and other items you use often. Remove clutter from your office or home to minimize distractions, so you can focus on new information that you want to remember.

5. Repeat what you want to know

When you want to remember something you’ve just heard, read, or thought about, repeat it out loud or write it down. That way, you reinforce the memory or connection. For example, if you’ve just been told someone’s name, use it when you speak with him or her: “So, John, where did you meet Camille?” If you place one of your belongings somewhere other than its usual spot, tell yourself out loud what you’ve done. And don’t hesitate to ask for information to be repeated.

6. Space it out

Repetition is most potent as a learning tool when it’s properly timed. It’s best not to repeat something many times in a short period, as if you were cramming for an exam. Instead, re-study the essentials after increasingly longer periods of time — once an hour, then every few hours, then every day. Spacing out periods of study is particularly valuable when you are trying to master complicated information, such as the details of a new work assignment. Research shows that spaced rehearsal improves recall not only in healthy people but also in those with certain physically based cognitive problems, such as those associated with multiple sclerosis.

7. Make a mnemonic

This is a creative way to remember lists. Mnemonic devices can take the form of acronyms (such as RICE to remember first-aid advice for injured limbs: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) or sentences (such as the classic “Every good boy does fine” to remember the musical notes E, G, B, D, and F on the lines of the treble clef).

Image: ©Doble-d | GettyImages

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