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Home > Health & Lifestyle > How to Improve Your Memory

Your brain has to be able to pull information at the drop of a hat, whether it's a fact on hold (such as a telephone number) or a dusty memory that's been sitting in storage for years (the memory of your first kiss). No one likes a library that loses books or shelves them in the wrong place. Yet sometimes we find ourselves with a very poor librarian on our hands, one that doesn't allow us to retrieve memories when we need them. Sometimes it's trivial, like when we tear apart our homes looking for glasses perched innocuously atop our heads, and sometimes these lapses in memories are more embarrassing, such as when we call a colleague "sport" because we simply can't remember his name. Here are the top ways to help improve your memory....


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1) Drink in Moderation

Memory and alcohol have an interesting relationship. Too much drinking handicaps the memory, as anyone who's ever woken after a binge with a fuzzy recollection of the night before can attest. And one component of a DUI test shows how overconsumption of alcohol can immediately affect the brain: Even simple mental tasks like counting backward and reciting the alphabet can become tricky under the influence. Alcohol abuse will have a negative effect on the cells of the brain related to memory. But as long as you're not pregnant and able to maintain control of how much you drink, there's evidence that light to moderate alcohol consumption can improve memory and cognition. Though more research needs to be done, some studies have found that moderate drinkers do better on certain tests of memory and cognition than non-drinkers and heavy drinkers. There may be some long-term effects as well.

drining moderation

2) The Name Game

Let's say you're meeting a person named Katie Lambert, who just happens to be this humble writer's editor. First, you want to repeat the name, but you also want to start looking for identifying features that will help you with the visualization and association. Check out the person's hair, nose, mouth, cheeks and eyes. Katie has chin-length blond hair, so you might take that feature and combine it with her last name, Lambert. Suddenly you're picturing little lambs with blond hair frolicking about. You name one of those lambs Katie to help you with your image, but you also take the "kat" from her first name and imagine little cats running around as well. If you wanted another way to remember "Lambert," you could picture Katie on the "lam" with "Bert" from "Sesame Street." You could also use rhymes or acelebrity she resembles to make the association. If all else fails, you could just focus on how you would describe her later to a police sketch artist if you were to hear that a girl named

name game

3) Get Moving

Obesity is a risk factor for many diseases and conditions that eventually wreak havoc on the brain, including stroke and Alzheimer's disease. Without regular exercise, plaque builds up in the arteries and blood vessels lose the ability to pump blood effectively. While you may know how plaque build up leads to heart attacks, you may not think about the way your brain is gasping for breath as well. The brain depends on energy received through a constant intake of oxygen and nutrients from the bloodstream, and when those nutrients don't arrive, the brain's ability to work is compromised. So to keep the blood moving to the brain, you're going to need to get up from your chair (after you finish reading this article, of course) and get the blood pumping. It doesn't matter what you do -- a brisk walk, a swim and even a dance move or two can all provide a good mental workout. Studies show that the more physically active a person is, the greater his or her cognitive performance.


4) Visualization and Association

You can use visualization to remember an entire list of things if you associate the images together. Say that you need to remember to take the following things to your SAT exam: a No. 2 pencil, a calculator, your ID and a snack for the break. You can create a visualization that links all of the images together in a ridiculous story. Picture your pencil as a snake, curving itself into the number two. That snake just loves calculators, so it winds itself around the calculator, using its hissing tongue to press the buttons. When the snake pushes one of the calculator buttons, the calculator turns into a camera and snaps the snake's picture for an ID photo. All of this calculating and picture-taking has worn the snake out, so it wants a snack of pretzels. Sure, it sounds bizarre, but you can't deny that it also sounds fun.


5) Pay Attention

Sometimes we can't remember things because we never got the information into the memory bank to begin with. Like an absent-minded professor, we all have moments where we put down keys or an important book without noticing. Or we scribble phone numbers or one-word reminders on Post-It notes, thinking that's all the information we'll need later. However, without paying attention to why you need the information and its value to you, that Post-It is useless. Try to stay in the present and really pay attention to the task at hand, whether it's learning new information for a job or meeting new people. Minimize distractions such as music, television or cell phones to focus fully. One way to stay mindful of even the smallest actions is to repeat aloud what you're doing; as you take off your eyeglasses, say aloud "I am putting my glasses on the kitchen counter." While talking to yourself may feel awkward, you'll be grateful to find your glasses easily later.

pay attention

6) Chunking

Say you use this phone number every day but can never remember it: 404-760-4729 (for the record, that's the main line at HowStuffWorks). First, the area code -- do you love golf? Picture hitting agolf ball twice; you might yell, "Fore! Oh! Fore!" Then let's say you have seven children and you were born in 1960. By great coincidence, yoursoccer jersey number was 47, and you'll never be able to forget that theGreat Depression started in 1929. To remember how to call HowStuffWorks, you just need to think, "golf, kids, year born, soccer jersey, Great Depression." Make a fun story out of it: Golfing with the kids in the year I was born while wearing my soccer jersey was more fun than the Great Depression. You'll never forget how to call us again. OK, maybe that's not the handiest way to remember our phone number. The associations made with certain numbers will be different for everyone. What's important is to look for patterns and numbers associated with memorable things for you. Then you c

memory chunking

7) Seek Treatment for Depression

Depression causes an increase of cortisol levels in the bloodstream, which in turns elevates the amount of cortisol in the brain. With the help of brain imaging devices, doctors have been able to see how that increased cortisol diminishes certain brain areas, chief among them the hippocampus. One study showed that people who had been depressed, even if it was years ago, had suffered a 12 to 15 percent loss in the hippocampus. Since the hippocampus is the clearing centre for short-term memory, prolonged depression demolishes the brain's ability to remember anything new. Additionally, depression affects the types of things a person is able to remember. While everyone's brain is selective about which memories make it into long-term storage, people with depression seem only able to retain negative memories. That means there's a neurological reason why a person with depression remains obsessed with the one time a loved one forgot a birthday or anniversary.


8) Practice Makes Perfect

You can look at almost anything as a chance to practice these memory tips. If you're out to eat at a restaurant, randomly assign the people around you a name. Introduce yourself to them in your head and give them identifying features. Enjoy your appetizer, then look back around to see how many names you remember. It can also make the time fly by when you're standing in line at the bank or waiting in a doctor's office. You can do the same things with people in newspapers or magazines. Speaking of newspapers and magazines, you can practice your ability to pay attention by reading an article and then explaining the article to someone else. Do you have all the details down, or do you need to pay better attention when you're reading? After enjoying your favourite television program, see if you can remember the outfits that various characters wore throughout the show. If you can remember the small details, then your memory is getting good exercise.

memory shopping

9) Method of Loci

In using the method of loci, you're essentially piggybacking the information you need to remember on top of information that would be near impossible for you to forget. For example, it would be hard for you to forget a bus or subway route you use every day, or the setup of your own house. If you select between five to seven locations on these routes or in these places, you can use the landmarks to remember a list of errands by using the visualization methods we discussed earlier. For example, let's say that you've selected places you pass daily on your commute to the office. You drive by a large yellow house, a fast foodchicken restaurant and a tire shop. You need to remember to stop by the store to get detergent, bread and orange juice. For each familiar place, visualize an association with an item on the list. You could envision the detergent dripping down the sides of the yellow house, making the yellow even brighter. You picture the chickens eating pieces of bread thrown to them in

method of loki

10) Use Your Environment

There are other things you can manipulate in your environment as well. If you wake up in the middle of the night with a thought you don't want to forget, make an association with something on your nightstand, like an alarm clock or a book. Then place the object on the floor. The next morning, when you trip over the item on your floor, you can bring up the visualization. You can also move furniture slightly if that helps. If you have trouble remembering to take morning medications, place your toaster on its side. When you stand it back up again, you can take your medications, enjoy some toaster waffles and then return the appliance back to its sideways position in preparation for the next morning. Move your telephone from one side of the desk to the other, depending on whether you have phone calls to return.

use your memory
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