Added On: Wednesday, October 31, 2007

5 Simple Memory Tricks

Here are a few really simple tricks for remembering things that I've found useful. None of them are going to revolutionize your life, but I think you’ll see they come in handy.

Remember the number of elements in a list
If you’re trying to remember a list, or a long number, this technique can be a big help. As well as memorizing the list itself, remember the number of elements in it.

I use this one to make sure I don’t forget things when I leave the house in the morning. I have a list of core items that I always take with me whenever I leave: my wallet, my keys, my mobile phone, my building pass, and my watch. Just before I step out the door, I count my core-possessions. If there’s not five of them, I know I’m missing something.

Another example may be memorizing a shopping list. You may have to buy bread, ham, cheese, milk, eggs, apples, and laundry liquid. Just before you reach the checkout, count the items. If there’s not seven of them, then something's been forgotten. Usually, once I realize there's one or two more items I need, it's pretty easy to remember what they are.

Of course, these are trivial examples, and you can use this technique for remembering more important things.

Connect it to an emotional experience
My mind seems to remember something better if there’s some kind of emotional connection to it. I can still remember breaking my nose playing cricket and falling off my bike when I was young, but less emotional experiences from that period escape me.

You can use this to help you memorize things. Let’s say you put your jacket on the back of a chair at a party. If you allow yourself to worry a little that you’re going to forget it, you’ll have attached remembering it the emotional experience of anxiety.

When you’re studying for an exam, allow yourself to stress a little about forgetting the core facts while reading over them. The emotional connection will cause your brain to realize that these are important facts to be stored away.

There was an interesting experiment done where a pianist took a freezing cold shower immediately after practicing a piece. He found that it helped him to memorize the notes.

Of course, this isn’t something you can use constantly. It’s unusual emotional experiences that your mind remembers, so if you’re in a constant state of stress, your brain isn’t going to see a new fact that worries you as particularly remarkable.

Repeat the thing to be remembered a few times out loud
Whatever it is you want to commit to memory, try repeating it a few times out loud. I find this works really well for storing something away.

Strip whatever the thing to be remembered is down to its core. Don’t try and remember anything that isn’t strictly necessary. So instead of "the French word for car is voiture" just say "car - voiture".

Then just repeat it a few times over and over out loud. Wait until later in the day and try to remember it. If you can't, look it up again and repeat from the beginning.

Writing the thing down and then reading over it out loud is good variation on this one.

Sleep on it
Sleep is a mysterious process, which scientists are still struggling to fully understand. One function that does seem to be undertaken while sleeping and dreaming is that information gathered during the day is processed and stored away.

There have been numerous studies done that have found getting some sleep between being exposed to a fact, and having to remember it, helps in recall. In real-life, I’ve found this also helps me.

Get a good night’s sleep in between studying for an exam and sitting it, and you’ll likely remember better. Even better, I’ve found, is taking a short nap immediately after reading something. Somehow it seems to stick better that way.

Always be asking “What have I forgotten?”
Struggling to remember something that’s locked in our mind is one problem, but another is forgetting that there was something we had to remember. This is a common trouble with people who lose things or neglect to do things they were supposed to.

Get in the habit of asking yourself - “What have I forgotten?” - as often as possible. Especially do it when you’re reaching some transition point in a process.

For example, if you’re just making the final touches of a particular project, ask yourself what you’ve forgotten. You’ll probably find that there’s something.

So there they are, my five simple memory tricks. None are Earth-shattering, but all are useful.

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