11 Secrets to Memorize Things Quicker Than Others
6 Ways To Remember Anything
You are just about to walk out the door for work—5 minutes early and you remembered to bring your lunch. But then…where in the heck did you put your keys? A quick check reveals they're not in your pockets or your bag. Your 5-minute head start evaporates as you search the kitchen, your bedroom, and, in a moment of desperation, the fridge. Could you have left them in the car yesterday? Nope, they're not there. Car keys don't just disappear into thin air, do they?
Robert Madigan, a retired psychology professor at the University of Alaska in Anchorage, has spent his career studying memory and understands the where-did-I-leave-my-keys dilemma all too well. In the course of his 4-decade career, Madigan has learned not just how we can remember things better, but also many common false beliefs about memory.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of memory, Madigan explains in his forthcoming book —, is that our memory skills are fixed. Lots of people say that they're just not good at names or dates or directions. But while some people may be naturally better at these things than others, that doesn't mean that you can't improve your skills.
"It's like exercise," he says. "If you want your memory to be stronger, you need to work on it." Here, 6 ways to start:
1. Take breaks
Whether you're learning the dates of the reigns of European monarchs or learning how to knit, taking a break between sessions is key, says Washington University psychologist Mark McDaniel and co-author of the bookMake It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. People don't always like to do this, McDaniel explains, because it seems much more difficult than when we try to cram all of the information into our brains in one go. And that's precisely the point, he says. "It feels less fluent, and now you have to think about it. That work is what will ultimately help you remember it," McDaniel says.
MORE:4 Simple Ways To Help Keep Alzheimer's Out Of Your Future
2. Make associations
A seemingly random string of numbers that makes up your partner's new cell number feels impossible to memorize (especially compared to how easy it would be to just save it in your phone). The trick, McDaniel explains, is to associate with things that do have meaning. Remembering an area code is relatively straightforward if you've seen it before. In the remaining seven digits, look for things like birthdays, anniversaries, other meaningful numbers, and even similarities to other phone numbers you've previously learned. This can cut down on the numbers you actually have to memorize cold.
To remember names, Madigan recommends a simple acrostic called Friendly Llamas See People. When you meet someone new, he says, try the following:
- Find a feature.Is the new person's name Brad? Imagine them standing next to Brad Pitt. If their last name is Farmer, imagine the person wearing overalls and driving a tractor.
- Listen to his name.When you first hear the name, clear your head and really listen.
- Say it back.Repeat the name, as in "Hi Brad, nice to meet you." (Don't tell him it would be nicer to be meeting Brad Pitt).
- Practice his name.In your conversation, use his name throughout. Instead of saying "So, tell me about your job," say "So, Brad, what do you do for a living?"
Adding visual detail can not only help remember a person's name, it can also help you remember long lists of words. Expert memorizers use a technique called a Memory Palace where they mentally store a word in a different area of their house. To recall the list, they simply visualize themselves taking a stroll through their house. It's a tip used by wait staff at high-end restaurants, who don't want to scribble down patron's orders on a pad of paper. You can also use it to remember a grocery list.
MORE: 4 Best Foods For Your Brain
3. Write it down
If building a memory palace to remember a gallon of milk seems like a lot of work, you can always just physically write it on a scrap of paper. The simple act of writing out a list (by hand, not on your phone) is more likely to help us remember what we need than simply hoping we remember the eggs and cake mix when we get to the store. "Physically writing things down, and then reading them as you write, helps elaborate on the information, which gives you more retrieval roots to pull it back out of memory," McDaniel said.
4. Be painstakingly specific
To remember to stop at the grocery store on your way home from work or before picking up the kids at soccer practice, Madigan advises to make your intention as specific as possible. Don't just tell yourself that you're going to stop at the store. Instead, say that you’re going to turn right on Main Street and then turn left into the store parking lot at the second stop sign. Research has shown that, even when we're not thinking of them, these types of prospective memories (remembering to do something in the future) often stay in our subconscious mind and then pop up when they're needed. The system doesn't always work perfectly, however, especially if we have a lot of things on our mind.
"Making sure that the right piece of information pops into your brain at the right time is a phenomenal requirement on the system," Madigan says. So the more detail you can add to the memory, the better, since it gives our minds more ways to trigger the recall of that memory.
MORE:If You Can't Stand On One Leg For 20 Seconds, Here's What It Could Say About Your Brain
5. Play games with yourself
Improving your memory takes work, Madigan says, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun. He recommends making memory a game. Just moved to a new city? See how far you can navigate before relying on your GPS. Ditto for going grocery shopping. Write out your list, tuck it in your pocket, and see how many items you can get. Then, before leaving, double check to make sure you grabbed everything you need.
6. Outsource smartly
Benjamin Storm, a psychologist at the University of California Santa Cruz, says that, while working your memory is good, we shouldn't be afraid to outsource some things to technology. That is, after all, part of what it's there for.
MORE: This Is Your Brain On Sugar
"We don't need to memorize everything—we can offload some of this onto technology. Instead, we can use some of that time to synthesize the information we've learned," Storm says. As for how to stop losing your keys, experts have two different answers. Some, such as Storm, recommend always putting them in the same location. That way, you never have to look for them.
Others, like Madigan, advise you to say out loud where you are dropping them as you do it. That way, when you go to look for them, your memory will be much richer. Madigan also uses this trick to remember where he puts his glasses.
To Madigan, McDaniel, and Storm, the secret to memory is this: There is no secret. It's a matter of practice. Use it or lose more than just the keys.
Video: This Guy Can Teach You How to Memorize Anything
Review: The 75 Secura air fryer makes delicious chicken and french fries
How to Spread Pizza Dough
So, What Do You Really Want
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt release joint statement on their divorce
What Yoga Can and Cant Do for You
13 Dinner Strategies for Picky Eaters
How to Meet a Porn Star in Your Area
Sue Perkins Thanks Fans For Support After Sharing Sad News
Illness Can Be An Opportunity for Optimism...If You Let It
How to Choose Foods That Help Maintain Your Beauty
How to Plane a Door