Our memories are often said to be all that we truly have, and wise elders often remind us to create more of them. It's good advice, but increasingly difficult in a world that actively encourages us to forget what just happened and pay attention to what's happening now, right now!!!
It makes optimizing your mind difficult, to say the least. You can't be efficient if you can't remember things rapidly, time spent recovering information is time lost. The good news is that the more distractions there are from remembering out lives, the more studies come out showing us how we can recover some of that lost ability to recall.
Here are five of our favourite ways to increase your memory that aren't supplements and NeuroGum.
Chunking sounds gross, right? It's not, don't worry.
Science claims that we can remember roughly 4-7 bits of information in the short term, and there isn't really a way to effectively increase that.
There is a way to get around it, though. Chunking basically refers to taking larger bits of information, and putting them into "chunks" of compressed information. We kind of do this with phone numbers.
If my number is 253-555-9734, then that's more than seven bits of information. But the way most people already remember numbers is chunking. I don't remember ten consecutive numbers. I remember three chunks. I remember 253, and separately I remember 555, and then I remember 9734.
Then, if I were remembering two or three phone numbers, I could further chunk this number down to 2-5-9. Then I know the number is 2__-5__-9___, and it's easier to remember to fill in those blanks with the earlier chunks I already remembered.
Your brain naturally seeks these kinds of little groups and patterns, and your brain is incredibly weak when it comes to just a huge string of characters (why do you think we place commas into high numerical values or dashes into phone numbers?). Use this to your advantage by making bigger numbers less overwhelming.
Maybe you don't need to remember a bunch of facts or numbers. I don't really either. That's why this one is one of my favourites.
You know that feeling when a song comes on and you remember a moment from the last time it played, or a time in your youth, with crystal clarity? It's a cool mental trick that most people are kind of aware of, but rarely put to use.
Want to know how I will remember my trip to Hawaii for the rest of my life? I listened to a new two-disc album during that entire trip, over and over and over, while driving and walking around this beautiful paradise. Now whenever I want to remember that trip with my family, I put that album on and close my eyes and I'm there.
Tie important family trips, or defining moments to pieces of music by picking a fitting album and playing it during that experience. Then every few months, give that album a listen again and visualise those memories. You'll continue to strengthen that bond, and you can remember the events dramatically better than if you hadn't employed this technique.
Soon you can put together a playlist of memories from your life, which is a cool and surreal experience.
3. Video Games
Oh what, is it break time? Nope, turns out video games increase grey matter. Now, it's not quite that simple. Apparently there is a difference between 3D games and 2D games, in that 3D games drastically increase the spatial reasoning needed from your brain and are thus the most beneficial games. Sorry, Candy Crush lovers.
It makes sense. An active, adventurous lifestyle is also associated with this kind of mental increase. The rapidly changing environments, layers of problem-solving, and new characters are all replicated in a virtual space, which seems to be why we also see these benefits from 3D gaming. And for those of us that can't afford to travel the world to increase our memory, gaming is an affordable and available alternative.
If you're not a gamer and want to start somewhere, Minecraft is available on your computer, phone, and nearly all the gaming consoles. At first, you'll wonder why anyone likes it, and then you'll understand. It's like carrying a zen garden in your pocket, or entering a palace of your own creation on a big screen. It's a 3D game that can stimulate your mind or bring you peace, and I think it's a perfect starting point for those looking for the benefits of gaming without all the murder and knee-jerk reactions.
Your body is a unit, and as such, when you work out you benefit many other systems that don't necessarily seem obviously tied to your musculature. Harvard Health found in 2014 that in addition to its benefits in reducing inflammation and insulin resistance exercise releases growth factors. These are "chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells."
The study was conducted with participants that walked briskly for an hour twice a week. That's only two hours a week to get significant improvements to your mental function and memory!
In addition, you'll see better memory retention from the improved sleep and reduced stress, so even though it doesn't feel like you're strengthening your brain, you are doing plenty of great things for it.
5. Visualization and Focus
To remember the everyday crap you forget, like what you went into the kitchen to get, or where you put your keys, you need to do one of two things.
Focus when you put down something you frequently lose. Don't just set down your keys, look at them as you do it, focusing on what is next to them and the surface they are on top of. This little moment of attentiveness should be enough extra paste to stick the memory in your mind until you next need your keys.
Visualize the things you think you might forget to do on the way. Before you go to the kitchen, picture the object you're going to retrieve before you head to that room or while you're on the way. Then even if you mentally switch focus to thinking about your dinner plans that evening, you'll still have that visual mental imprint lingering long enough that you'll get to the kitchen and grab what you need without forgetting.
These simple tricks added up can mean huge benefits to how you feel every day while processing the world around you. When you