How to Improve Your Memory


Coffee maker, cuddly toy, fondue set, dinner service… Could you take on the Generation Game conveyor belt, or would you flounder in forgetfulness?  Does your work require you to keep track of an endless stream of new acquaintances, or to have facts and figures on the tip of your tongue?  If your memory could do with sharpening up, try these simple tricks to boost your brain power and increase your productivity.


Words by TN Transcriber Liz


Memory Trick One


I love the story behind this trick, (go and check it out here).  In order to recall your memory item, you need to memorise a location in which to store a series of memories.  This could be a palace, or other building, or perhaps a familiar route.  There should be plenty of defined places to which you can attach the items you want to remember.  Your brain is more likely to remember things if you add a visual element, and make the memory unusual, weird, or funny.  If I need to remember a list of names, then I attach each name to a location in my mind palace.


Sherlock uses a mnemonic device straight out of ancient Greece—the mind palace.
Sherlock uses a mnemonic device straight out of ancient Greece—the mind palace.


To lean on the names of the wonderful Take Note staff, Cat might be a grinning Cheshire cat sitting atop the mantelpiece in my living room, Grace might be sitting, head bent, saying grace at the dining table.  Your mind follows a consistent route around the ‘palace’, whenever you memorise something.  Once established, it’s a simple matter of matching items and locations to one another.


Cheshire cat


Learning to rely on your brain again


When teaching, I used to pride myself on learning every student’s name by the end of the first week of term, no mean feat when you teach over 100 children.  Our reliance on high-tech productivity tools means the act of remembering has fallen out of fashion, but for learning names, I’ve yet to find a good substitute for the human brain.


How to improve your memory


Memory Trick Two


Training yourself to remember names is easy, but you must be intentional about it.  We’ve all been in situations where, failing to remember a name on the first meeting, it becomes awkward and embarrassing to admit to not knowing it.  Try learning the name the first time you hear it.  Make a point of repeating the person’s name three times within your first conversation.  “Hi Sheena, nice to meet you,” followed by, “Sheena, I saw your cycle helmet, how long does it take you to ride in?’ and then, maybe, ‘Can I get you a coffee Sheena?’  Squeeze those three repetitions in as quickly as possible, without making the conversation seem too awkward.


Cartoon aeroplane


Memory Trick Three


It helps to use weird or ridiculous visual associations to cement the name in your memory.  Sheena might be visualised in a cartoon aeroplane, flying around the house, Mr Sheen-style, dusting and polishing.  Including tricks like this when meeting people, can help you commit information to long-term memory quickly, freeing your brain up and improving your productivity.


Brains are hardwired for patterns


Memory Trick Four


In general, short-term memory can only store between four and seven items at any one time.  This makes memorising of longer lists challenging.  The solution is to make your list of many items shorter by grouping items together.  If your shopping list contains milk, eggs, lemons, toffees, sausages, nectarines, oranges and watermelon, try organising it into an acronym.  Now you can remember to MELT SNOW, a two-word memory challenge rather than the eight words of the shopping list.  Our brains are hardwired to look for patterns and groupings everywhere.  Take advantage of that natural tendency, and use it to help hone your memory skills.


Of course, none of these tricks work unless you use them.
Make it your mission to try one memory-boosting tactic, and see what effect it has on your productivity, work and social life.