No matter if you are in the classroom, the storeroom or the boardroom, there’s always a benefit from improving your memory.  Quicker and deeper recall of people, places, events and information can help improve your life in many ways. On the flip side, a decline in memory skills can make life more challenging.

We’ve put together a list of strategies that have been validated by scientific studies in the past few years.  We’ve organized them roughly in order of ease-of-use – those near the top don’t require much effort to try out versus the ones near the bottom.

In general, these easier-to-try methods are backed by one study only – where “harder” ones have a body of work supporting their evidence. This might turn off some purists from giving them a shot, saying they haven’t really been validated.

I generally feel that when the brain is involved, put the placebo effect to good use.  If something isn’t harmful, isn’t tough to implement, and has some evidence of working – why not give it a try?  After all, we are trying to get to an end goal of remembering information better.   All of these protocols have helped some other people learn, so why shouldn’t it help you as well?

Tips To Improve Memory
  • Concentrate on breathing
  • Read out-loud to yourself
  • Imagine action/consequence relationship
  • Add an aroma to your study room
  • Use sound to enhance sleep
  • Exercise
  • Keep up your relationships

Memorize While Breathing In

This trick is an easy one to put into practice.  We all breathe, though most of us don’t give it any thought.  But if you can remember to consciously breathe in deeply while trying to memorize an image or fact, you should have better luck recalling the info.

A study conducted by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found that breathing in through while trying to remember an image helps with recall.  For good measure, breathe in through your nose rather than your mouth. 

“One of the major findings in this study is that there is a dramatic difference in brain activity in the amygdala and hippocampus during inhalation compared with exhalation. When you breathe in, we discovered you are stimulating neurons in the olfactory cortex, amygdala and hippocampus, all across the limbic system.”Christina Zelani, assistant professor of nuerology, Northwestern University

Read Out-loud To Yourself

I’ve used this one in the past while studying for my CFA exams because it seemed to work.  The University of Waterloo released a study in October 2017 that came to the same conclusion.

The study looked at four different ways to learn written information.   Participants were able to recall information (in best-to-worst order):

  • By reading the information out-loud
  • By listening to a recording of oneself reading
  • By listening to someone else read
  • By reading silently

The theory is, the dual action of speaking and hearing oneself helps cement the information into long-term memory in a more efficient matter.  You might be able to help the student in your life learn information faster if you require them to record for you their reading of the passage – this will force the dual action.

Imagine An Action/Consequence Relationship parking lot

Have you ever had trouble remembering the relationship between two objects?  How about trying to remember where you parked your car at the mall, or which of the two meetings you have lined up this afternoon is first?  These are all examples of relational memory.  Our next tip is focused on improving this skill.

Researchers from the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto discovered that imagining an action/consequence relationship between the objects will help you remember it better.  What does that mean?  You need to phrase the relationship in your brain as object A doing something to object B, which leads to object A being true/better/etc.

Here’s an example: you want to remember that you parked on Level 3, Row C at the airport.  Picture in your head the letters “3C” growing to dominate the entire parking lot until they come to rest over your car.  You might be better picturing the letter monster stomping on, picking up, or otherwise damaging your car – the more outrageous  action being done the better.

IF you find yourself forgetting where you put items or having trouble putting names with faces, you owe it to yourself to try this mind hack.

 

Add Some Rosemary Aroma To Your Room

rosemary-working-memory-enhancement

This study was presented to the British Psychological Society in May 2017 and focused on children.  (A previous study found the same results in adults. )  40 children aged 10 -11 were randomly separated into two groups – either a room diffused with rosemary oil for 10 mins, or one without the scent.  Children who took the mental task tests in the scented room received “significantly higher scores”  than those in the non-scented room.  The difference in working memory was highest in the word recall test.

Frankly, I don’t know why this would work – and I’ve never tried it. I probably will though since it’s cheap, easy,and shouldn’t cause any harm to try.

For their part, the researchers have a few theories on how it works to enhance memory.

Use Sound Enhancers In Sleep

It is clear that sleep plays a key role in memory formation.  Research is being done to understand exactly what part and to what degree sleep can be “enhanced” to help with memory formation.

Dr. Giovanni Santostasi of the Northwestern University is one of the authors of a paper in Frontier in Human Neuroscience detailing how sound can be used to help enhance memory in older adults.  This builds upon an early paper covering an experiment with younger adults. In short, overnight word recall was significantly greater with a specific type of acoustic stimulation during slow-sleep oscillations.

Dr. Santostasi has helped Brain.fm develop their sleep program.  Brain.fm uses AI-enhanced music to help enhance certain brain states.  I happen to love using it for enhancing my focus, and have tried the sleep mode a few times when I need a particularly good night’s sleep. I use the headphones on the left – once adjusted they work pretty well at keeping the speakers over your ears during the night.  After reading the above paper and digging into the mechanics of what Brain.fm does, it appears the sleep mode includes the wavelengths used in the research paper.

Bottom line: Sleep mode through Brain.fm should help enhance your memory.  Give it a try!

Exercise!

Look, this isn’t new.  We know moderate exercise is good for your health in general.  You don’t need grants and research staffs to back this up.

But there are so many studies that tie exercise to increasing memory ability, I’m going to put on my Dad hat and remind you again.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s endurance or resistance – getting up, moving and working your body helps with memory.

There are theories on why this is so.  Most researchers point to increased blood flow being the primary reason for the memory effect.  This area is the focus of massive research, so another theory may prove to be more fruitful in the future.  No matter what the cause – if you are having trouble with your memory get up and get moving on a regular basis.  You’ll see improvement.

Keep Up Your Friendships

We’ve discovered that “super-agers” – people in their 80’s with the mental skills of 60 year-olds – tend to have more positive, warm, and close relationships that average 80 year old people.   I wonder if this is more a case of correlation vs causation – is it their close relationships that cause the better mental abilities, or the better mental abilities cause closer relationships?

You don’t have the be the life of the party, but this study supports the theory that maintaining strong social networks seems to be linked to slower cognitive declineEmily Rogalski, associate professor at Northwestern University

Regardless, people of every age should strive to have closer relationships.  Generally, that means being a better person, putting others ahead of yourself – all the tough things that have been shown to lead to a higher perceived quality of life over the long term.  (You can start today by paying attention when someone else is talking, rather than just waiting for your turn.  Or try putting the phone down and looking at your friend as they talk to you.)

Not only will your quality of life improve – you’ll likely be able to remember it longer and stronger as well.  That sounds like a double win in my book.

Give these tips a try, and let me know in the comments how they work for you.  If you have any other easy memory hacks, please post them as well.

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