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Be A Memory Whiz

You race up the stairs to get something from your bedroom and you stop and think, "Why am here?" You drive off with your shoes on top of your car. You finish reading an article and one minute later can't recall what it was about. Think you have lost your mind? Fret not for you haven't. Although most people think they are losing their memory as they get older, much of forgetfulness actually has to do with having a lot on our minds, dealing with new information and being distracted.

How The Brain Works

The brain stores information in short-term and long-term memory banks. The limit on short-term memory tends to be about seven items for 30 seconds. You use short-term memory when you look at a phone number, walk to the telephone and dial it. Long-term memory can store information for a lifetime.

The key is to get past the 30-second limit and store information in your long-term memory. When you do something consciously to try to remember something, you are encoding the information in your long-term memory. Memory is most effective when attached to some positive emotion such as humor, surprise and even rudeness.

There Are Basically Three Categories Of Memory That We Use

  • Episodic incidents, e.g. stories and events
  • Semantic names, e.g. titles and words
  • Procedural skills, e.g. how to do something

Psychologists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston have developed a popular memory charge-up programme. The programme suggests 10 simple methods to improve your memory.

10 Simple Methods To Improve Your Memory

Speak Out Loud To Yourself To Remember Things

Say: "I turned off the oven." When you learn a new name, repeat it, "Nice to meet you, Ann" or "I love your dress, Rachel."

Make A Memory Notebook

Writing things down reinforces memory. Always carry a little notepad so you can write down your appointments or where you parked your car. Or you can use a calendar that helps you plan the details of your life. Fill it with your to-do lists for the day, week and month.

Make sure you look at your notebook several times a day. Keep your notes in a logical and consistent location, and minimise the number of locations where you keep it. Alternatively, you can buy a whole bunch of little post-it signs and plant them around your house, office and car.

Be Mindful Of The Body-Mind Connection

If you're not getting enough sleep, not eating correctly, or if you're suffering from depression or anxiety these things can affect your memory. Also check to see if any medications you are taking affect your memory.

Repeat Pattern

One of the most effective things you can do is to get into the habit of putting things away in the exact same place every time. Put your keys by the front door, your wallet in the same spot, medicines in the exact same location in your cabinet. When you use something, put it back right away!

Exercise Your Mind

Read, do crossword puzzles, play chess, take classes, learn a new language or skill. All these behaviors increase brain activity and sharpen your memory. 

Slow Down When Absorbing New Information

Age does slightly affect our ability to store and recall new information. When you are talking to your doctor, for example, ask him or her to slow down so you can get the information correctly. Better still, write it down.

Minimise Distractions

If possible, limit or reduce noise, distractions and interruptions-they interfere with your ability to focus. Try not to do too many tasks at one time. If you have a big project, break it down into smaller workable pieces so your memory will work with you and not against you. Distractions are a major factor in memory lapses.

Chunking (Breaking Thing Down Into Smaller Parts And Categories)

Look at the following numbers for 10 seconds, and then cover it up: 10523651231302928246060 Now try to write down as many of the numbers as possible most people achieve between three and seven; look at the numbers again. Can you see a pattern based on units of time? 10 52 365 12 31 30 29 28 24 60 60. Ten years in a decode, 52 weeks in a year, 365 days in a year, etc. An enormous amount of information can be learnt by breaking it down into smaller  categories. Look for patterns in order to memorise them and try to create categories and headings.

Use Humor

If you are in a classroom and the lecturer injects humor into his teaching throughout the lesson, the students leave the class remembering almost the entire lesson. People tend to remember jokes a lot longer than dry information.

Create Imagery

As soon as you meet someone, creating a mental picture of the person's name makes that person easier to recall. If you have just met Mary, picture her getting married. If you have just learnt that Emily loves flowers, picture Emily sitting in a garden surrounded by flowers. Any technique that helps you store and retrieve information will make your memory stronger-it's like exercising a muscle. If you combine several different strategies, you'll create even stronger links in your brain for each memory.

Why Do We Forget Things

There are two main reasons why psychologists think we "forget" information:

  • We store information in our memory but are unable to remember it when we need to, until a later date. In this case, the information is inaccessible.
  • The human memory simply forgets information, permanently, and the physical traces of the memory disappear. In this case, forgetting when new memories replace the information is unavailable.

How We Forget

This depends on whether the memory is trying to memorise things that are similar, stored in our long-term or short-term bank.

Short-Term Memory

There are three ways in which we can forget information in the short-term bank:


This occurs when we do not "rehearse" information, therefore we don't contemplate it. The physical trace of such memory is thought to fade over time.


It's quite literally a form of terms of time. Still, we can forget old ones.


It's sometimes difficult to remember information if we have been trying to memorise things that are similar, for example, words which sound familiar. Interference can either be proactive (this is when old memories interfere with new ones) or retroactive, when new information distorts old memories.

Long-Term Memory

Long-term memory is supposed to be limitless in its capacity and length in information through decay (as in short-term forgetting) and interference from other memories.


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