Want to improve your memory? Try these expert-backed tips

Written by Ellen Scott

Got a rubbish memory? You don’t just have to put up with it – there are things you can do to boost your remembering skills. 

You’re locked out of your flat for the third time this month when you get a message from a pal. “Looking forward to seeing you tonight! We’re getting there for 7, right?” You aren’t planning to get there for 7, because you completely forgot you were meant to be meeting up. In fact, you’ve double booked yourself. Again. 

Those of us with rubbish memories will know this story all too well. The same goes for the daily experience of walking into a room to grab something, then immediately forgetting what you needed. Or just drifting off to sleep when you suddenly sit bolt upright and realise you didn’t do that thing that had a deadline of 9am that day. 

It’s incredibly annoying for you and everyone in your life. So how can you start to fix the issue? The good news is that there are things you can do to improve your memory powers over time. Chris Griffiths, co-author of The Creative Thinking Handbook, a keynote speaker and founder of productivity and mind-mapping app Ayoa, shares his top brain-boosting tricks below.

Don’t rely on Google

We know the temptation. You can’t quite grasp that information from the back of your mind, so you hit Google or ask Alexa. But if you really care about improving your memory, this is a habit you need to break. 

“These days we don’t stretch our memory muscles like we once did,” Griffiths tells Stylist. “Every time you can’t quite remember the name of an actor, film or book title, the answer lies just a Google search away. 

“No matter how agonising it may seem, it’s best to at least attempt to recall a fact or name before you turn to Google – even if you get the answer wrong.

“Studies have shown that we recall information much better when we attempt to give an answer (even if we don’t know what the answer is) than we do through conventional techniques such as study. So next time you’re stuck, try having a stab in the dark before you check the answer.”

Try going somewhere without that navigation app

Do you really need to check Google Maps for the way to the shop you’ve been to twice before? Test yourself a little and try to remember a route. If you have time and you’re going somewhere new, see if you can look up the steps beforehand and remember them as you go, rather than having a voice in your ear telling you to turn left or right. 

Make time for daydreaming

Griffiths says: “Ever get the feeling you’re forgetting something? Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you just can’t quite remember that important task you were supposed to do. You reach into the furthest corners of your brain and still it evades you. That is, until you’re doing something else entirely and it pops into your head unprompted. 

“This is the power of daydreaming. A study by the University of Wisconsin and the Max Planck Institute found that mind wandering actually improves our working memory.

“Putting some time aside to daydream regularly actually allows your brain to hone your ideas and better organise your thoughts, enhancing your memory. Done with regularity, this will increase your ability to recall things in the moment when you really need them.”

Try mnemonics

“It is sometimes those little-bitty things which are hardest to remember,” Griffiths notes. “From names to mobile numbers, a mnemonic device can help you store away information by emphasising data in a new way, which makes it easier to recall. There are actually a whole host of mnemonic devices including spelling, rhyming, alliteration, visuals and much more. But in every case the technique is broadly the same.

“Pick a mnemonic device – such as singing – and then transmute that information into your chosen mnemonic form in order to help you remember it. The alphabet song is probably the most famous example of this. You can use this in lots of ways. Some people use alliteration mnemonics to help with name recall. For example, to remember the name of someone called Tom you might remember that he was tall (‘Tall Tom’).

“These mnemonic tricks can be used throughout daily life to make remembering the little things that bit easier.”

Get chunking

“The chunking method is a longstanding memory technique, and one that you’ve probably used intuitively at some point or other,” Griffiths tells us. “The trick is to use it with purpose to help you break down information and commit it to memory. 

“Our short-term memory can only hold a few units of information at a time. That’s why some consider ‘chunking’ bits of information together a hack as it allows you to fit more information into each available unit. 

“To do this, try forming whatever it is you need to remember into different groups (for example with a shopping list, you might separate items into areas such as ‘veg’ ‘meat’, ‘grains’ and ‘frozen’). Practice doing this on a series of items, such as birthdays. Look for meaningful connections which will enable you to separate the dates into different groups and then focus on remembering each group. Bringing in visual associations can make this technique even stronger.”

Image: Getty

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