Improving your memory power for all kinds of information is easy, if you understand how information actually becomes a memory.
THE FIRST CRUCIAL STEP IS ATTENTION
Whether you want to memorize the important parts of a book, TV documentary or lecture, remember a person’s name, a password, a shopping list, or the key points of a presentation you want to give, you always have to make some information entering your eyes, ears, or nose a memory. To do this, you have to pay attention to the information for long enough so that it actually has the chance of becoming a memory.
Have you ever forgotten where you put your key, parked your car, or whether you switched off the stove after frying your bacon? If you are like most people, you haven’t really forgotten this information, you just didn’t pay attention while putting down your key or operating that switch. You did it on autopilot, so you never committed it to memory in the first place.
The solution for this kind of “forgetting” is easy: Make a conscious effort to pay attention whenever it is important that you do remember your action. For example, while you are switching off your stove, look at the stove and report to yourself: I am switching off the stove.
Beyond paying attention, there are two more essential steps to improving your memory:
- You need to convert the information into a form that can easily be “stored” in long term memory. This is conversion is also called encoding.
- You need to practice recalling the information from your memory from time to time.
These two steps make all the difference between a person with a fantastic memory and a person who isn’t quite sure if he is going to remember when it matters.
STEP 2, ENCODING
I am walking down the street and notice a vendor selling pop corn. This reminds me how I went to the movies with mom and dad when I was a child. In other words: The look, smell, and taste of pop corn triggers my child hood memory of going to the movies.
What can we learn from this example? We always remember information in connection with other information. To create a strong memory then, you have to create powerful connections (also called associations) between the new information you want to memorize and information you already have in your long-term memory. If you can do that, the memory is going to stay for a long time. Here are two powerful ways to create these associations:
- Making new information meaningful
How can you visualize? What you want to do is create an image in your mind that includes the new information, and a cue which later reminds you of that new information. Let’s say you are introduced to a person named Ray. You look at him and notice that he has big a red nose. Now comes the important point: Imagine Ray being stung by a sting ray right into his nose, so that it swells and becomes red. Close your eyes and try to see that image.
In a month or so you see the person again. You notice his big red nose, and say to yourself: Ah, his nose is red because he has been stung by a sting ray. That’s Ray. 🙂
Note, for visualizations to work, it is enough to make an effort; you don’t really need to see a crisp clear image.
How can you make information meaningful to create powerful associations? What you want to do is reflect on the new information by asking questions. Let me give you an example: Take my friend Ben’s phone number 2354913. Ask yourself, what does it mean?
Well, to me 235 is the number of a bus line I used to take to work, 49 could be the San Francisco 49ers (American Football team), and 13 is Friday the 13th.
My friend Ben is taking the 235 bus to see the 49ers on Friday the 13th.
What did I do here? I made the number meaningful, by adding details to the number and thus connected the number to information I already know. This makes the number much more memorable to me.
HERE THEN IS STEP 3, PRACTICE RECALLING THE INFORMATION
What remains after you have memorized new information by creating a strong association is further strengthening this association by recalling it.
After having memorized Ben’s number, ask yourself: What is Ben’s number? He is taking the 235 bus to see the 49ers on Friday the 13th. His number is 2354913.
Practicing recall trains the brain like going to the gym exercises muscles. In the gym you strengthen your muscles, while in the brain you strengthen the connections between different brains cells, and thus the connections between pieces of information. It is like telling your brain, this is important!
Let’s recap: To improve your memory power, follow the acronym PAR: Pay attention, create a strong Association, and practice Recalling the information.
Happy Memories to You 😉