by Len Horridge

In a nutshell

1. How can I remember more?

There are two main aspects to the task of improving your memory:

Use it or lose it – if we practise and use the areas of our brain that help us remember better, we will create more synapses (links that form memory networks) in the brain and we will therefore remember better

If you believe you are capable of something, you are far more likely to achieve it, and this applies to memory as much as other capacities, so get rid of negative (and untruthful) beliefs.


2. Before you start

As with many other things in life, you will get better results if you achieve clarity about why you want to remember something, and the ‘why’ is strong enough to motivate you to do it well.

  • You would benefit greatly from setting some goals around the area of improving your memory.
  • Make sure you are motivated to remember, which will help you to focus.
  • Get rid of any negative beliefs that are preventing you from improving your memory.


3. Memory techniques

The key to being able to recall things on demand is to ensure they are well encoded in the first place, so most memory techniques focus on the encoding part of the process.

  • People with ‘good’ (well trained) memories use a mixture of techniques, so experiment to find out which blend works for you.
  • Have fun!


4. Organising

Most of the differences in people’s memory abilities relate to how they organise their memories rather then how well their brains can actually remember.

  • Chunk information down into smaller, coherent groups.
  • Establish general concepts first before filling in the details – move from the global to the specific.
  • Arrange materials into related groups or categories.


5. Association

Make intentional associations in order to improve memory retention.

  • When things are associated in memory, thinking of one helps bring the other to mind.
  • Use pegs, such as images, puns or musical cues.
  • A touch of humour makes it easier to remember an association.
  • If you can link new information to memories already stored (‘mental hooks’), you’ll have more cues to help you recall the new material.


6. Reminders

This trick works because we are creatures of habit and notice small changes in the environment.

  • Move an ornament a few inches, shift a mat or tie a knot in your handkerchief, while telling yourself it’s a reminder to do something.
  • The next time you notice this disturbance, you will remember why you created it.


7. Mnemonics

A mnemonic is simply a memory aid. This usually takes the form of a specific retrieval cue encoded with the information to be remembered.

  • It can be an image, colour or sound, but is often a rhyme, poem or word in which each letter stands for something else.
  • It often works better if you make up your own mnemonic, rather than use someone else’s.


8. Sensory encoding

Each of us has a sensory system which we tend to prefer to use for encoding information. Experiment in order to identify which sense you tend to prefer – visual, auditory or touch/feel – and then concentrate on techniques employing that particular sense.

  • Visual techniques include diagrams, charts, graphs, tables and cartoons, as well as written notes.
  • Identify the ideal visual location in which to store images in your mind’s eye.
  • Auditory cues, especially when coupled with rhyme and/or music, can be a very strong way of encoding information.
  • We generally use touch and feel, combined with repetition, to learn physical tasks.


9. Rehearsal

Any form of repetition will strengthen the encoding process, and thus make retention and recall easier.

  • Reviewing information after five or ten minutes, and then at longer intervals, will strength neural pathways.
  • Any form of repetition will strengthen the encoding process, and thus make retention and recall easier.
  • Repeating information aloud can help you encode the information (auditory encoding) and identify how well you have learned it.
  • An effective way to enhance recall and understanding of dense material is to teach it to an imaginary audience.


10. Study basics

There are some basic rules of rhythm and review to follow if you want to successfully commit something you are studying to long-term memory.

  • Use primacy and recency – we tend to remember the beginning and end of a list. To learn more effectively, you should therefore create more of these points by splitting your study time into chunks, with ten-minute breaks in between.
  • Review what you have learned:
  • ten minutes after learning
  • one day after learning
  • one week after learning
  • one month after learning
  • six months after learning.


11. Relaxation

Trying too hard can get in the way of success: relax and let your mind do its work without pressure.


12. Remembering names

For the most part, names are arbitrary and don’t necessarily describe the person. Because the information itself isn’t meaningful, you therefore have to make a special effort to create meaningful connections.

  • Create visual images or puns.
  • Group names in pairs.
  • Get the person to repeat their name, then repeat yourself in conversation.
  • Look for bizarre associations.
  • Write associative reminders on their business cards.


13. Neurobics

Neurobics exercises use your five physical senses and your emotional sense in unexpected ways that shake up your everyday routines, engaging both sides of the brain. To be neurobic, an exercise should

  • Involve one or more of your senses in a novel way
  • Engage your attention
  • Break your normal routine.


14. Summary of memory tips

The brain is just like the rest of your body, it needs regular workouts to perform at its best.

  • Keep it active with crosswords, puzzles or any activity that requires thought.
  • Use your preferred sense to create visual, auditory or physical reminders.
  • Link items into stories.
  • Believe you have a good memory.


15. Understanding memory

Current studies in neuroscience strongly support the notion that a memory is a set of encoded neural connections. The stronger and more numerous the connections, the stronger the memory.

  • Memories might better be thought of as a collage or a jigsaw puzzle than as whole tape recordings, pictures or video clips.
  • A heightened emotional intensity at the time of the event seems to promote more encoding, and thus a more complete and stable encoded record of the event.
  • Most lost memories are lost because they were never elaborately encoded in the first place.
  • The chances of remembering something improve by consolidation, which creates strong encoding: thinking and talking about an experience enhance the chances of remembering it by repeatedly strengthening the encoding.
  • Studies on memory have shown that we often construct our memories after the fact.


16. Is every experience fully stored?

Many believe that the brain (or mind) records everything one experiences; that it is ALL stored away somewhere in the neural network or elsewhere.

  • In the 1930s Wilder Penfield discovered that touching certain parts of the brain caused some patients to recall previous experiences vividly.
  • Following up on Penfield’s research, Karl Pribram discovered that memory is non-local.
  • Ancient and modern wisdom suggests memory is also stored in the energy field around the body.


17. Short- and long-term memory

If you think of memory as the flow of information through the mind, three broad stages of information processing can be distinguished. First, there is the sensory register – a very short-term sensory memory of the event. At the second level is a short-term, or working, memory. Then there is long-term memory. The aim of memory training strategies is to embed information in the long-term memory.

  • There is a huge rise in the percentage of information recalled after training when telling is backed up by experience.
  • Practice and rehearsal aids long-term encoding of memory.


18. Memory and old age

Even if we were to lose 10,000 brain cells a day from birth, the total number lost by the time we are 80 would be less than three per cent.

  • We use age to explain certain ‘disabilities’, but this excuse is unfounded.
  • If we believe old age will cause our memories to deteriorate significantly, we will tend to notice only those facts that support this belief.
  • Tests show that there is only a 15 per cent difference in memory retention between 20-year olds and 70-year-olds.
  • We may slow down with age, but this is off-set by greater experience and a more extensive network of neural connections.