We've all experienced it: that annoying feeling when you can't remember a name, a place, or a word, and it's right on the tip of your tongue. It's normal for this to happen sometimes, but if you're finding this is happening more often and there is no ill health or trauma at play, then it's probably due to one simple thing: you've been neglecting your memory.
Memory is something that needs to be maintained. This is why you may have forgotten how to spell certain words that you worked so hard to learn when you were younger. We locate our memories via neural connections, so it makes sense that we have to firstly create strong neural connections, and then we need to keep them current. The good news is that there are techniques and strategies you can use in order to build stronger connections in your brain and to strengthen existing ones. Here are 8 of them:
1) Focus. We live in an age of multi-tasking, and sometimes we may not be as focused as we think. MentalFloss recommends concentrating for eight seconds on the thing you want to remember. This might feel like an age when you're in a hurry, but it's a worthy investment! Studies have shown that it takes eight seconds for your brain to put information into your long-term memory, as opposed to your short-term memory. If you're studying, turn off that television or radio blaring in the background, and find a quiet place.
2) Repeat it. For example, when someone introduces themselves to you, repeat their name back to them in the form of a greeting (e.g. "Nice to meet you, Helen.") PsychCentral explains that it's best to do this over a longer space of time, so if you say the person's name aloud a couple of times during the conversation, and then remind yourself of it later that evening, and then again the next day, you'll have a better chance of remembering it long-term.
3) Build familiarity. As Business Insider explains it, this means building links between the information you are trying to remember, and the things you already know, and it works for many different types of information. Ask yourself - how does this new information relate to my existing experiences?
4) Meditate. Meditating isn't for everyone, but if you're taking exams then it might be worth a try. According to Prevention, mediation sharpens the memory by reducing sensory input and allowing your brain to repair and retrieve those neural connections. University studies have shown that students who meditate - even after being deprived of sleep - still perform better in tests than those who don't. If you've never meditated before, check out this article for beginner techniques.
5) Write it down - by hand. According to this article in The Telegraph, the act of writing information by hand helps us to remember it better. This is because we are engaging our brains more when we write by hand - it involves more of our senses and takes more conscious effort to form each letter and word. In the case of lists, it also provides a visual clue that we can recall, even if we no longer have the physical list with us - try it next time you go to the grocery store.
6) Chunk it. PsychCentral describes chunking as the act of breaking many pieces of information into smaller groups in order to remember them better. We already do this subconsciously with phone numbers - instead of seeing a series of individual numbers, we remember the area code as one unit of information, the prefix as another, and so on - but it works with almost any kind of information.
7) Draw pictures. This one sounds counter-intuitive because when people are doodling it looks as though they're not paying attention, but in reality, the act of doodling helps to keep your brain active and engaged. Try it next time you're listening to a tedious phone message, or sitting in a meeting that is droning on. As NPR explains, even Bill Gates does it!
8) Sleep and nutrition. Regardless of special techniques, your brain won't be at its healthiest unless you have enough sleep and you eat well. Psychology Today advises trying to maintain a routine in the times that you go to bed and wake up, and also recommends eating an anti-inflammatory diet high in Omega 3 and protein. You can find some of their recommended recipes for brain health here.
We take our memories for granted, especially in an age where we are supported by electronic devices that do so much of the work our memories used to do (like remembering phone numbers and the spelling of tricky words), but it is so important that we work on them! Remember to keep your brain healthy with good nutrition and lots of sleep, and always keep yourself well hydrated. Now, can you remember what the first technique listed in this article was?