Few problems in life are more frustrating than the curse of a poor memory. Forgetting an important appointment or phone call can be a disaster. Forgetting the name of an old friend or new business contact can be worse than embarrassing.
But many of of us, when we face this hurdle in life, simply throw up our hands and bemoan our bad luck at being born with a bad memory.
If that’s you, we have good news. As long as you’re basically a healthy person, there’s no such thing as a poor memory. Your memory is a tool, like anything else that helps you get through life. Like a computer or a car, you just need to learn how to use it.
In other words, remembering dates, facts or names is not just something that happens to you — it’s something you do. And if you’re having trouble remembering, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just doing it wrong.
Fortunately, learning to use your memory is pretty easy. There are hundreds of techniques and tricks you can use to remember anything. These techniques, or brain hacks, are called “mnemonic devices.”
Here are five incredibly useful and effective mnemonic devices to get you started remembering exactly what it was you forgot to remember.
1-SING IT OUT, BABY!
Have you ever noticed that when a song comes on your iPod, you can often sing along with all the lyrics even if you haven’t heard the song for a long time — even years? That’s because music is one of the most powerful tools of memory known to man.
Advertisers know this trick better than anyone. You’ve probably had the vaguely annoying experience of getting an advertising jingle “stuck” in your head. That’s exactly what the advertiser wants. Music is such a powerful mnemonic device, it can make you remember things you would rather forget.
But you can use the magic of music for your own memory. If you have a list of things to remember, or even a single time, date or appointment, just compose a little song for yourself using whatever you need to remember as the words. You don’t have to sing it to anyone else, just yourself. It doesn’t have to be good, just catchy enough to stick in your head. You’ll be amazed at what music helps you remember.
2-MAKE THE CONNECTION
If you have to recall any amount, large or small, of new and unfamiliar information, connect the new info to facts that you already know, especially facts that have some relevance to your own life. This technique works especially well for numbers. Say you need to remember the phone numbers for a group of business contacts you just met. Connect each number to a number that has meaning in your life — your daughter’s birthday, your own age, the year you were born, or any other such number.
Then when you think, for example, “my birthday, my dad’s age etc.,” the number automatically pops into your mind.
3-BEHIND DOOR NUMBER THREE…
One of the oldest known mnemonic devices, dating back to ancient Greece (so you know it works) is the “Method of Loci,” also known as the “Journey Method” or “Room Method.” To use this brain hack, mentally associate each piece of information you need to remember with a room in your house, or in your workplace. Or you can “store” each piece of information in specific locations along your daily commute to the office.
Once you’ve “stored” each piece or chunk of information in a specific locale or “room,” all you have to do is walk yourself, mentally, through your house, or whatever place you’ve used, and the info will come right back to you.
4-CHUNKY, LIKE PEANUT BUTTER
“Chunking” is a brain hack for retaining much more information in your conscious memory than would normally be possible.
The average human being can recall seven bits of information at once. That’s the length of a phone number — without the area code. But if you group or “chunk” bits of information together — for example, group the whole area code as one bit of information instead of three — you can remember seven entire chunks at a time, on average.
5-SHARPEN YOUR FOCUS
This isn’t a trick or technique, but it may the most important brain hack you can use to improve your memory — and every other function of your brain. In today’s hyperactive information age, we place a high value on the ability to multi-task. But the truth is, there is no such thing as multi-tasking.
Your brain can’t consciously handle two or three tasks at once. It can, however, switch between tasks very quickly, and that’s what we call multi-tasking. Our brains never work on multiple jobs at the same time. We do one job, then another, and another and so on — as fast as we can.
That’s all great and everything. But the problem is, your memory hates switching between tasks at a rapid-fire pace. If you really want to remember an important piece of information, shut off the iPhone, close the laptop, pull out those earbuds, switch off the TV and find a quiet place where you won’t be tempted to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations.
Now that you’ve done all that — focus on one task and one task only.
Your memory will thank you for it, and show its gratitude by allowing you to remember far more than you ever could with a multi-tasking lifetsyle.
And if you need to remember these memory brain hacks, print out this page and tape it to your refrigerator!