Training to remember

Published on
May 19, 2017
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How can we remember better? Why is it that some information appears to stick better to the crevices of our brain than others? The designers of the popular board game Trivial Pursuit clearly understood a thing or two about memory. Here players have to correctly answer either general knowledge or specialist field questions such as which football team won the World Cup in 1966? (It was England.) What can you do to help your memory if it’s proving a little unreliable?

Keep it relevant
Being interested in the topic is a must. Though sometimes we have to learn things, even though we think it’s boring. What helps is to look for patterns or associations with other information you already have, to make it feel more relevant to your world.

Use language we understand
Unless you are steeped in academia, trying to understand an academic paper can be mind-numbingly tedious, or at worst impossible. No one likes to look like an idiot if we don’t get the gist, but worse still it means the information doesn’t get transferred and applied in the way it was intended. Keeping the learning at the appropriate level ensures better comprehension and retention.

Make it quirky and fun
Death by power point is the bete-noire of too many business presentations. It’s easier to remember things that are a little different or unusual. That’s why creating a mental image or funny story about someone helps us remember their name. There are a lot of Michaels in this world but you might find it easier to remember Michael as ‘mega mouth Mike’, or ‘Michael in a tutu’ Mike.

Write it down
Research has shown that taking notes using a pen helps us to process information at a deeper level and retain it more efficiently compared to a tablet or laptop. It’s better too for stimulating abstract thought, imagination and creativity. Rediscover how you can help your brain remember more by using the might of your pen.

Talk it out
One of the best ways to strengthen memory is to share what you have learned with others. Whether a discussion group or formal tutorial, talking about a topic helps your brain retain and deepen your understanding. Better still is teaching it to someone else. This allows you to check that you really know what you’re talking about!

Chunk it down
Trying to remember long sequences of digits, words or complex math equations is hard. Help your brain by chunking the items down into smaller more digestible pieces. How do we eat an elephant? One piece at a time.

Avoid brain overload
Learning is hard work and chews up a lot of mental energy. Taking a regular brain break of 10-15 minutes every hour helps your brain to reboot and reenergize to then be ready to apply a fresh dose of focus.

Space it out
Creating new memory is a complex and fragile process. We can promote better survival rates by spacing out the rehearsal of what we have learned. The ideal time to practice is when the brain is in danger of forgetting. Making the brain work harder to remember strengthens those new synaptic connections, making the memory more robust. Research suggests the ideal spacing is around 21 days, recalling the information at least three times. That’s what makes learning stick.

Sleep on it
Sleep is the time the brain consolidates our long-term memories. Sleep deprivation reduces concentration and can lead to the formation of false memories that are helpful to no one. The one essential factor for better memory and recall is to ensure you get sufficient good quality, uninterrupted sleep of 7-8 hours every night.

Memory can be flukey and frustrating when it lets us down. Choosing to exercise your mental muscle regularly makes your memory more reliable. Next time you can’t remember something, instead of reaching out to Google, check in first with what your brain already knows. You may be surprised to discover you already have the answer.

Dr. Jenny Brockis is the Brain Fitness Doctor. A medical practitioner, international speaker and author, she specializes in the science of high performance thinking and brain health. Her latest book is Future Brain (Wiley).