Think of the times you forgot to greet your close friend a happy birthday or buy milk in the supermarket. And yet, you still remember the words of Wannabe by Spice Girls though it rocked the world far back in 1996. What did you feel during those moments? Did you think something was wrong with your memory? Did you wonder why people remember birthdays of their exes but forget about own holidays at times?

Human memory is capricious. Scientists predicate its indeterminism upon several factors, including our ability to retain, will to learn, and way of living. Today’s pace of life with its endless information flow and all-out focus on multitasking influences memory, too. The need to keep dozens of passwords and tasks in our head might end with looking for glasses while having them on the nose.

On the other hand, our memory imperfection becomes more visible in the contemporary world giving it more challenges and, therefore, chances to fail.

9 Simple Lifehacks to Use for Better Memory

In this article, we’ll 1) define working and long-term memory, 2) learn nine simple yet scientifically proven lifehacks for better memory, and 3) provide you with step-by-step how-to’s to improve it.

TYPES OF MEMORY

The expanded classification of memory looks as follows:

Shorten the story, two types of memory exist for us to consider: working and long-term ones.
  • Working (short-term) memory is the ability to remember and process information at the same time.
  • Long-term memory is the ability to storage information longer than a few seconds.

Do you go to the store without a list, thinking you’ll remember everything but discovering you forgot several items after getting home? It’s the limitation of working memory, which is a kind of the mental sticky note we use until we need it.

Do you remember about the birthday of your ex-boss though the last time you saw him was in 1985? It’s the work of long-term memory, which refers to the information over an extended period.

But is it possible to train them?

Thanks to neuroplasticity, aka human brain’s ability to change, grow, and get better throughout a lifetime, the answer is yes. The big idea is, our brain is a muscle: daily habits determine the way it works, influencing all cells and neural connections. Including memory.

So, what tactics to use for memory improvement?

FOR INSTANT RESULT (Training Short-Term Memory)

The central executive part of the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain plays a fundamental role here. It keeps information available while we need it for current processes, as well as calls it up from other parts in the brain.

For better working memory, here go three lifehacks:

Voice your deeds

To enable the operation of short-term memory, doctors suggest using beam every time you do things automatically. It echoes the production effect when saying something out loud helps to remember it.

Memory fitness and brain health expert Dr. Cynthia Green advises voicing everyday minutiae for it to stick. How to do that?

Say you need to take keys and close the door before going to work. Speak it out loud: “I take keys. I lock the door.”  Examples might be many:

  • “I turn off the light in the room.”
  • “I put my phone into the bag.”
  • “I buy milk,” etc.

Don’t be afraid of looking awkward. If, however, you feel uncomfortable when talking to yourself, pronounce those phrases mentally yet clearly.

Think bigger

As far as our brain can process a limited amount of information per unit time, it’s better to combine it into smaller sets to hack those limits and remember more.

Memory training and brain health fitness expert Dr. Gary Small shares practical tips on how to do that:

  • Instead of trying to remember each number of your password (3, 8, 2, 7), combine it into 38 and 27. Thus, the brain will have to remember just two numbers, not four.
  • Instead of remembering five products to buy in the supermarket (meat, salad, milk, porridge, and bread), think of two conceptual blocks: dinner (burgers) and breakfast (porridge with milk).

Known as chunking, this trick makes information more memorable. The technique involves finding patterns in items and grouping them accordingly. As explained by Cambridge neuroscientist Daniel Bor, “the process of combining more primitive pieces of information to create something more meaningful is a crucial aspect both of learning and of consciousness and is one of the defining features of human experience.”

With the human brain primed to look for patterns and connections, no wonder that chunking works so well.

Don’t panic

Easier said than done, especially when we’re at an examination or stressful job interview. Frantic attempts to recall our knowledge will bring nothing but a brain freeze. It happens because of the stress hormone cortisol which, while increased, hinders the memories recall.

According to research, people with high level of cortisol find it difficult to retrieve memories because this stress hormone binds to brain receptors responsible for learning and memory mechanisms. To break the cycle and not allow cortisol to impair working memory, we need to control anxiety attacks when in stressful situations.

Tactics to try:

  • deep breaths (to balance a level of oxygen and carbon dioxide);
  • thinking of something other than panic (to focus thoughts and send the message to our brain that no danger is here);
  • focusing on senses for a few moments (to slow down the unwanted physical symptoms);
  • visualize something pleasant, listen to birds outside, concentrate on smells around, etc.

All these are relaxation techniques helping to level down the anxiety and, therefore, cortisol. They are many, but the above-mentioned three are for training and influencing short-term memory in particular.

To train long-term memory, the following lifestyle changes and tactics will work.

FOR SUSTAINABLE RESULT (Training Long-Term Memory)

In plain English, long-term memory is about things we remember for more than a few minutes. It stores the unlimited amount of information, and specialists still argue on whether we ever forget anything or it just becomes difficult to retrieve items from memory.

“Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory, but it has you!” – John Irving

Either way, we can help it work better by training our long-term memory with simple lifehacks.

Sleep well

It’s critical for mental well-being because our brain repairs and reorganizes itself, as well as consolidates memories during sleep. Known as neuroplasticity, this process is responsible for motor functions, stimulates learning, and regulates memory work. A lack of sleep weakens these crucial brain functions.

Psychologist Nicolas Dumay determined that sleep protects brains from forgetting, and specialists from the Sleep Research and Treatment Center (Penn State University) insist that one sleepless night affects our mental performance as much as alcohol.

With all that said, we need better sleeping for better memory.

The problem is, our ability to fall asleep doesn’t depend on what we do the last few minutes or hours before going to bed. Our entire lifestyle influences the sleep quality, and yet we can try several tactics to improve it.

  1. Sleep no less than eight hours.
  2. Avoid drinking coffee after noon.
  3. Don’t snack after 2-3 hours before going to bed.
  4. Don’t drink too much liquid before sleep to avoid nocturia.
  5. If you go to a gym, try exercising no less than 5-6 hours before sleep.
  6. Don’t use electronics in bed, as their blue light reduces the production of melatonin.
  7. If you can’t fall asleep, don’t just lie in bed. Do something (read a book or listen to relaxing music until you feel sleepy); otherwise, insomnia will get worse.

Even a short day nap could improve memory, so keep it in mind next time when an opportunity to relax arises.

Feed your memory

The human brain is a powerful machine, so we need to treat it with the highest quality fuel, aka right foods that would fit for life. Diets rich in healthy fats, such as the Mediterranean diet, boost memory and attention, as well as lower age-related memory decline.

Doctors recommend to breakfast with proteins: they influence the level of dopamine, a neurotransmitter stimulating learning and acquirement through the sense of satisfaction. So, a balanced diet impacts our ability to remember information.

Products to eat for better memory: avocado, olive oil, green and sea vegetables, fish, walnuts, eggs, dark chocolate, and berries. When eaten consistently, this food can protect brain cells from damage and strengthen memory by improving blood flow.

Food to avoid: trans fats and white sugar. The former leads to many diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and obesity; the latter causes Alzheimer’s, affecting memory, attention span, and mood stability.

Drinking water affects memory, too.

Our brain is 73% water, and it takes only 2% dehydration to diminish memory and other cognitive skills. It’s not difficult to calculate how much water we need to drink for better memory; use the formula:

Go in for sports

One more lifehack everyone knows but far from everyone practices is physical exercises, providing the brain with optimal performance.

Why does it help?

  • While training, cells produce BDNF stimulating neurons, responsible for cognitive functions.
  • Regular physical exercises influence the hippocampus, a brain component associated with memory: it is 1-2% bigger in comparison to those who are not physically active. “And the bigger the hippocampus, the better able you are to form new memories,” explains Art Kramer, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois.

It doesn’t mean we should live in a gym. Alternatives are:

  • Running. Researchers prove that aerobic exercises help to improve memory.
  • Walking. It encourages the growth of cells, promoting connectivity between them and, therefore, sharpening brains.
  • Exercising outdoors. Our attention span and memory performance improve by 20% when interacting with nature.
  • Yoga. Mind-body exercises have an immediate impact on memory and concentration, increasing brain volume and improving thinking.

De-stress

When stressed, we can’t produce and analyze information because of the stress hormone cortisol. In the long-term, it may lead to severe consequence for the brain.

As Shireen Sindi, a neurologist from McGill University (Canada), says, “As you get older, chronic elevated cortisol levels are linked to memory impairment and a smaller hippocampus.” Isn’t it another reason to beat stress and depression?

How to do that?

  • Positive thinking.

Negative emotions narrow mind and focus, so researchers refer to the “broaden and build” theory as a way to develop positive thinking — a mental attitude concentrating on the bright side of life. The idea is, when we experience positive emotions, our brain opens up to more options, resources, and skills.

  • Meditation.

Some researchers call meditation “push-ups for the brain,” and numerous studies prove the health benefits of this technique: better memory, increased focus, better performance at work, reduced stress, enhanced mood, and the hippocampus growth.

Tactics to try are heartfulness and binaural beats. Or, practice meditation with this 10-minute video guide.

  • Music.

Music engages both sides of a brain and impacts our language skills, focus, memory, and attention. More than that, playing an instrument develops higher IQ and better memories than passive listening. The message is clear.

  • A new hobby.

Not necessarily it should be mentally intensive hobbies. Craft ones such as knitting, gardening, or drawing help a brain focus similar to meditation. Also, they increase dopamine, improve memory, and prevent it from age-related decline.

  • Learning.

The human brain reorganizes itself by forming new connections between neurons which, when unused, wither away, leading to the brain atrophy. That is why learning new things is necessary for healthy cognitive performance.

With tons of free online courses available today, we can keep up learning and train brains for the life term. Udemy, Coursera, or Khan Academy are resources worth trying.

Practice slow life

Today, multitasking seems a must-have skill for those willing to stay competitive at work and be successful. It’s even believed to prevent FOMO, a form of anxiety meaning the “fear of missing out.”

In a point of fact, multitasking takes a toll on brain health and performance: bombarded with more information than ever before, we make less use of it and yet exhaust our brains. It leads to stress and has a negative influence on memory.

Why not consider the slow living philosophy to prevent it?

  1. Do one thing at a time.
  2. Plan a day in blocks.
  3. Eliminate interruptions.
  4. Clean a workplace.
  5. Don’t forget to take breaks.
  6. Choose the pace of work and life that will be comfortable for you.
  7. Don’t allow FOMO to influence you.

The idea is to emphasize slow approaches to all aspects of life when a person gets more by living and working smarter, not harder.

Train your brain

Activities that make us pit wits and think outside the box generate new cells in the hippocampus and stimulate neuroplasticity. To train brains for better memory and productive performance, you can try:

  • Puzzles
  • Online tests to check memory
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Mnemonics
  • Learning a foreign language
  • Reading poems out loud
  • Brain fitness apps (Headspace, Calm, Muse)
  • The mind palace, aka a power of visualization (watch the guide from US Memory Champion Joshua Foer):

IN A WORD…

Memory is a skill we can improve, and numerous techniques exist to sharpen it. With a healthy lifestyle as a foundation, we can keep memory sharp in the years to come.

About the author

By Lesley Vos, a content evangelist and contributor to publications on education, digital marketing, and personal development.

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