When you are trying to learn many new things, it can be helpful to have a good memory. Unfortunately, we are not often encouraged to train or even use it these days. With smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets at our disposal, we possess the external memory called the Internet. However convenient technology may be, its presence does not always make things easier when you are trying to learn skills without having to look at a screen constantly. Someone who wants to learn much about many things and wants to do it without technical devices needs a good memory. Let’s find out how.
With all my learning goals, I thought it would be sensible to make a list of tips and tricks to improve memory. If you want to learn languages, both natural and coding, you will have to remember vast vocabularies and know how to keep the words of one language apart from words of the other. Of course there is also the grammar part. The same is true for music, also in a more practical way: you need to know the sounds you will hear if you do this or that. As this example shows, we can use all the senses to remember. In the following paragraphs we will see how our senses may help us to remember things better.
For this blog I checked the web’s supply of memory improvement techniques, so you don’t have to do the researching yourself* – unless you forget the url of this post and have to start all over again. That would be a shame, so sit still and pay attention. We will first take a look at what you can do before you start training your memory.
* (In case I missed an important website, please post a link in the comments below)
The best circumstances for memory improvement
Make sure to deal with depression if you suffer from any. Depressions have a bad impact on your memory reports Discovery Channel. Science has proved that depressions tend to diminish your brains, including the hippocampus, a part of the brain that plays an important part in remembering. Make sure to deal with it before you start with your brain workout.
A good way to deal with it is to go to the gym (and do something). By exercising and moving, your body will transport the oxygen and the nutrients that your blood carries to your brain. And the brain needs that. So make sure to keep moving, as it will help to keep your brain in good condition. Aren’t you sure what sport to pick? Go for the martial arts. You can read in Back in the Dojo: Kickboxing how Kickboxing / Muay Thai helps me to stay disciplined, motivated, and healthy.
This takes us to another point: food. Eat well. Good food means vitamins and Omega 3 fatty acids. Eat a lot of fruit and vegetables for the vitamins. Whereas Omega 3 acids can be found in some fruits, they are hidden in significant amounts inside walnuts and salmon (and other ‘cold water oily fish‘). These nutrients will help your brain stay healthy. Remember (no pun intended) that your body and brain are connected. Take good care of both of them.
One way of taking good care of yourself is by having enough rest. Make sure that you sleep at set times. Research has shown that people who sleep after they have read something, have a better memory of the text, than those who did not sleep.
Techniques to get yourself a better memory
Are your body and brain in good shape? Good, let’s get going. As far as I am concerned, memories (often) function as associations. Does that make sense? Yes? Good. What we need to learn is to do a better job at associating, because this will also help us to remember better. Some of the following techniques show why association and memory are so closely interrelated.
Learning Languages was about Tim Ferriss’ approach to, how surprising, learning languages. One of the things Tim Ferriss stressed is that you should read about subjects that you would also read about in your own language. An author on Psychology Today says that
if you’re not intrinsically interested in what you’re learning or trying to remember, you must find a way to become so.
It is always easier to remember something we find appealing, attractive, or interesting. You will probably still know the name of the person you first fell in love with, even if it was years ago.
Now, we will take a look at some ‘Mnemonic’ devices. These are
techniques a person can use to help them improve their ability to remember something.
When you use as much senses as possible, you will probably remember better. Psychcentral gives a very practical example:
Need to remember someone’s name you met for the first time? It may help to look them in the eye when you repeat their name, and offer a handshake. By doing so, you’ve engaged 4 out of your 5 senses.
Most likely there are things that can be learned, for which it is hard to use all your senses. But by being creative, you might find ways. Make sure to share your own inventive ways of using (all of) your senses in the comments.
Your brain won’t be able to process big chunks of data at once. Make sure to beak it up in smaller pieces, like many people do with telephone numbers (thirty-two, forty-one, instead of three, two, four, one). In case you are looking for the perfect unit of memory, you should know that as
short-term human memory is limited to approximately 7 items of information, placing larger quantities of information into smaller containers helps our brains remember more, and more easily.
It may also help to organize the information you are trying to learn in categories and classes (or learn about them if they already exist). This will allow you to learn the category, which will serve as a cue for your mind to come up with the content of the given category.
As was pointed out above, memory is all about association. So make use of that. For example, by making strange or unusual associations, it often becomes easier to remember something. Rhyme may help, but you can also think of creating special meaning by making use of abbreviations or acronyms for sequential actions. Other ways of remembering by unusual associations you can think of are switching your watch to the other wrist, or turning something that you often use upside down. The next time you will see it, it should help you remember.
There is also the Method of Loci. When you use this, you link parts of the information you have to remember to particular places that are important to you, or that you visit often. You can combine techniques by sticking post-its with the information on it to objects and places you often walk by.
Last but not least, use images. Think of something visual when you are trying to remember a word. The cliche expression “a picture is worth a thousand words”, reminds us of the fact that the visual may make an impression that a word just can not make. Take benefit from it!
So, your brain works perfectly now? Make sure to keep practicing. This will make your brain and memory stronger. You can do this by learning other stuff or playing games that require you to think hard. Make sure that it is mentally challenging. This might even help your body create new cells in the hippocampus, which will give you the opportunity to further improve your memory.
What else should we know about our memory?
The more connections there are made with something you want to learn, the better. So be sure to keep linking the things you want to learn to as many thoughts, ideas, words, and images as possible. According to an article on Time.com,
Research suggests that we acquire a complex skill, such as speaking a foreign language, more readily when we’re exposed to many different examples of that skill in action.
There seem to be good and best practices, but there are also bad practices. For example, don’t read and highlight. It won’t help you. The same is true for dry rereading. Research has shown that it does not help you remembering the information better.
Of course, the author also points out techniques favored by the results of scientific research. Distributed Practice, for example, is a way of learning things by putting significant periods of time between study sessions. It is even said that the longer the intervals between sessions are, the longer you will remember what you are learning. On The Harvard Business Review, you can find information about Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) that helps you to choose the right intervals.
The other method mentioned in this article is Practice Testing, because
Research shows that the mere act of calling information to mind strengthens that knowledge and aids in future retrieval.
In sum, focus and attention are very important when it comes to remembering. Being interested in a subject, or using mnemonic to get to remember something, are all ways of (forcefully) paying more attention to the subject you are trying to master. Even the last two examples from the Time article, are related to the techniques mentioned in this article. Distributed Practice can be understood as chunking, whereas Practice Testing is just another way of paying attention deliberately.
These methods may certainly be useful for my learning purposes. In a later post, I will report if they actually work(ed) for me. For now, I would like to learn about your ideas and methods to learn and remember better. Please post a comment and share your views and ideas!