Posted on: October 20, 2008 Posted by: Nicole Harding Comments: 0

In order to improve the way that your mind works, you need to learn how it works. Memories are created all of the time and it’s estimated that the human brain has the capacity for the equivalent of a whopping 100 terabytes of information.

Although the way our brain stores memories is complicated and we are still trying to understand all of the mechanisms involved, the human brain has a tremendous capacity for information because of the way it stores and retrieves data. Memories are stored in the brain within cellular structures (made up of cells called neurons) and the thousands of connections that exist between them.

It is through these connections that we access and store all of the data within our brains. This is why a train of thought happens. Recalling one memory has the effect of recalling others because of the neural pathway your mind takes to reach it. The memories and data all branch off of one another to create a web of memory pathways which is why you may remember some things in roundabout ways!

The memory techniques described here all take advantage of the memory pathways that exist within your mind. The trick is to figure out how to trigger different pathways and increase the number of connected pathways.

1. Use mnemonic devices.

You have probably already learnt to use mnemonic devices to remember things and you can likely still recall mnemonic devices that you were taught years ago. Mnemonics can be used when you need to remember groups of words or ideas that are not similar. In mathematics, you may recall the significance of BEDMAS (the order of operations: Brackets, Exponents, Division, Multiplication, Addition, and Subtraction). In music, the notes of the strings on a guitar can be remembered with ‘Eddy Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddy’ (EADGBe). There are thousands of different mnemonics that have been developed and taught and they have stood the test of time because they are inherently easy to remember.

To be able to use the power of mnemonic devices, you need to learn how to create your own that you can remember forever and call upon in a moment’s notice. If you are creative, a mnemonic that you come up with will be much more memorable to you than one that you didn’t piece together yourself. If this is a weakness for you though, there are several online mnemonic creating tools that you can use to quickly come up with mnemonics. The most memorable mnemonics are when you can envision a story to go along with it.

2. Use musical memory.

If you are someone that can easily remember song lyrics and tunes, consider using this strength to help you remember useful bits of information. Rework the things that you are trying to commit to memory into songs, rhymes, beats, or poetry.

Some researchers theorize that musical memory is encoded differently from language and can be used to remember words or phrases that you find difficult to remember. This can be especially useful for individuals learning words from different languages.

If you’re feeling very musically creative you can try to rewrite lyrics to some of your favourite songs to create musical parodies that will be easy to remember.

There are several free online video content websites such as YouTube where creative individuals have posted songs that can be used for educational purposes. Perhaps you can find one that contains the things that you are trying to remember; this is a great, and relatively passive, way to learn new things!

3. Use flash cards.

If you are a more visual learner, flash cards can be a great tool to remember concepts and ideas. Flash cards are not for everybody, but the way that you create them can be tuned towards your learning style. If your language memory is strong, flash cards with text could be great for you; if images cue stronger memories for you, consider flash cards that use a lot of pictures and illustrations.

However you use them, flash cards are able to help you remember things in two different ways:

  • Creating the cards forces you to think about the concepts and ideas while you create condensed content to fit on a card
  • Using the cards over and over will help to solidify those memories in your mind
    Because of this, flash cards are most useful if they are created by you and are used repetitively.

Tip: When reviewing your flash cards, do so in several different locations and atmospheres. A changing environment will allow your brain to make different connections and increase the amount of cues that can recall the memories that you are trying to store. For example, if you are reviewing your flash cards on the bus, it may help you to think about other things that were happening on that bus ride to help you call up the memory.

4. Learn to read effectively.

One of the most critical skills to improving your memory is learning how to read effectively and be able to commit the things to memory. A technique that you can use when reading to help that text from remaining as just words on the page is with active reading.

Active reading is the process of thinking about what you are reading while you are reading about it. Because of this, it will often take you longer to read a passage. Fortunately, this technique will reduce the number of times that you have to backtrack in your reading to read a passage through a second time.

Active reading is a skill that needs to be developed over time with practice and repetition. Here are a few things that you can do to help you to develop your active reading:

  • Ask questions before you start reading. Think about what you already know about the topic and come up the questions that may be answered within the text.
  • Try to identify the main topic or thesis of the passage at the very beginning. If you have finished the first paragraph and still don’t know what to expect in the passage, go back and read it again until you can explain to someone what this passage is going to be about.
  • Ask questions to yourself while you read. A useful technique is to have a conversation with yourself about what you are reading. Ask yourself things that may be unclear or further information that you would like to know about the topic. Sometimes you can answer your questions from the text, other times you may need to search elsewhere. Either way, you are likely to remember the answer if it is something that you actively sought the answer to.
  • Don’t highlight, make notes in the margins. Highlighting passages of text is not as useful as taking notes because it is impossible for most of us to remember words in a text as they are written. Instead, paraphrase key ideas, write down important terms, and jot down questions that you need answers to.
  • Write down a summary essay at the end of each chapter. This is not only great writing practice, it is an effective way for you to remember and review all of the content within a chapter that you have read.
  • Teach it to someone else! One of the most effective ways to learn and remember something is to teach it to someone. This forces you to think about and truly understand the content so that you can explain it to someone else. Even if you don’t have someone else to teach it to, you should approach all material as if you will need to explain it back to someone afterwards. This will force you to think about, and try to anticipate someone else’s questions and help you to lock away that information into your brain.

5. Use mind maps.

Another useful memory technique is with the use of mind maps. Mind maps are essentially a visual representation of the inter-webbed nature of the mind. Ideas flowing off of each other will stimulate memories and the more connections that you can create, the easier it will be to find paths between them.

To create a mind map, on a blank page you need to first write down the universal theme or idea that you are going to be building off of. From this you will write down the sub topics or ideas that make up this theme. Continue building off of each topic with subtopics and key concepts until you have a large framework and then start making connections. Draw lines to connect similar ideas and try and make connections that you did not see before. Trying to make these connections will make it easier to backtrack your way into ideas or concepts that you may have difficulty recalling. Eventually you will create a web of pathways that help you to understand how it all works together towards the central understanding of a topic.

Tip: Try cutting out topics and ideas from your page to help you move and reorganize them into a way that makes sense to you, then start connecting the commonalities!

6. Remember by doing.

For the majority of people, one of the best ways to remember how to do something is to simply do it. For example, it is easier to relay driving directions to someone if you have made the drive yourself as opposed to relaying directions that you may have simply read beforehand. Again, it is all about your brain making connections and your brain can make a much larger number of connections when you are experiencing something with all of your senses as opposed to just one.

To use this powerful memory technique, a useful tool is roleplaying. If you read about a method of doing something that you want to remember, stand up and use your imagination to role play a scenario in which you use that knowledge.

7. Use emotions.

If you think back to your strongest memories, it’s likely that they are tied to a strong emotion. For example, you remember vacations or parties that you’ve attended because you were extremely happy or excited. Our emotions have a tremendous ability to affect the way we think and remember, and we can learn to take advantage of that.

Try and avoid attempting to commit things to memory at times where you feel bored and unexcited. Being excited or happy that you are learning something will make it much easier for you to create strong memories. Being sad, angry, or scared can have the same effect on memory, but don’t force yourself to experience these emotions, learning is supposed to be fun and exciting!

8. Try memory training exercises.

Your brain is similar to a muscle in that training and conditioning can improve its performance. To increase your brain’s ability to remember things, there are several different exercises and techniques that you can use to exercise your working memory.

One of the easiest and most useful ways to exercise your mind is with brain training games. Certain tasks and exercises that can be conducted on a computer have been shown to increase working memory. There are several digital video games for purchase, or accessible for free online that can offer exercises to promote cognitive skills and memory.

Another thing that you can do to keep your mind and memory in good health is simply use your brain as much as often! Read books, watch educational programs, listen to music, and create art; pretty much anything that you can do that uses your brain will be beneficial. Try to avoid too many activities where it feels like you have turned off your brain!

9. Treats for your brain

The above techniques and exercises are the best way for you to train your brain to remember new information but there are also some treats that may (or may not) give you a little bit of a boost.

  • Eating right. Eating healthy foods is not only good for your body but your mind as well! Some vitamins (such as vitamin B12) and nutrients (omega 3) fatty acids may have beneficial effects on the health of your memory.
  • Herbal teas. A popular belief is that Ginkgo Biloba and Ginseng can help with your memory. Some studies have shown positive effects on memory which goes to show that ancient remedies may have something to them!
  • Dark chocolate. Whether dark chocolate can boost your memory or not, it won’t hurt you too much to give yourself a little chocolatey treat every now and again.

Although it won’t hurt to try out one or two of these, don’t expect any miracle supplement or drugs to boost your memory and increase your brain power as shown in some popular films or advertised in sketchy areas of the internet. The best way for you to get better at learning and remembering content is to work hard and figure out the techniques that work best for you. Just like in life, there are no shortcuts in learning.

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