If our brains were computers, we'd simply add a chip to upgrade our memory. However, the human brain is more complex than even the most advanced machine, so improving human memory requires slightly more effort.
Just like muscular strength, your ability to remember increases when you exercise your memory and nurture it with a good diet and other healthy habits. There are a number of steps you can take to improve your memory and retrieval capacity. Physical exercise and engaging your brain with intellectually stimulating activities will not only improve your memory, it can also afford your brain greater protection against disease or injury as you age. First, however, it's helpful to understand how we remember.
Brain exercises to improve memory
Memory, like muscular strength, requires you to “use it or lose it.” The more you work out your brain, the better you’ll be able to process and remember information. Brain exercises that will improve memory include:
Novelty and sensory stimulation. If you break your routine in a challenging way, you’re using brain pathways you weren’t using before. This can involve something as simple as brushing your teeth with your nondominant hand, which activates little-used connections on the nondominant side of your brain.
“Neurobic” exercise is an aerobic exercise for your brain that forces you to use your faculties in unusual ways, like showering and getting dressed with your eyes closed. (See Keep Your Brain Alive Exercises in related links.)
Learning new skills can be the most effective way to improve memory. Take a course in a subject you don’t know much about, learn a new game of strategy, learn a new language, or cook up some recipes in an unfamiliar cuisine. The key here is to choose something that interests you. The more interested and engaged your brain, the more likely you’ll be to continue learning and the greater the benefits you’ll experience.
General guidelines to improve memory
In addition to exercising your brain, there are some basic things you can do to improve your memory:
Pay attention. You can’t remember something if you never learned it, and you can’t learn something — that is, encode it into your brain — if you don’t pay enough attention to it. It takes about eight seconds of intense focus to process a piece of information into your memory. If you’re easily distracted, try to receive information in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
Tailor information acquisition to your learning style. Most people are visual learners; they learn best by reading or otherwise seeing what it is they have to know. But some are auditory learners who learn better by listening. They might benefit by recording information they need and listening to it until they remember it.
Involve as many senses as possible. Even if you’re a visual learner, read out loud what you want to remember. If you can recite it rhythmically, even better. Try to relate information to colors, textures, smells and tastes. The physical act of rewriting information can help imprint it onto your brain.
Relate information to what you already know. Connect new data to information you already remember, whether it’s new material that builds on previous knowledge, or something as simple as an address of someone who lives on a street where you already know someone.
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Organize information. Write things down in address books and datebooks and on calendars; take notes on more complex material and reorganize the notes into categories later. Use both words and pictures in learning information.
Understand and be able to interpret complex material. For more complex material, focus on understanding basic ideas rather than memorizing isolated details. Be able to explain it to someone else in your own words.
Rehearse information frequently and “over-learn”. Review what you’ve learned the same day you learn it, and at intervals thereafter. What researchers call “spaced rehearsal” is more effective than “cramming.” If you’re able to “over-learn” information so that recalling it becomes second nature, so much the better.
Be motivated and keep a positive attitude. Tell yourself that you want to learn what you need to remember, and that you can learn and remember it. Telling yourself you have a bad memory actually hampers the ability of your brain to remember, while positive mental feedback sets up an expectation of success.
Also read more on Memory Loss and Improving Intelligence
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