How to improve your memory has always been one of the most popular topics in the world of education, and with good reason—a great memory can make all the difference in your ability to learn new skills and become more knowledgeable in many areas of interest. However, improving your memory requires more than just reading an article or two on the subject; it requires dedication and hard work. It’s not something that happens overnight, so don’t be discouraged if you find it challenging at first. The following seven steps can help you improve your memory and boost your brain power in ways you never thought possible.
Write things down
If you find yourself forgetting things, whether it’s where you left your keys or why you walked into a room, chances are you could use some extra memory. But like everything else, memory can be improved with practice. One of the easiest ways to improve your long-term memory is to write things down as soon as they happen. When people hear something but don’t take note of it, research shows that information often falls through their minds like water through a sieve. If you keep a diary or journal where you can jot down notes quickly and easily, there’s less chance of forgetting crucial information later on.
Use your senses while learning
The more senses you use while learning something new, the better your chances of recalling it later. While reading, try drawing illustrations or highlighting words as you read; while studying a subject, try tying it into other areas of your life (i.e., if you’re learning about how gears function in a machine, think about how they relate to human body parts). Recalling memories is easier when you’ve associated them with other things that are meaningful or familiar to you.
While meditation won’t help you remember where you put your keys, it can help sharpen your mind and keep it healthy. It’s also been linked to higher levels of happiness and improved focus. Research suggests that meditating can physically alter areas of your brain involved with memory formation. Choose a form that works for you: guided meditation using an app or audio file, or find an instructor at a local yoga studio (you don’t have to be a yogi to do it right). And if possible, make time daily — even if just for five minutes — because research shows that consistency is key.
Lack of sleep has been linked to memory issues, with research suggesting that poor sleep may affect how well you remember. When you don’t get enough sleep, your brain doesn’t have enough time to properly consolidate what you’ve learned and stored during waking hours. Studies have also found that getting between seven and eight hours of sleep is best for optimal memory. Getting less than that could be affecting your short-term recall and long-term ability to learn new information. Research suggests our working memory, which supports fluid intelligence and reasoning skills necessary for everyday functioning, is reduced when we are fatigued, says licensed psychologist Jessica Alexander, PsyD.
Get outside and exercise
While it’s true that exercise can take up a good chunk of your day, recent research has also shown that exercise has positive effects on memory. Just one short bout of physical activity can improve not only short-term memory, but also long-term memory and your ability to retain new information. The next time you find yourself struggling with how to improve your memory, try getting outside and exercising for at least 20 minutes; doing so could help you concentrate more efficiently on important tasks and subsequently remember more information. Of course, if you’re particularly pressed for time, there are plenty of other great ways to give your brain a workout without leaving your home or office.
Play brain games
When people hear brain games, they think of Lumosity, a subscription-based app that sells brain-training programs like Peak and Train. It’s easy to write off all games as more fun than brain training. However, most experts agree that playing board games can help improve memory and spatial skills. The problem is that while people will happily shell out $9.99 per month for a reliable brain-training program, they’ll balk at paying $29.99 for four expansion packs for Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride on Amazon. While you could simply play a ton of games online (like Solitaire or Bejeweled), it’s hard to find time for all that these days with everything else you need to do (like laundry).
Get out into nature
Research has shown that being around nature can help you think better, increase your attention span, and improve your mood. And even if that’s not enough motivation to get out of town—or away from your desk—here’s another good reason: Research also suggests that spending time among trees and plants can make you more empathetic and open-minded. So go on, put down your phone and see how much nature is out there. If you’re lucky enough to live near a park or green space, spend as much time there as possible. When you’re ready for a change of scenery, take an urban hike or drive through an unfamiliar area. Just don’t forget to breathe!