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, pick a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
Involve as many senses as possible. Try to relate information to colors, textures, smells, and tastes. The physical act of rewriting information can help imprint it onto your brain. Even if you’re a visual learner, read out loud what you want to remember. If you can recite it rhythmically, even better.
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.
For more complex material, focus on understanding basic ideas rather than memorizing isolated details. Practice explaining the ideas to someone else in your own words.
Rehearse information you’ve already learned. Review what you’ve learned the same day you learn it, and at intervals thereafter. This “spaced rehearsal” is more effective than cramming, especially for retaining what you’ve learned.
Use mnemonic devices to make memorization easier. Mnemonics (the initial “m” is silent) are clues of any kind that help us remember something, usually by helping us associate the information we want to remember with a visual image, a sentence, or a word.
6 types of mnemonic device
- Visual image – Associate a visual image with a word or name to help you remember them better. Positive, pleasant images that are vivid, colorful, and three-dimensional will be easier to remember. Example: To remember the name Rosa Parks and what she’s known for, picture a woman sitting on a park bench surrounded by roses, waiting as her bus pulls up.
- Acrostic (or sentence) – Make up a sentence in which the first letter of each word is part of or represents the initial of what you want to remember. Example: The sentence “Every good boy does fine” to memorize the lines of the treble clef, representing the notes E, G, B, D, and F.
- Acronym – An acronym is a word that is made up by taking the first letters of all the key words or ideas you need to remember and creating a new word out of them. Example: The word “HOMES” to remember the names of the Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.
- Rhymes and alliteration – Rhymes, alliteration (a repeating sound or syllable), and even jokes are memorable way to remember more mundane facts and figures. Example: The rhyme “Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November” to remember the months of the year with only 30 days in them.
- Chunking – Chunking breaks a long list of numbers or other types of information into smaller, more manageable chunks. Example: Remembering a 10-digit phone number by breaking it down into three sets of numbers: 555-867-5309 (as opposed to 5558675309).
- Method of loci – Imagine placing the items you want to remember along a route you know well, or in specific locations in a familiar room or building. Example: For a shopping list, imagine bananas in the entryway to your home, a puddle of milk in the middle of the sofa, eggs going up the stairs, and bread on your bed.
- You’ve heard that laughter is the best medicine, and that holds true for the brain and the memory, as well as the body. Unlike emotional responses, which are limited to specific areas of the brain, laughter engages multiple regions across the whole brain.
Furthermore, listening to jokes and working out punch lines activates areas of the brain vital to learning and creativity. As psychologist Daniel Goleman notes in his book Emotional Intelligence, “laughter seems to help people think more broadly and associate more freely.”
Looking for ways to bring more laughter in your life? Start with these basics:
Laugh at yourself. Share your embarrassing moments. The best way to take ourselves less seriously is to talk about the times when we took ourselves too seriously.
When you hear laughter, move toward it. Most of the time, people are very happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humor you find in it. When you hear laughter, seek it out and try to join in.
Spend time with fun, playful people. These are people who laugh easily—both at themselves and at life’s absurdities—and who routinely find the humor in everyday events. Their playful point of view and laughter are contagious.
Surround yourself with reminders to lighten up. Keep a toy on your desk or in your car. Put up a funny poster in your office. Choose a computer screensaver that makes you laugh. Frame photos of you and your loved ones having fun.