Memory Improvement Techniques

Here are a handful of quick memory tricks you can start using straight away. These memory tricks are useful for helping you remember small lists of information, such as a shopping list, phone number or to-do lists. In other words, these are neat little tricks that you can start using now (hardly any practice needed) and use in your day-to-day life. Don’t be fooled by their simplicity: they work surprisingly well, and will enable you to remember quickly those little daily items that otherwise could slip out of your memory quickly.

The ‘list of ten’ memory trick

We tend to remember images pretty easily, for example, if you turn each item of a shopping list into a crazy, hold, exaggerated image, then it makes it more memorable. This could mean making the image way larger than the thing really is (e.g. a giant apple) or having it involved in some bizarre or dramatic scene (e.g. rather than just imagining a tin of syrup you need to buy, imagine a swimming pool full of syrup with people jumping in and climbing out dripping with it!). Of course, the problem is that whilst the images make the item more memorable, it isn’t enough: you need to have some way of listing out the images mentally so that you don’t miss any. i.e. you need some structure. One basic structure are numbers. We can all count from one to ten. You’ll never forget how to count to ten, its pretty much hard-wired into your brain at this point! Now, turn each number from one to ten into an image, which at least kind of looks like that number (for example, I would use: 1 = pen, 2= swan, 3=handcuffs, 4=sail boat, 5= hook, 6= tadpole, 7=boomerang, 8=snowman, 9= balloon on a string, 10 = knife and plate). Once you’ve got your 10 number-images, mentally run through and check them. Can you remember them all? If there are any you can’t, then replace that image with something that looks more like that number to you. Now, whenever you need to remember a list of up to 10 items, all you need to do is turn each item into an image, then have that image interact with one of the number images. (e.g. if syrup was number 2 on your shopping list, you might create the mental image of a swan (2) swimming serenely on the swimming pool of syrup).

The finger memory trick

Sometimes all it takes to remember each item on a short list is a little prompting. And sometimes just knowing how many things there are to recall can be enough to prompt you. It stops you reaching the end of the list, thinking you’ve remembered everything, when in reality there was one more item! A nice quick trick you can use is to assign each item on your list to one of your fingers. Then just count them back off when you need to recall the items.

The chunking memory trick

Our short-term memories have a limited number of ‘things’ they can hold at once, before they are forgotten. In most people it tends to be between 5 and 9 (with the majority being able to remember around 7 things). This limit is fairly set in stone. However, there is one way to cheat it: expand what information you fit into the definition of a ‘thing’. For example, a thing could be one number or if you can figure out a way to closely group 2 or 3 numbers together, then you can increase your short-term memory by two or three times! How might you group them together? Two ways, firstly you could try to inject some rhythm into the numbers, like they form a tune. A lot of people already do this with phone numbers and – given that they can be hard to remember anyway – this technique can still be useful for numbers that are within your short-term memory limit anyway. Secondly, you can turn each pair of numbers into a year. This depends on you having a lot of associations with recent (last 100 years) historical events, which could be personal, sporting, or cultural. For example, 80 might be the year of your birth, 94 might be the release of your favourite movie, 59 the last year your sports team won a major tournament (you really need to support a new team!) and so on. The last step is then to put the events of the years into some kind of order, like a story (not chronological order of the years). It doesn’t matter how stupid or silly the story, the more ridiculous the better.

The Journey Memory Trick

Similarly to the 1-to-10 method is the journey method. Here, instead of using the familiar structure of numbers, you use the structure of a place you know well, such as your house or route to work. All you need then are a list of 10 landmarks along a route in this space (e.g. things on your route to work, or rooms and objects you pass through on a walk through your house). Once you are clear on this list of 10 landmarks (mentally run through them and check) you can remember a list of ten items by connecting the image of each item to one of the landmarks.

The Acronym memory trick

This is one of the favourite memory tricks of medical students, who need to remember lots of lists of names of parts of the body. Just take the first letter of each word you need to remember, and shuffle these letters around into a word. This works especially well if you can find a word which is related to the category of what you’re trying to remember.