Forgot where you put your car-keys? Does your mind blank out when trying to think of answers? Forgetting these types of things is a sign of how busy we are. “When we’re not paying good attention, the memories we form aren’t very robust, and we have a problem retrieving the information later,” says Zaldy S. Tan, MD, director of a Memory Disorders Clinic in Boston. Not everyone has a bad memory, but everyone can benefit from a few memorization tips.

How to better remember names:

1) Pay close attention — When you first meet someone, consciously force yourself to listen closely to that person’s name. To improve ability to remember the name, be sure to ask about the spelling. Ask if “Kristine is spelled with a ‘K’ or a ‘C’ “– picture the spelling. Also, be sure to add a comment about the name such as: “I used to have a few friends named Kristine, but their names were spelled with a ‘K’ and not a ‘C’ like yours.” Always be sure to use their name when first greeting them, saying goodbye, or throughout a conversation.

2) Visualize their name — If you are terrible at remembering names, it may help to relate their name with a picture. Visualize their name, meditate on it if you need to. Picture the name, or a picture associated with the name, then picture the person. If the person’s first name is something like Troy — it may help to picture the person and then the DVD cover of the movie “Troy.” If you are shooting to remember the last name as well, try to break it up into smaller words. Heres an example: a man’s last name is Lidkey — break the name up into the words “lid” and “key.” Picture a “lid” and “key” and associate it with the man’s face.

3) Jot down some notes — If you are watching a speaker or are in a position to help you take notes to remember a person, by all means do so. It will definitely help by jotting down some personal features like: has a shiny bald-head, coached the University’s basketball team, and wears big sunglasses. These notes will serve as a good reference when you need a reminder.

Misplacing things: Where did I put my cell phone?

1) Describe the “play-by-play” –Notice what you are doing when you set your cell phone down on the table. Increase your overall awareness by being conscious that you’ve lost your cell phone in the past, tell yourself that you won’t forget where you put it. As you set down your cell phone on the table, tell yourself: “I’m reminding myself that I’m putting my cell phone on this table,” so you have a clear memory of where you put your cell phone.

2) Make remembering a habit — Put a small box or basket on the counter top. Train yourself to put your cell phone, sunglasses, car keys, or any other object that you commonly misplace, in the basket after each use. By putting each object in the basket, you are gradually training yourself to remember where you put things.

How to remember tasks to complete:

1) Give yourself a physical reminder — To remind yourself what you need to do, write a big “to-do” list for the day and post it up in a place you will easily see each day. Give yourself some sort of “physical” reminder. You expect to see your bills on the table, so leaving them sit won’t necessarily remind you to pay them; everybody can forget. If you place your toothbrush or glasses on your bills, you will be more likely to pay them without forgetting. Why? When you place an object like a shoe or toothbrush that you use on a daily basis, you will be forced to look for that object. Seeing the object next to your bills will make you remember to pay the bills with less procrastination.

2) Sing some tunes — A great way to remember is to sing. The sound of music has potential to create a rhythm that “gets stuck in our head.” There are many ways to create a tune to help you remember. To remember items on a shopping list, combine them with a well-known, catchy melody. Combine “new shirts, jeans, socks” with the tune to nursery rhymes like “jack and jill” or a popular song that’s been stuck in your head.

3) Use mnemonic devices — Many of us have used phrases like “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.” Using the first letter of each word can help to remember Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Another very common mnemonic device is “ROY G BIV” to remember the colors of a rainbow. You can make your own form of a mnemonic device to help you remember names in a family. Let’s say the Johnson family has 4 kids that you want to remember: Alex, Eileen, Peter, and Susan. Combine the first letter of their names and you have “APES.” Next time all you’ll need to do is think of a monkey or ape and you are likely to remember the “APES” of the Johnson family.

4) Put your body to use — When you don’t have a writing tool and paper to make a shopping list or to-do-list, remember it by associating each item with parts of your body. Begin at your head and work your way down to your feet. So if you need to by eggs, calculators, chicken, and gum, you should try to picture something like: a smashed egg on your head, calculators on each shoulder, a chicken stuck underneath your shirt, and gum on the bottom of your shoes. When you are able to associate items with something like body parts, you are improving your memory, facilitating creativity, and don’t need to waste time writing out a list.

Remembering passwords: e-mail accounts, bank accounts, PIN numbers

1) Associate shapes with the numbers — For example: the number 2 could appear to look like a duck, 0 looks like a bowling ball, 1 looks like a pen, 8 looks like a snowman, etc. You can use your imagination and think of associations that work best for you. To remember your PIN number 8201, imagine that you have built a snowman (8), when ducks come near (2), you roll a bowling ball (0), miss them and find a new pen.

2) Start rhyming — Think of words that rhyme with numbers. 3-6-9 tree, sticks, pine (all pertaining to the woods). You could get a theme going. Making letters rhyme with numbers and vice-versa is a great way to improve your memory. You are much more likely to remember something that rhymes over something that doesn’t! Start rhyming your way to a better memory.

I have a terrible memory, will anything work?

Some people may have a worse memory than others, but there’s always a method that you can use to improve. Don’t lose hope if you do have a below-average memory. Always keep trying new ways to improve your memorization abilities. A few tips that I have are:

1) Read, talk, and listen to what you are trying to memorize — To memorize a textbook passage or poem, read the material, say the material out loud, and focus on hearing what you are reading. It wouldn’t hurt to write or type what you’ve just read. Writing and typing encourage memory formation through repetition. If you need to, record what you are trying to memorize and play it on your way to work each morning. Rotate every third day between: reading the poem over, stating the poem out loud, and listening to your recorded version of the poem.

2) Eliminate distractions when memorizing — When you can hear the T.V. playing, have the radio playing or your i-Pod playing while trying to memorize, it will naturally be much harder for your brain to retain the information. A valuable recommendation is to eliminate all possible distractions such as: T.V., music, and other distracting sounds. It may help to go to the library in a quiet place to concentrate. Eliminating distractions is much more productive if you are trying to memorize: quit wasting time and get in a good environment that promotes healthy memorization.

3) Take fish oil — The DHA in fish oil supplements has been proven to form memories. I have been taking fish oil supplements for almost 2 years and have personally experienced an improved memory and overall brain function. Fish oil is linked to an increased I.Q. and building a healthier brain. If you haven’t yet at least tried out fish oil for awhile, I recommend it. It could be the best thing for your brain’s memory. If you think you’ll forget a lot of this list, get out a pen and write down “buy fish oil” and start taking it to experience leaps in memory.

Women’s memories are better than men’s in a couple of areas:

1) Remembering stressful, frightening, or unpleasant experiences — The hormone Estrogen activates a much bigger neuron field in a woman’s brain during an unpleasant experience. When faced with an unpleasant experience, women actually find it to be much more distressing than men. “Simply remembering an unpleasant experience can bring back the same terrible sadness and agitation to women that they experienced at the time,” says Dr. Legato, author of Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget. On a positive note, women are probably better at remembering more precise details of an accident or crime scene.

2) When people talk — “This includes stories read aloud from books, as well as verbal arguments,” says Dr. Legato. The spoken word becomes firmly packed into women’s memories and can be recalled more easily than men. This is due to an increase in the amount of blood flow to the brain that women experience when listening.

Men can have phenomenal memorization abilities, it’s just that it is more common for women to have a natural advantage when it comes to memorizing.

Will you remember this article ?

Don’t be discouraged if you currently have a bad memory. There are many things you can do to keep your brain fit and memory boosted. If you can do yourself a favor and at least remember the information within this article, your memory will start to improve. If know that you will forget this article, then print it out now and tape it up in a place you will see everyday.  There are also other ways to improve your brain with things like memory vitamins that you should check out if you are interested.

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References: Reader’s Digest, March 2008, “New Ways To Retrain Your Brain” by Patricia Curtis.