Memory Hacks You Won't Forget

As I reluctantly step into my forties I know I’m not as sharp as I once was. At one time my claim to fame was that I didn’t use any kind of work management software. It was all in my head and let me tell you, I killed it. Every day, week, and month I knew what needed to be done, who needed to be contacted, and projects on the back burner.

Gone are the days.

I can’t tell you the number of times I now stare at the wall scratching my head trying to remember how I named a document in my Dropbox files. The other day I was trying to think of the genetic condition I have that has caused me fear, pain, dozens of doctor appointments, and hours of worry. After all the time and effort I have spent researching and worrying about the unforgettable term “Neurofibromatosis Type 2”, you might think it would be fire-branded onto my brain. It’s so frustrating and I know that if I don’t start exercising my brain now the memory issues will only get worse. 

When I was a little kid my mom had us do a lot of memorization, which I thought was capital punishment at the time. I still remember so many Bible verses and poems I was taught to recite. I wish I had kept up with the habit because I often feel like I no longer possess the techniques to memorize any amount of text or data. 

Part of my problem is that I’m so accustomed to the nonstop flow of information like moving from podcasts to the radio in the car to meetings at work to voicemail or the numerous phone calls I’m on throughout the day that provide nearly instant gratification. It’s addicting and I find it so challenging to focus on anything for more than the 15-minute segment I have blocked out for one thing at a time. Plus, I love multitasking. For real. If I’m brushing my teeth, you can guarantee I’m also picking out clothes. If I’m cleaning I always have a podcast or audiobook playing. Watching tv without my computer in my lap is a foreign concept.

Why do one thing if you can do two?

I decided I needed to change and think long term. Let’s go back to the statement about me getting older and how we all know our mind starts to slip. I can’t avoid getting older, but I plan to do everything I can to stay healthy in all areas while that happens. Here are five tips for improving memory. My inspiration came from a Time article I read, referenced below.

  1. Practice. Like a muscle, you have to exercise your brain. Use it regularly, stretch it and push yourself in new ways.

  2. Take a Guess. Guess the meaning of words before you know the answer.

  3. Repeat. This is the one I need the most. It’s meditation. It’s focus. It’s slowing down. Ugh, my nemesis. You have to repeat something 30 times before you remember. Thirty times!

  4. Word association. Think Johnny Mnemonic, except that you won’t lose all your childhood memories. Practice associating words with familiar concepts or objects so your brain keeps  these in the top drawer.

  5. Think spatially. This is a new one for me: envision a room you are familiar with and “place” the words in the room. Apparently this helps you keep words and concepts in order. I’ve also used this for relaxation. If you visualize a room and mentally look around, inventorying what you see your mind goes to a familiar place and it’s easier to relax than say, counting up or down which triggers further thought process for me.

  6. Relax. If you need to remember something, take a few minutes to chill before you dive into the deep stuff. Total quiet is hard for most of us, but even five to ten minutes a day of being unplugged reaps massive benefits.

Some people have a goal to live longer. Mortality is inevitable and there are factors beyond our control. My goal is to live the healthiest life I can with however many years I get to be on this beautiful planet, remembering the names of those I love and how to bake my sweet potato muffins.

Now, where in the heck did I put my keys…