Apr 27, 2013

Memorization Made Easy

Experts say you can improve your memory 100 percent by simply learning a few basic tricks.

When researchers test memory skills, they generally use a 30-item list as a gauge to judge how well someone can remember. Studies conducted at various universities around the country have found similar results: Those who are asked to memorize the items randomly, that is, without implementing any learning strategies, usually are able to recall around 10 items. Those who use a few memorization skills can recall about 20 items. And those who use as many strategies as possible are frequently able to memorize all 30 items.

There are a variety of memorization tricks, and most will take some time to master, says Janet Fogler, a clinical social worker who has conducted memory workshops for the University of Michigan Medical Center's Turner Geriatric Services. Also, what works great for someone else may not work at all for you. Try them all, she advises, then pick those that feel right and practice them over and over until they become second nature.

To get started, suggests Dr. Herrmann, you might, want to try to match the tricks toyour personality. If you like to live simply, for example, choose simple tricks. If you like intricate stories and explanations, choose complex ones. If you like crossword puzzles, try tricks that involve verbal manipulations. If you're visually oriented - you have a penchant for art, for example - imagery-based tricks would probably work best for you.

Take a Mental Snapshot
Let's say you're asked to observe a scene – a group of people on a trip in Portugal -- for later recall. The group (you've already counted ten women and four men) is laughing it up on a tour of a Portuguese castle. Look at the tour bus parked in the castle courtyard, then scan the area systematically for details. What's on top of the courtyard walls? What are the flag's colors? Is the stone under your feet dark or light? How far down the walls does the sun shine?

Now watch as the group gets back on the bus, one by one. What are they wearing? Who doesn't have a camera? Which one limps from too much walking? Who is first on the bus? Who is last?

Close your eyes and ask yourself the same questions, then open your eyes to check the answers. Keep opening and closing, asking and checking until you feel the scene is indelibly recorded in your memory.

By purposely seeking out details, asking yourself questions, and rechecking the answers, you are helping to embed that image in your mind, says Dr. Hemnann. This technique can help you recall the scene down to the tiniest details.

Smell and Touch Your Memories

All your senses come into play when imprinting a memory. The more senses you use in trying to record a memory, any memory, the more likely you are to remember it, says Dr. Hemnann.

Can you smell any flowers in the courtyard at the castle? Anyone's perfume? A pipe?

Now run your fingers across a stone in one of the walls. Is it rough or smooth? Is it cold? Does it feel as though the history of a thousand years is pulsing through your fingers?

The more attuned your senses are, the better will be your ability to recall, say the experts.

Put Some Rhythm in Your Thinking

If you think memorizing the scene at the castle was a trick, think of the tour guide who had to memorize the names to go with 14 faces!

You've already learned how to use association to recall someone's name. But let's say you want to remember the names of all the people on the tour. One way to do it is to repeat each name as you meet the person. Saying a name aloud is another way to stamp the names on your memory. Then you might simply repeat each name over and over to yourself after you've left the group.

But a better way, says Dr. Herrmann, might be to put those names to a beat. After all, just think how hard it is to forget the words to a song you like. Try repeating the names in a rhythmic pattern, either in syllables - Kar-en, Da-vid, Jer-ry-or to a certain beat-Kar' enen, Da' vid-vid, Jer' ry-ry. You can even insert their names into a familiar song- "Happy Birthday to Karen, Happy Birthday to David, Happy Birthday dear Jer-ry, Happy Birthday to you."

Reflection Makes for Deeper Roots

It's been a wonderful trip, something you want to remember for the rest of your life. But considering the way your memory's been working lately, how well will you remember it? It depends a lot on how meaningful you make it.

Reflecting on something and thinking about what it means to you is an excellent way to enhance later recall, says Dr. Herrmann. If you want to recall the exquisite details of the castle, for example, mentally reconstruct your visit and think about the differences between your life and the life of someone who lived there hundreds of years ago. Think about how this visit might affect your life. Has it made you think about how pampered your life is compared to the brutal struggle for survival that people experienced in the Middle Ages? Has it made you appreciate the conveniences of elevators, central heating, hot showers, and flush toilets? Or has it made you crave a simpler world?

Roll the answers to these questions around in your mind. The memory of your visit to the castle will sink deeper and deeper until it's impossible to forget.

Give Meaning to Meaningless Words

How quickly can you name all the planets? Maybe you're not even sure how many there are!

Memorizing strings of words is something we are all confronted with at one time or another. If you can't recite the planets off the tip of your tongue, chances are you didn't memorize them the easy way when you were in school.

Memorizing a string of unrelated words requires a little elaboration, says Dr. Herrmann. You give the meaningless list some meaning.

Anyone who's studied music has used this technique. The phrase "Every good boy does fine" to any music student stands for E-G-BD-F, the notes of the treble staff, says Dr. Herrmann. The first letter of each word corresponds to the letter of a musical note. It's called mnemonics. You can use the same approach to any list you need to learn -- even your grocery list.

Oh, yes, the planets. Here's a mnemonic for that one in case you're ever asked to name them again: "Meek violet extraterrestrials make just such unusual new pets": Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. (Boost Your Brain Power, by Ellen Michaud, Russell Wild and the editors of Prevention Magazine)