10 Ways to Improve Your Memory

Yesterday I forgot four passwords, two book titles, and one pair of pants despite sticky notes reminding me of each. Since then, I've read HowStuffWorks' suggestions on improving memory. I forgot if they worked, but let's review 'em anyway.

Note that none of these methods are foolproof or ideal individually. What you really need to do is look at your lifestyle and figure out a combination that works best for you. That said, here are some suggestions:

Easy on That Bottle, You Lush

If you've had a night of drinking planned—I'm looking at all those folks using the #drunkmodo tag—then put down the bottle for a moment. While you'll feel great and forget all your worries for a bit, heavy drinking can not only leave you wondering why you took that funny-smelling girl home, but it can also have some pretty adverse effects on your memory in general.

The good news? The occasional drink here and there can be good for your memory. In fact, "some studies have found that moderate drinkers do better on certain tests of memory and cognition than nondrinkers and heavy drinkers."

Turn That Frown Upside Down

Depression increases cortisol levels in the bloodstream, increased cortisol levels affect the hippocampus which is the "clearing center for short-term memory," and next thing you know, you're struggling to remember anything new.

Sure, improving your memory isn't exactly easy if you're struggling with depression, but the knowledge that it might be the source of your difficulties can help you find a way to treat the issue—be it by seeking professional help or sorting out something that's going on in your life.

Get Off the Couch

It's all too easy to find excuses to avoid exercise, but eventually the laziness will affect your ability to remember if you've used the same excuse 15 or 16 times already:

The brain depends on energy received through a constant intake of oxygen and nutrients from the bloodstream, and when those nutrients don't arrive, the brain's ability to work is compromised

The solution? Get off the couch or away from the desk or just plain out of the house. Get moving a bit. No one's asking you to run a marathon, but a bit of exercise will leave your brain—and your hips—happier.

Think in Pictures

The examples HowStuffWorks gives to explain thinking in pictures are goofy, but they do help with the explain the idea and why it works:

Say you place your eyeglasses on the kitchen table. When you do so, imagine your eyeglasses eating all the food on the table. Later, when you're wondering where your glasses are, your brain has this image in the bank.

Well, how could that not work? Like you'd forget the mental image of your glasses eating your dinner.

Ah-ttention!

This couldn't be more obvious, but to remember things you need to pay attention to them in the first place. If you're just nodding along and watching TV as your pal tells you about his favorite books, odds are you won't recall them later on. But if you'd listened to him actively and asked questions, you would find it easier to recall his secret love of Twilight the next day.

Word Association

For the longest time I struggled to remember that the last name for Lifehacker's Kevin was Purdy. But then he posted a project which I deemed oh-so-pretty that for some reason I began to associate a silly spelling of pretty, purty, with Kevin. Pretty, purty, Purdy. Tada! Since then I've never forgotten Kevin's last name or the fact that he posts pretty projects on occasion.

Sometimes silly wordplay or term association can help you remember people's names or traits. Yes, it really can get ridiculous, but it works. And it's not like you really have to tell someone how you remember his or her name.

Lump Things Together

Tell me your phone number. Ok, you don't really have to tell me, but say it to yourself. Do you notice how you seem to naturally pause at certain points? Three numbers—pause—three numbers—pause—four numbers. That's because you memorize things in little chunks like that. It helps to break things down and group them. Sometimes these "chunks" of information can be more easily recalled if you add word association to the mix.

Take After Hannibal Lecter

Hannibal Lecter was known for using the method of loci, the method of location, to aid his memory. He imagined walking through a castle-like home and pictured objects which he associated with memories. You can use the same method by visualizing a home or a road and picturing whatever you're memorizing as things or people along the way.

Look Around

You can use your environment to trigger memories. Let's say you need to burn a CD for someone. Take a blank disk and place it on top of your desk. Later on it will stand out to you and wondering why it's there will make you recall that you needed to burn a copy of "Party in the USA" for someone.

Try, Try Again

Repetition, repetition, repetition. Whether it's repeating a phone number until you remember it or practicing one of these memory methods until it sticks, repetition is key.

Got it? Remember it? It's OK, there won't be a test, but I do want to know if you use some of these methods and whether they work for you. Or do you have a great trick that wasn't mentioned? [HowStuffWorks—Picture by AuthenticEccentric]

Memory [Forever] is our week-long consideration of what it really means when our memories, encoded in bits, flow in a million directions, and might truly live forever.