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Learn to Strengthen Your Memory: 7 Memory Tips : Page 2 of 2

Learn to Strengthen Your Memory: Seven Essential Memory Tips

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You can awaken your mind and enrich your character by memorizing your favorite poems or, perhaps, the speeches or soliloquies that you find most inspiring. Begin by memorizing this wonderful poem about thinking "counterclockwise," adapted from "Youth and Age" by the Greek lyric poet Anacreon:

When I see the young men play,
Young I think I am as they,
And my aged thoughts aside,
To the dance with joy I stride;
Come, your grace and smile lend me;
Youth and mirthful thoughts attend me;
Age begone, we'll dance among
Youthful spirits, and be young;
Bring some wine and fill my glass;
Now you'll see me shake my a——;
I can dance and tipple too,
And be wild as well as you.

Over the course of twenty years of research, Helga Noice, PhD, and her husband, Tony Noice, PhD, have discovered that it's easier to remember lines, such as the lines of a poem or script, when moving in a way appropriate to the relevant character. Writing in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, the Noices explain that physical and emotional engagement facilitate recall. They received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund their innovative research into the benefits of theater training for older adults and have discovered that acting-based methods, including memorization, help those adults counter cognitive decline.

Here is a way to strengthen your powers of memorization, using the poem above:

  • Read the poem three times.
  • Read the poem three more times, aloud.
  • Record your recitation, and play it back a few times before you go to sleep.
  • Practice reciting two lines at a time from memory until you can do them all.
  • Pretend you are a character in a Greek play. Move around and gesture as you recite the poem.

In addition to poems, you can, of course, apply the practice of memorization to anything you desire: names, storytelling, songs, jokes.

6. Teach What You Want to Remember

Teaching, or simply sharing your new learning with others, is one of the most powerful ways to consolidate learning and strengthen your memory. If you learn the samba at dance class, show your new moves to a willing friend. When you attend a reading or lecture by your favorite author, express what you learned to anyone who's available to listen.

7. Learn Memory Systems (Mnemonics) and Mind Mapping

The ancient Greeks pioneered the development of memory systems, also known as mnemonics (named after Mnemosyne, the goddess of unlimited memory). Mnemonics were created to help orators remember the content of their speeches (notes were not allowed). In the process, the Greeks illuminated the nature of memory and discovered ways to help cultivate it throughout life.

The Greeks understood that the mind works by association — in other words, by linking one word, image, idea, or feeling with another. Recall is based on a reliable pattern of association, and creativity is discovering new patterns of association. The Greeks realized that associations can be made more reliable by applying the following principles:

  • Create images in your mind's eye. If you wished to remember the words dog and bicycle together, you might create an image of a dog riding a bicycle.
  • Make the images specific and vivid. What breed of dog? What color bicycle? A black Labrador on a red bicycle is easier to remember than a generic dog and bicycle.
  • Keep the elements that you are aiming to remember physically linked in your mind's eye. Don't create an image, for example, of a dog chasing a bicycle. Why not? Because the images aren't "physically" linked in your mind's eye, and when you think of a dog you might forget what it was chasing.

Let's apply the Greek principles to memorizing something that many people have probably learned and forgotten: the planets of the solar system in order from the Sun. Take a moment and write them down or just say them aloud. (For the sake of this example, we'll include Pluto as a planet.)

Perhaps you learned a phrase to help you remember the planets, such as this one: "My Very Earnest Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas." The first letter of each of these words is designed to remind us of the respective planet: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto.

Although phrases can be a form of mnemonics, they don't fully employ the Greek principles and aren't as reliable as mnemonic devices that do, because you still have to remember what the letters represent. To remember the planets in order in an unforgettable way, you'll use your imaginative right hemisphere to create a vivid, visual story line as follows. (The story line does require a rudimentary knowledge of Greek/Roman mythology.)

Picture the Sun. It's hot. How hot is it? Plunge in a thermometer to find out. The thermometer boils over and out shoots a drop of Mercury (see it glistening in space next to the Sun). A beautiful goddess draped in gossamer robes comes floating through space to catch that drop, and she is the lovely Venus. She releases the drop, and it plummets into the middle of your backyard on the planet Earth. Your neighbor is upset by all this commotion, and he charges over to confront you. His big red face lets you know that he is the god of war, Mars. Then, strolling down your street, just in time to save you, comes the elegant king of the gods, Jupiter, clothed in regal armor. On Jupiter's breastplate, emblazoned in bright purple, are the letters S-U-N. They stand for: Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. And standing on Jupiter's right shoulder is a little Disney dog laughing at all this, Pluto (not Goofy!).

If you review this imaginative story line and create vivid images in your mind's eye, you'll discover that it's almost impossible to forget the planets. Most people experience an immediate, dramatic improvement in their ability to remember the planets when they apply these simple memory principles. Experiencing an improvement in your ability to memorize builds confidence in your memory power. Once you realize that you can improve your memory throughout life, you'll discover a more optimistic, positive approach toward learning anything.

You can learn more about mnemonics, including how to apply them to remembering names and faces, in Tony Buzan's classic book Master Your Memory. Buzan also pioneered the development of another tool that will strengthen your memory (and your creative thinking ability) throughout life: Mind Maps. Most of us learned to generate, organize, and attempt to remember ideas by outlining. Outlining is a top-down, hierarchical, and unwieldy way of trying to think and remember. It overemphasizes linear, left-brain processing and doesn't involve the part of the brain that is best at memorizing — the imaginative right hemisphere.

A Mind Map is a whole-brain method for organizing and remembering things. It is structured in a way that mirrors how the brain works — in an organic, flowing, associative manner. The Mind Mapping process is easy to learn. It combines key words and images in a simple format. Studies show that Mind Mapping improves recall. Research has demonstrated that students who applied Mind Mapping scored, on average, 32 percent better on tests of recall than those who used conventional notes. The best resource for learning Mind Mapping is Tony Buzan's The Mind Map Book.

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Updated 1/7/14