For the most part, memory issues become more common with age. “Unless you’re jet-lagged, sleep-deprived or have a thyroid issue, memory loss is not a common problem” among people in their 20s and 30s, says Allen Towfigh, MD, medical director of New York Neurology & Sleep Medicine in New York City. “You have a strong reserve at this level and your brain can compensate.”
But there’s a huge difference between not having trouble remembering stuff and having the kind of strong, agile memory that helps you get ahead at work, outrank your fellow fantasy league owners come draft time and impress that special someone on a third date.
A study in Molecular Psychiatry showed a positive relationship between working memory—the ability to store and process information relevant to the task at hand—and high physical endurance, better cognitive function and other healthy traits. (The study showed that binge drinking and regular smoking hindered working memory.)
“We’re a society in search of the ‘magic bullet,’ some ‘thing’ to make us better at whatever it is we’re pursuing at the moment,” says sports neurologist Vernon Williams, MD. Learning a few simple tricks can help.
Memorizing a Long List
If you’ve ever seen a memory champion rattle off a sequence of numbers or items, chances are they used a time-honored system called the mnemonic method. The best part? You don’t have to be a memory athlete to use this method for improving your own memory, according to a study out of Stanford University Medical Center.
In the study, memory athletes were able to memorize and recall nearly 71 out of 72 words 20 minutes after a timed memorization session. After using the mnemonic method for six weeks, non-athletes were able to recall nearly the same number of words as the memory athletes.
Here’s how it works: The concept involves pairing items to be memorized with a visual image of a specific landmark along a well-known route, such as a walk through your house. For example, here’s how you may memorize the following list: monkey, computer, apples, soccer, bike, steak, cell phone. Create a crazy story that takes you through your house or other familiar territory and place these items along the way.
Remembering Dates and Numbers
Memory champions advocate using similar mnemonic methods to remember dates by linking the number to a familiar face or image/picture similarly to the long list method. Adding an emotion or experience further ensures you’ll remember the date.
Also called the Journey Method, Memory Place or Method of Loci, variations of this tactic can be used to memorize nearly anything. In his book, Unlimited Memory (TCK Publishing), grandmaster Kevin Horsley links numbers with letters of the alphabet to spell out words. By considering vowels as “space holders” without value, any word can be broken down into a numerical sequence.
Although it takes a while to master, Horsley uses this method to memorize 100-digit numbers within 45 seconds.
Not as complex as committing numbers to memory, remembering a person’s name involves associating the name with other images, along with repetition. Try these simple steps:
- Repeat the name. Once someone’s introduced themselves to you, repeat the person’s name by using it in a follow-up question such as, “So how long have you been with the company, Paul?” or “Nice to meet you, Paul.”
- Ask for a business card and glance at the person’s name while you talk to them.
- Associate the person’s name with something you know about the person (“Jessica from Jersey”).
- Connect the person to someone you know or a famous celebrity. “Emma” becomes Emma Stone, “Daniel” becomes Daniel Radcliffe, etc.
- Make a conscious decision. Being present and in the moment when being introduced makes it much easier to remember someone’s name.
Use an App
There are smartphone apps that claim to improve memory and strengthen the brain’s capacity; Williams says any worthwhile app contains the following components:
- It involves something you haven’t learned before.
- It has exercises, whether physical or mental, that increase neural pathways because they demand focused effort.
- It develops a skill that can be built on—find something that you can begin at a simple level and increase as you master each phase of performance.
- It pays off with activities that are challenging but enjoyable. The following apps are free:
Name Shark: Uses fun quizzes to help memorize the names and faces of people in your social and business circles.
NameKeeper: Add names quickly with info and photo.
Memorize Anything: Helps you memorize by hearing your own voice read your selected passage over and over again.
Just Reminder: An all-on-one reminder for android phones
**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.