By Popular Demand: Seven Ways to Sharpen Your Memory
Last week I sent out the second issue of my monthly email newsletter, The Brilliant Report. It featured an an article titled “Seven Ways to Sharpen Your Memory.” Since then many people have asked me how they can link to that article, so I’m posting the piece below.
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Seven Ways to Sharpen Your Memory
1. Be conscious of the limits of your working memory—the mental holding area that contains the facts and concepts you’re thinking about at any one time. We can hang onto only about four facts or ideas at a time in working memory, but we can pack more information into those four slots by engaging in chunking: linking multiple pieces of information into a few meaningful groups.
2. We all remember from school that cramming the night before a test doesn’t work too well, but many of us use the same approach in our working lives, hurriedly reviewing what we need to know on the way to a meeting or presentation. It’s much more effective to expose yourself to the information in brief sessions spaced out over time. One easy way to do this is to use your email program to send yourself a weekly or biweekly message containing the material you need to review.
3. Despite its many proponents, there’s little scientific evidence to support the idea that we have distinctive learning styles (visual, auditory, etc.). However, we do all learn and remember best when information is presented in multiple modalities—when we hear it, see it, act it out, and so on. If there’s something you need to remember, try to absorb it through several senses: read the material out loud, watch a video lecture on YouTube.
4. Sleep is key to memory: it’s during slumber that we consolidate and make permanent the knowledge we’ve gathered during the day. After you’ve been exposed to a lot of information (for example, when you’ve spent the day at a conference), make sure you get a good night’s sleep. You can also try reviewing important information just before you go to bed at night—or following a study session with a daytime nap!
5. We often conceive of memory as something like a storage tank, and a test as a kind of dipstick that measures how much information we’ve put in there. But that’s not actually how the brain works. Every time we pull up a memory, we make it stronger and more lasting—so quizzing yourself doesn’t just measure what you know, it changes what you know. Put away your notes and try to recall the material from memory.
6. We remember new knowledge better when it connects to what we already know. Before heading into a situation in which you’ll be absorbing a lot of new information, “activate” your prior knowledge by reflecting on what you currently understand of the topic, maybe jotting down a few notes. You’ll be priming your mind to grab and hold onto the new material.
7. The “generation effect” is the term psychologists use to describe the following phenomenon: we remember material better when we’ve generated it ourselves. Rather than reading or repeating someone else’s formulation, put the information to be learned into your own words: explain it to yourself, or talk about it to someone else. Research also shows that teaching someone else helps the teacher to remember the material better.