father and son improve memory by reading

How to improve your memory

We all want a good memory and there are many ways to improve your memory skills. Here are some tips from neuroscience researcher and author of Your Superstar Brain Kaja Nordengen.

Read more brain related articles here

Personally, we’re looking forward to science developing contact lenses with built-in face recognition, but for the time being there are no shortcuts. True, there are dozens of low-tech ways to compensate for not remembering things in everyday life. To mention a few: shopping lists, cookbooks, calendars, filofax, post-it notes, etc. But if you leave your shopping list behind or your phone runs out of battery, you might be left helpless in the supermarket wondering what you went there for. And how can you show off at Quiz Night? It’s time to dust off the memory.

Improve your memory of names 

Forgetting the name of a person as soon as you meet them often leads to self-judgement. But it’s not fair to blame bad memory when you can’t remember the name of a person you’ve only just met. Also, when greeting new people, your focus is often on so many things other than the name itself. You wonder what kind of person this is and who they remind you of. You also focus on how you present yourself, whether your handshake is firm enough and how you say your own name. We shouldn’t stop caring about these things but to remember the name, we need focus mainly on the name and rather try to associate all the other impressions with it. 

If you’re not good at recognising faces, or at least not good at putting a name to a face, you may want to move your own focus more to the face and name and to find associations that can link them together. 

So, when you greet new people, first remind yourself to focus on the name. Repeat it straight away to make sure you have understood it correctly. Consider if you know someone else with the same name, or if the name reminds you of anything else. We know that repetition is an important tool for implanting new things in the memory. Try to use the new name in the conversation: “It’s so nice to finally meet you, Sunny”. 

Fun associations improve memory

If Sunny’s skin tone happens to be kind of orange from self-tanning or foundation, you could associate this with an orange-glowing evening sun. If she is pale and looks like she’s never been outside the house, you could think “Sunny has never seen the sun”. This becomes a fun association that helps you put the name to the face next time you see her. 

If you also add a few extra repetitions by saying the name and imagining her orange skin colour in your mind when you tell the family about your day at dinner, then you’re even more likely to remember her name. 

Improve your memory of lists

There are many memory techniques that help you remember a shopping list after just reading it once. The most common of these is to create a pathway and to place the items you need to remember along the path. 

If you need to remember potatoes, tomatoes, baby food, potato chips and coffee, you can imagine yourself going through a number of challenges before you finally get to the fresh cup of coffee. Start by imagining yourself in a potato race up the stairs to the entrance, before juggling with tomatoes in the corridor, throwing a spoon of baby food against a target in the bathroom, walking on smoking hot potato chips straight from the deep fryer, before you finally see: a cup of fragrant coffee in the kitchen. Later when you go to the grocery store, you can mentally go through this route.

Memory is not just the simple push of a storage button, but a much more dynamic process impacted by emotions, movement and associations. Had you just thought potato in the stairs, tomato in the corridor, baby food in the bathroom, potato chips in the deep fryer and coffee in the kitchen, you wouldn’t remember the list as well. If you know about the brain and how memory works, you can be more effective at remembering. Memory techniques come in handy at work, during studies and in everyday life. Learn to let people feel seen and recognised by remembering their names and show off at Quiz Night!