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3 nearly effortless ways to improve your memory and recall, backed by neuroscience

Want to almost instantly improve your short-term memory and recall? Of course you do.

3 nearly effortless ways to improve your memory and recall, backed by neuroscience
[Source image: Jezperklauzen/iStock]

You have an idea. A great idea. A brilliant idea. A potentially business- or life-changing idea. But then, by the time you get the chance to write it down, you’ve forgotten it.

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Even though it’s unlikely that something you can’t remember for more than a few hours is that important, still: We’ve all had things we wanted to remember, but couldn’t.

And that’s a problem, because where success is concerned, what you know, and what you actually do with that knowledge, can make all the difference.

So what can you do if you need to remember something important? Most memory-improvement techniques—like mnemonics, chunking, and building memory palaces—involve a fair amount of effort.

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Science to the rescue: Check out these simple ways to increase your short-term memory and recall.

Sounds odd, I know. But this 2011 study published in the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology shows the simple act of asking yourself whether you will remember something significantly improves the odds that you will remember, in some cases by as much as 50%.

That’s especially true for remembering things you want to do, like prospective memories. Prospective memories involve remembering to perform a planned action, or recall a planned intention, at some point in the future.

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Like remembering to praise an employee, email a customer, or implement a schedule change.

Why this works is somewhat unclear. Maybe the act of predicting is a little like testing yourself; research shows that quizzing yourself is an extremely effective way to speed up the learning process. What is clear is that the act helps your hippocampus better form and index those episodic memories for later access.

So if you want to remember to do something in the future, take a second and predict whether you will remember.

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Science says that act alone makes it more likely you will.

We’ve all been around people who repeat things they’re learning out loud. Or just mouth the words. They look a little odd: Smart people just file knowledge away. They don’t have to talk to themselves.

Actually, smart people do talk to themselves.

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A 2010 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that saying words out loud—or just mouthing them—makes them more distinctive. Separates them from all the other words you’re thinking. Makes them different.

All of which makes them more memorable.

So go ahead. When you need to remember something, say it aloud. Or mouth it to yourself.

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Your cerebral cortex will thank you for it.

Memory consolidation is the process of transforming temporary memories into more stable, long-lasting memories. Even though the process of memory consolidation can be sped up, still: Storing a memory in a lasting way takes time.

One way to increase the odds is to rehearse whatever you want to remember for 40 seconds. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that a brief period of rehearsal—like replaying an event in your mind, going over what someone said in a meeting, or mentally mapping out a series of steps—makes it significantly more likely that you will remember what you rehearsed.

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As the researchers write, that “brief period of rehearsal has a huge effect on our ability to remember complex, lifelike events over periods of one to two weeks. We have also linked this rehearsal effect to processing in a particular part of the brain—the posterior cingulate.”

Which should be long enough for you to actually do something with whatever you hope to remember.

Because ideas without action aren’t really ideas.

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They’re regrets.


This article was originally published in our sister publication, Inc., and is reprinted here with permission.


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