Use it or you lose it not only applies to your muscles but also to your memory. Sometimes, remembering is as simple as making the effort to remember; that means putting your full attention on what you need or want to remember. Failing that, there are a number of strategies you can use to resuscitate your memory.
The Memory Palace
If you're a Sherlock fan, you'll be familiar with the memory palace. It worked so well on the show, I decided to use it. I imagined a large English manor house and placed the thing I wanted to remember in the foyer. So far, so good. That was until I attempted to retrieve the memory. I remembered the location, but what exactly did I put in the foyer, anyway?
My technique needed work, so I picked up a copy of Moonwalking with Einstein – The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. With Ed Cooke - a Grand Master of Memory - as his coach, he won the 2006 U.S. Memory Championship.
Here is what Ed says:
"All memories are connections in the mind. So the act of associating one thing with another is the essence of memory. The more vivid an association, the likelier it is to stick. The stickiest associations have life to them: they make you laugh, surprise you, shock you. You can use your imagination to make almost any connection come to life."
Check out my second slide on HealthCentral.com for an example of how to make this work for you.
Retention intention is just the beginning
Romantic Dragons Eat Vegetables And Prefer Onions is a delightful acrostic that helps me remember to remember. I learned this in How Memory Works - and How to Make It Work for You, by Robert Madigan, PhD. Chapter 4 explains how to use the “Dragon Principles” to strengthen your memory.
Here is how to put it to work:
R – Retention Intention. It's amazing how simple, yet effective this can be. Often, the tasks or things you want to remember are indistinct from all the things you experience.
D – Deep Processing. Spend a bit of time deliberating delving into the material. How does it relate to you? How does it connect to what you already know? What is the meaning of what you just heard?
E – Elaborate. I love the story that explains why dragons eat vegetables and prefer onions, above all in order to help them in the romance department. (Romance and sex, again!)
V – Visualize. The more vivid you can make the memory, the easier it is to retain and recall. This is where you enter your memory palace.
A – Association. What do you already know? Use all your senses, especially emotion, to help you construct a memory that has more staying power.
P – Practice. Memory work is typically not a “set it and forget it” type of thing. It takes work. There are several suggestions as to how far apart to space out your practice sessions. Try out different intervals and see what works for you.
O – Organization. Go over the material you want to remember, then organize it into meaningful parts. In order to separate it into sections, you want to be as concise as possible.
As you work through the acrostic, you'll notice that there's an overlap between sections. For example, while you take time to organize your material, you are deeply processing it, as you look for associations.
Kinesthetic Memory Techniques
When I taught French as a Second Language (FSL) and English as a Second Language (ESL), I devised a number of gestures to emphasize pronouns, verbs and other structures. It would please me to see my students use those gestures in their lessons and on their tests. Movement helps to make memories stick.
My fourth slide on HealthCentral.com explains the importance of exercise for your memory.
Substitute “I want to remember to....” for “I'd better not forget to....” and see how the positive intention changes things for you. Remember to use it on your children or spouse as you send them out the door.
Next time you look at your souvenirs (French for “remember”), spend some time reminiscing about the trips you took. Look at... continues on slide 5 on HealthCentral.com.
Get out of your cocoon
The rationale for this is explained on page 228 in Seven Steps to Managing Your Memory:
"Low social participation, less frequent social contact, and loneliness have all been associated with the onset of dementia. By contrast, participating in social activities has been shown to have cognitive benefits. One large study following over 1,000 older adults for five years found that those who were the most socially active showed 70 percent less cognitive decline than those with the lowest rates of social activity....Negative social interactions have been associated with cognitive decline."
Lists help to jog your memory and keep you on track. If you're like me, you get a sense of satisfaction when you cross items off it.
Here's a quick little test: Do you remember #5 and #7 from the “Dragon Principles”?
In the movie, Marjorie Prime, John Hamm is a hologram that is programmed to help Marjorie with her memories. As desirable as it is to have John Hamm in your house, it's not ideal. Your digital devices can make life easier, but there's a downside.
Quick! What is your sibling's phone number? Where did you park your car?
Stress, Food and Memory
Final Thoughts and Questions
Did you remember to send that link you promised your colleague?
Are you missing birthdays, even though devices make it easier than ever to "remember?"
Did you forget your neighbour's name? What about the person you met at a networking event who showed interest in your services?
Distraction exacts a high price. Memory loss is no longer a scourge that only afflicts the elderly. The good news is that this can be overcome by learning techniques that keep you in the moment, rather than drifting off to some next best thing ping. For more information about how I can help, please email.