Unlocking Memory: Strategies for Enhancing Brain Recall and Retention
Your memory is always at work, whether you are studying for a coming school exam or memorizing the name of someone you just met. Your memory is always at work, even when you sleep.
A powerful memory can unlock countless benefits in your daily life, from excelling in that big exam to never forgetting a loved one’s birthday.
However, memorizing one piece of information can be difficult, and learning a large chunk of information can be even more frustrating, especially if you are short on time.
Fortunately, memorizing is not just for a select few born with the right skills. Anyone can train and improve their memorizing abilities.
If you are a student or a working professional, the ability to recall or retain information is essential to your success in the workplace and academics. Below, we outline strategies for unlocking your brain’s capacity to recall and retain information.
1. Organize the information
Large pieces of information can be challenging to learn and recall. What’s even worse is if the information you want to learn is disorganized. To make it easier, organization techniques like chunking are worth implementing.
Chunking can help you break down vast amounts of information into smaller, logical chunks that are easy to grasp.
For example, if you are a new language student, you can organize vocabulary terms into functional groupings, such as household items, animals, and jobs.
2. Create mnemonics
Mnemonic devices, like acronyms, acrostics, and rhymes, are popular memory tricks we all have used for engraving information into your long-term memory in the past.
Do you remember what year Columbus landed in America? You might if you ever learned the rhyme, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
The best mnemonics use positive imagery, humor, or novelty.
This same strategy can be implemented if you want to, for instance, remember a series of numbers for work. Creatively come up with a rhyme, song, or joke to help you recall it.
For those who thrive on visual learning, the memory palace technique is a fascinating mnemonics approach.
It involves creating an imaginary place, like a familiar house or venue, where you can deposit mnemonic images or visual cues.
The idea here is to embark on a mental journey within this space to retrieve stored information.
Some participants in the World Memory Championship even integratea storytelling method with their memory palace, turning it into a vivid mental adventure.
While building a memory palace and implementing other memorization techniques is an effective solution to helping you prepare for a presentation or an exam, if you want to remember information for the long term, you must constantly review it to move it from your short-term memory to your long-term that is where space repetition comes in. We will discuss that next.
3. Practice spaced repetitions for long-term learning
Spaced repetition is an excellent strategy that helps support other memory-building techniques, like building memory palaces. This is because implementing memory tricks is not enough. You will still forget if you dont review the material continuously.
Implementing space repetition helps you recall and retain a vast amount of information for the long term. Here is how you can do it:
“On the first day, you review the material as much as you need to to make sure you won’t forget it after a few hours. Most of the time, one or two reviews will be enough for that purpose.
The following day, you revisit the material once more. Then, the reviews start to space out: initially, with a three-day gap, followed by a seven-day interval, then extending to one month, two months, three months, and so on.
Over time, the intervals between reviews can grow longer. Eventually, just two reviews a year may suffice to maintain strong memory retention.
The critical insight here is that spaced repetition will help you engrain information into your long-term memory.
Remember that you might excel at memorization techniques and memory palaces, but without regular reviews, much of what you learn will fade over time.
To learn more about this technique, read: Spaced Repetition Learning Technique (Step-by-Step Guide)
4. Write it down
Believe it or not, some tasks are best tackled using the traditional pen-and-paper method. Research suggests that writing information by hand is a more effective way to grasp complex concepts compared to typing.
This is so because note-taking compels you to be more discerning about what you jot down, prioritizing only the essential information.
In fact, when it comes to note-taking, less is more. The study revealed that the more words students wrote down verbatim when note-taking, the worse they performed on recall tests. To improve performance on recall tests, you need to learn how to take notes effectively.
Check out our Effective Note-Taking course if you need a step-by-step guide for learning this memory-boosting technique.
Here, you’ll learn the best practices for effective note-taking and pitfalls to avoid. Perfect for students and professionals who want to take notes most efficiently.
5. Pre-test yourself
Active recall is the secret to transforming information into lasting memories. The next time you’re gearing up for a study session, consider creating a set of flashcards. You’ll be amazed at how much faster you can absorb information after repeatedly reviewing these cards.
Whether you quiz yourself or invite a study partner to join in, practicing repetition and recall is a surefire way to bolster your memory.
Testing yourself or practicing active recall is not only valuable for the academic setting.
If you are a professional looking for techniques to help you remember vital information about your client, testing yourself to see how much you can recall is helpful.
Now, let’s talk about a scenario you’ve likely encountered: a follow-up meeting with a client.
Instead of reading up on the notes you took during your last meeting with them, before your appointment or call, challenge yourself to answer a set of critical questions related to your client’s specific needs, such as:
- What’s their company history and size?
- What are their primary pain points?
- What are their short and long-term objectives?
- What issues are we working to solve for them?
Once you’ve done this, review your notes to confirm the accuracy and make note of any gaps or inaccuracies.
Research by psychologists at the University of California underscores the effectiveness of this approach.
They found that students retain information better when they first try to guess an answer and then review the correct one, compared to traditional studying (even when given more time to remember it). This method has consistently yielded positive results.
By implementing this recall strategy, you can better remember in-depth information about your clients or colleagues and their needs without reading from your notes.
6. Exercise regularly
Exercise is one of the best activities you can engage in to enhance your memory. A study published in 2021 revealed that exercise is effective in enhancing memory and learning capacity.
Hence, if you are one who isn’t into workouts, incorporating exercise into your lifestyle might just be a game changer. A simple 5-minute a-day exercise should suffice.
7. Limit stress
Stress can be helpful for memory when it is moderate. Still, when it becomes chronic, as it can sometimes get in an academic setting or the workplace, it can damage your hippocampus, inhibiting its ability to form memories.
When an individual experiences stress, their brain inhibits the prefrontal cortex from allowing its fight, flight or freeze response to kick in.
Your prefrontal cortex is responsible for retrieving memories. Hence, when your prefrontal cortex is inhibited, recalling becomes challenging.
To combat stress, activities like yoga and meditation can help.
8. Get enough sleep
Just like meditation, quality sleep can help decrease stress, improve focus, and play a critical role in consolidating memories.
Many studies support this tip, including one published in 2014, which showed that sleep helps promote learning-dependent synapse formation and maintenance on selected dendritic branches, which contribute to memory storage.
Finding it challenging to get enough sleep? Exercising regularly, engaging in mindfulness or meditation, reducing alcohol intake, and avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evening will help.
9. Make associations
Making associations is another effective method for enhancing your ability to recall or retain information. Create associations by connecting the information you are trying to memorize to your existing knowledge.
To help encode memories, you can build mental images and connect them with sounds, scents, and tastes.
Developing stories is also very effective. According to the Baker paradox, if two people are asked to remember that someone’s last name is Baker, they are significantly more likely to do so if they imagine the person as a professional baker (i.e., Mrs. Baker wearing a chef’s hat).
For instance, picture that you just met a new client named Sandy. If you want to recall the client’s name easily, imagine her walking along a beach.
10. Vary your study routine
Changing your study habits occasionally is another excellent strategy to improve your memory. If you’re used to studying in one place, try relocating to a different location in your next study session.
If you study in the evening, spend a few minutes each morning revisiting what you learned the night before.
By incorporating a fresh aspect into your study sessions, you can boost the effectiveness of your efforts and dramatically improve your long-term recall.
You may also like: 23 Last Minute Study Tips You Wish You’d Found Earlier.
11. Pay extra attention to difficult information
Have you ever observed that the information at the beginning or conclusion of a chapter might often be easier to recall? Studies found that the order of information can impact recall, which is known as the serial position effect.
While remembering middle information can be challenging, you can overcome this difficulty by spending extra time rehearsing it.
Another approach is to try reorganizing what you’ve learned to make it easier to recall. When you encounter a particularly tough idea, spend some extra time memorizing it.
Related reading: 15 Tips On How to Focus On Boring Reading Materials.
12. Be conscious of what you consume
Eating healthy is good for your brain health. Certain foods like soda, sweet tea, and other sugary beverages may harm your memory. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and fruits, vegetables, and whole grains rich in antioxidants can help keep your brain sharp and prevent brain damage.
Consider incorporating them into your daily diet.
Also, when we talk about eating healthy, this also includes drinking enough water.
Do you know that water accounts for 75% of your brain mass? To function at its best, your brain needs to be properly hydrated.
Water is crucial as it helps transport nutrients and bring more oxygen to your brain.
The amount you require varies depending on age, but a reasonable starting point is to aim for at least 15.5 cups of water for men and 11.5 cups for women daily.
For more on this, read: Brain Food 101: Unveiling the 11 Top Fruits for Brain Health.
13. Boost your ‘working memory’ to increase intelligence
Working memory, often referred to as the “queen of memory,” is the remarkable ability to maintain a piece of information in the forefront of your attention while shifting your focus to other tasks.
Picture this: think of as many presidents as you can, starting with Joe Biden and going back in time as far as your memory allows. Now, challenge yourself to list their names in alphabetical order.
This task requires you to mentally shuffle and rearrange the names, effectively encoding new information while retaining access to details you recalled just moments ago.
What you’re experiencing is the essence of working memory in action, which experts consider as the bedrock of general intelligence and reasoning.
Takeaway: Enhance your brain recall and retention capacity with these 13 memory-boosting strategies
Gone are the days when people used to believe that people with a powerful ability to recall information were born with it.
Today, we now know that powerful memory capacity can be developed. Implementing some specific memorization techniques is the secret of many memory champions.
Many of the strategies discussed in this piece have been tested and proven by science.
If recalling and retaining information has been challenging for you, we are glad because we know that with the information learned today, you are one step closer to developing a memory that would wow your friends and colleagues.
As we mentioned, the first step is to organize and structure the information you want to remember.
While that sounds simple enough, others, such as building a memory palace, might feel strange at first or take some time to develop. But the more you practice them, the easier they will become, and the more information you can commit to memory.
Also, note that you do not need to implement every strategy on this list. Experiment with a few and find which ones work for you.
Ready to go even deeper into these techniques and discover how to apply them effectively? We have a maximizing memory course that will teach you practical strategies to help you remember what you read and memorize key information.