21 Keys to Improving Your Memory Naturally

Brain functions relating to improving your memory

Do you worry about forgetting things?  How about improving your memory naturally?

I think every one of us wants a good memory. As we age, we can frighten ourselves big time, thinking that, because we forgot where we put the salt or the TV remote or the new tube of toothpaste, we’re on the road to dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Alas, everyone’s memory declines as we age. You should always get yourself checked out if you’re forgetting really serious things, such as the names of your children or where you live.  But there are many natural things, quite ordinary things, we can do to prevent or, at least, slow down, our memory loss.  Whilst there are no guarantees, it may just make all the difference. 

The more ways you use to remember something, the better you’ll remember it. Here are 21 keys for improving your memory naturally. 

Key 1: Looking for Ways to Improve Your Memory

The first stage of remembering comes from sensory input – ie what we perceive with our senses.  The primary input to our memory comes from information from our eyes. So, using your eyes even more will help you remember things.

Usually, you learn something by reading it. Here’s the first, very simple idea: read it again. That reinforces the traces put down in your brain the first time you read it. If you watched a video or a zoom call, watch it again.  You can usually find a recorded version.

Whilst you are reading or watching, make notes of the main points. Doodle with pictures in the margins. Images are an active input to your brain and memory. Make it colourful! Maybe remind yourself with images you put into your visual journal.

A great idea is to look it over again just before you go to sleep which helps your brain consolidate what you have learned into your memory.

Key 2:  Use Your Hearing to Remember More

Hearing reinforces what you read. Look for podcasts or Youtube lectures on your subject. Listening to what other people say presents the information to your brain in a different format which helps to consolidate your memory of it. 

Talk out loud, even to yourself.  The very act of speaking out loud not only better integrates subject matter you’ve read about into your memory. It’s an active way of absorbing the material differently.  (For reassurance, talking out loud to yourself is quite normal and isn’t a sign of madness.)

Listening to music also has an effect on your memory too because it uses different parts of your brain. It engages your emotions, activating the hippocampus and prompting it to form new neurons which strengthens your memory. 

The combination of music with words when you sing, has been used to help brain damaged patients rebuild their brains and learn to speak again.  How about singing to yourself about where to put your car keys when you come in the door?

 

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Talking out Loud and Listening to Yourself

Key 3: The Memory of Touch

When we touch things, we take in an enormous amount of information. We feel the texture, the shape, the cold or warmth, the material it’s made from, the dimensions and much more.  Usually, we don’t pay much attention to touch, partly because we rely so heavily on the sense of sight.

Memories derived from touch are called haptic memories.  Researchers have found that we remember a great deal of information from touching things. 

 So how do we use touch to remember things?  We tend to remember the attributes of items that we have touched, such as the feel, the weight the texture and so on.  So, to  use the sense of touch consciously for improving our memories, we might associate the cold metal of the key being put onto a hook, or into a wooden drawer, both of which would feel different from the key itself.  We’d use the feel of the key to trigger the memory of where to put it.

Key 4: The Surprising Taste of a Better Memory

Taste plays a big part in memory. It’s well known that eating strawberries and blueberries improves memory function. Why not go bananas to help your brain? The magnesium and potassium in them increase your ability to focus your attention, which makes you more likely to remember.

Both coffee and dark chocolate are known to enhance your memory abilities too and who can resist those?

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The taste of healthy food for your memory.

Surprisingly (well at least to me), chewing gum while you learn something apparently helps your memory.  One theory is that it increases the supply of oxygen to the brain because of the movement of your jaw.

And another surprising factor is restricting calories.  Apparently, your memory improves naturally whether you practise intermittent fasting or more extended fasting.   (And doesn’t your food taste so much better when you’ve had to wait for it?)

Key 5: The Evocative Smells of Memory

The French novel ‘In Search of Lost Time’ (À la Recherche du Temps Perdu) by Marcel Proust has a famous scene about the hero’s childhood memories triggered by the smell of madeleines. He remembers how he dunked these small cakes into a cup of tea.  The result is a eulogy on taste and smell. Take a look and be inspired.

 

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The scent of memory: madeleines and tea

Named as I am for remembrance, I could not omit the herbal remedy of smelling rosemary from the list of keys to improve your memory!  You may choose a particular smell of flowers or burn an essential oil to make an association with something you want to remember. 

Key 6: Retrieving Memories Like Dogs Retrieve Sticks

After your memories have formed in your brain, you need to be able to retrieve them. Think of throwing sticks for your dog. You train your dog to retrieve the stick and bring it back to you.  

Just like training your dog, you can train your memory. How? When you want to retrieve something from your memory, copy what a dog does.  Do it over and over again. Reward yourself when you’re successful.

Foe example, write down everything about something you want to remember. Don’t worry if you miss bits out, just keep going until you’ve done as much as you can. Then go back to your original problem or your notes, or to your photograph album and check what you missed and what you got wrong.  Fill out your notes so that they are complete and then do it again the next day.  Try rehearsing memory palaces to help you retrieve information from storage.

Like a dog retrieving a stick, you just need to keep practising retrieving your memories.  Dogs learn to retrieve sticks naturally and retrieving memories can improve your memory naturally.

Key 7: Kinaesthetics:  Learning by Doing

What’s kinaesthetics, you ask?  It’s about learning by doing things. 

Remember when you learned to ride a bicycle?  Your mum or dad pushed you along and eventually you learned how to balance.  You learned it by doing It. Once learned, it’s hard to forget it.  

Similarly,  yoga and martial arts teach you to move in specific ways.

You learn woodwork by sawing up wood and rubbing it down with sandpaper. You absorb how it feels and it gives you the knowledge in a different way than say, learning how to do maths. 

What about taking up Tai Chi?

Key 8: More Kinaesthetics – Your Muscle Memory

Dancers are very familiar with the concept of muscle memory.  They use it to remember their dances so that the movements are encoded into their bodies.  While we’re not all ballerinas and ballroom dancers, we can still use muscle memory in other simple ways.

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Ballerinas use muscle memory to dance

You can help yourself remember a word in a foreign language by pointing to the item. Then when you want to remember, you move your arm in the same way and you’ll find it helps you bring the item to mind. For example, I learned the Japanese for ‘two’ by pointing to my knee because the Japanese is ‘ni’.

I couldn’t remember the pin code of a credit card that I had not used for nearly a year. But I did remember how to tap it into the ATM by the pattern I make with my hand.

Key 9: Rehearsing Your Memories by Acting Them Out

Have you thought how actors remember their performances? They learn their lines and then they rehearse.  Instead of just repeating an item over and over again (which is the way most of us are taught to remember things), try elaborative rehearsal – acting out what you are seeking to remember. 

Try making up a story using the thing you’re trying to remember and act it out.  Try speaking it in your favourite actor’s style. What about doing it in a diehard manner like Bruce Willis? Or maybe you prefer Michelle Obama. 

Justin Bieber doesn’t always remember the words of his songs, (especially in Spanish)!  But you could try and learn Spanish by copying his songs in Spanish.

How about making a video of yourself doing your rehearsing and improving your memory naturally. 

Key 10: The Memorable Side Effects of Exercise

Another way in which kinaesthesia helps our memory is through the stimulation of the brain by the rhythmic drumming of exercise movements. Walking, for example, sends a wave of reactions through the body to the brain as your heels beat out their rhythm on the ground. 

The side effect of the rhythm is the stimulation of the parts of our brains responsible for cognition, language, perception and memory. 

It’s also why dancing and music help older people with dementia and rocking in a chair or a crib and listening to music has so much effect on  babies.  

How about learning a poem whilst you’re rocking in a rocking chair or clapping your hands to the rhythm of the lines of poetry?

Key 11: Where do You Focus Your Attention?

In many cases our perception of declining memory is not so much a matter of our memory banks declining but more a matter of losing the ability to pay attention.  We get distracted whilst we’re doing something and so we forget what we had planned to do next.  

Training yourself to focus your attention is another powerful key to improving your memory naturally.

Mindfulness has been found particularly helpful to older people to help them regain their ability to focus. Why not try it when you’re out walking? Try practising mindfulness to increase your ability to focus. 

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Focusing your Attention

Key 12: Use Your Brain to Improve Your Memory Naturally

A vital key to keeping and improving your memory is to keep using your brain.  In particular, challenge yourself to learn new things. Learn more about something you already like doing.  So, if you know how to swim breaststroke, how about learning to do butterfly?

Challenge yourself.  What about your very own Bake Off competition? Do you know how to make choux pastry or meringue?  What if you practised making one of those as if you’re going to take part in Masterchef?  Lots of new tastes to savour, new techniques to learn and new foods to enjoy.  

Learning a musical instrument does double service to your brain. The music has its own effects as we’ve seen.  You’re also stretching your memory with the new information on reading music, how to breathe, how to use your fingers or sing.

What about the hobby that you’ve always wanted to try out?  Learning how to make models or restore old cars could provide your brain with just the boost it needs for improving your memory naturally.

Key 13: Lifelong Learning Naturally Improves Your Memory 

We’ve already looked at trying new things, but in fact, learning is a lifelong practice if you want to keep your brain and your memory sharp.

What about trying to do a bit of studying?  There are more and more on-line courses for you to make up for those times you didn’t pay attention in class. Or you can start to study something completely new like neuroscience or entomology. 

Learning a language means using your memory big time – it’s very challenging but made easy online with programmes such as Duolingo.

If you’ve got an internet connection and some sort of computer, it’s so easy to participate in courses these days and many of them are free.  Normal colleges and universities take in older students or there are international institutions like the University of the Third Age which offer courses specifically designed for older people.

 

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Never Too Old to Graduate

Key 14: Fun Puzzling for Brain Training

Whilst some scientists say that doing puzzles doesn’t help your brain, others maintain that the trick is to keep pushing yourself to do harder things. It’s all about challenging yourself. 

For example, let’s say you take up sudoku.  It’s great fun and a real brain teaser.  But as you improve, it gets easier.  Once you’ve mastered the art, your brain starts slacking again as it no longer needs to grow to enable you to master the techniques. You either need to get a harder version or start on another kind of puzzle.

Similarly doing a jigsaw puzzle stimulates both the imagination and the logical part of your brain and is good for training your short term memory.  Start with a 100-piece puzzle and work up to those fiendishly hard ones with thousands of pieces that all look the same.

Here are a whole load of sites where you can find all sorts of puzzles and quizzes to keep your brain growing and your memory improving naturally.

Key 15: Playing Video Games with Your Youngsters

The video games industry is huge.  Playing games online is one of the most popular things for young people to do.  Games have their evils, not the least being that they can be addictive.   That doesn’t mean that they don’t have an upside.  You can learn a load from playing a few games yourself or with the teenagers of your family.

Studies show that the brain increases in size in the areas that deal with spatial orientation, memory formation and strategic planning.  They also can help you improve your motor skills. 

It’s fun playing games which relieves stress and tension. And that in itself is a natural way to improve your memory. 

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Playing Video Games May Help Your Memory (and it’s fun)

Try this site for loads of different games you could play to improve your memory.  Then explore some of the more complicated games.  For example, try Microsoft’s Flight Simulator and teach yourself to fly. Or maybe you’d prefer the PGA’s Tour to get in a bit of golf when it’s wet and cold outside.  Or for sheer escapism try Pokémon Go, which is a favourite with women.

Key 16: Mnemonics – Means Not Meditating On ICky Sentences

Mnemonics is a big word isn’t it?  It’s about using patterns, rhymes or associations to help you remember.  The sillier the better!

In spelling bees, people use a form of mnemonics called acrostics (the first letter of each word in a silly sentence) to remember how to spell words.  So, GEOGRAPHY becomes George’s Elderly Old Grandfather Rode A Pig Home Yesterday.

When learning to read music, people learn the notes on the lines of the stave with the mnemonic: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. You’ll deserve favour if you learn some mnemonics too!

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It’s Smart to Use Mnemonics

I hope you appreciate my go at an acrostic for how to spell mnemonics!  M=Means Ne= Not (in lots of languages and in Hungarian nem = no) M=Meditating, ON= on, IC=icky, S=Sentences.   Why don’t you try making up some mnemonics to help improve your memory?

Key 17: Visualization and Association

Have you ever seen those memory championships where people demonstrate the most extraordinary feats of memory such as remembering everybody’s name in an audience or 200 decimal places of π (pi)?  Jim Kwik is a great example of somebody who overcame his own memory problems. 

People like Jim are not genetically endowed with exceptional memories.  They improved their memory naturally by learning techniques and memory systems.  And the most basic techniques are visualization and association. 

You can use these methods too.  You simply conjure up a picture in your mind that you associate with the material you’re trying to remember. ( The brain absorbs visual input quicker than written text.)  By using your imagination, your brain is handling the material in yet another way, which provides another input to your memory. 

Some of the best images are the silliest:  here is an example.  Let’s say you want to remember to buy a watermelon. You picture a watermelon in your mind. Then imagine doing something silly with it, such as riding to the shop on your bike with wheels made of watermelon. 

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The Sillier the Better: Get the Idea?
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Key 18: Sleep Improves Your Memory Naturally

Why aren’t we taught in schools how essential sleep is for our memories?  And improving your memory naturally is something you can do every night – just by sleeping.  

Sleep is the time that your brain gets to tidy up all the stuff you’ve littered around in there during the day. 

Your brain is so clever.  It takes the time to consolidate the stuff that’s important and discard the routine stuff that you don’t need to remember. But like the dustbin men doing their rounds, it takes a while. It needs a full 7 – 9 hours of sleep to get it all done.

If your sleep patterns are disturbed, through snoring, sleep apnea or stress causing insomnia, your brain doesn’t get the chance to do that tidying up and your memory gets all jumbled up.

So, if you’re worried about your memory, take a look at how you’re sleeping and see what you can do to improve that. Here’s my article on sleep tips. You might just find how easy improving your memory naturally can be.

Key 19: Spending Time Socialising

It always helps if you have a buddy to egg you on.  Plus, it’s satisfying to have a little bit of a competition. 

How about making a shopping list, exchanging it with a friend and go out shopping together.  Before going to the check out, check each other’s baskets to see whether you’d each remembered all the items on your list. You could turn it into a challenge as to who remembers the most things or who does their shopping in the shortest time. 

 

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Who Remembered the Most Items?

Or you could agree to learn a poem by heart and then recite it to your friend on a zoom or Skype call.  Who remembers best?  Be nice to each other as otherwise it will just make you worry even more about your memory.  But the effort of memorising the list or the poem and the feel good hormones from socialising will help your memory.

Key 20:  Healthy Habits For Improving Your  Memory Naturally

Combining healthy habits such as increasing your exercise with improving your diet and getting enough sleep has a rapid and significant effect on memory.  A UCLA research team found that the greater number of healthy lifestyle habits people practised, the better their memory scores. 

It’s hard to change your habits, but why not try changing just one habit at a time?  For example, you could challenge yourself to do more exercise, such as walking for 20 minutes every day. This study shows walking increases the size of your hippocampus which improves memory

Choose one and get going. Then move on to researching and cooking healthier meals. Yes, it’s hard to change your habits, but if improving your memory naturally is your goal, then wrestling with the challenges of habit changing is only going to do it good.

Key 21 Make Your Memory Boosting Efforts Fun

Try this walking backwards trick.  Link arms with a friend so that the friend is walking forwards and you are walking backwards. Then change over so that you both have a big laugh. It’s safer to hold onto somebody. If you try it by yourself, be very careful!

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Walking Backwards

There is a bigger key here though.  Making small moments of fun during your day can make you feel more positive about life, as well as improving your memory naturally. . 

Here’s a list of things that could make you laugh during your day (and help your memory).

  • Reading some jokes
  • Listening to a comedy show and then telling the funny bits of the story to a friend
  • Indulging in silly walks
  • Cutting up your vegetables into different shapes, so that it’s more fun to eat them
  • Watch a crazy cat video
  • Look through old photos (and perhaps put them into a nice album, you can look at again)
  • Tell a funny story to your plants
  • Dance round your living room to fun music – try it like this
  • Pull funny faces at yourself in the mirror
  • Watch Game of Thrones and learn the Dothraki language.

The Keys to Improving Your Memory Naturally

Remember when you were worried about forgetting things?  It was so depressing and demoralising.

But imagine that you tried improving your memory naturally.  You used each of your senses in turn.  You got your brain working on new things. You played games.  You did silly things and had a lot of fun.

You could just feel your brain growing with glowing new cells that were primed to help you remember. You built new habits and started feeling better about life in general.  Especially when you made sure to laugh about something every day.

Not only was life more interesting, you found that you didn’t worry so much about your memory and funnily enough, it just might have improved all by itself.

Why don’t you do some fun things for improving your memory naturally? Start today.

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