Practise being observant
Recalling things is heavily dependent on actually taking note of them in the first place. This is a skill that we would all do well to practise. For example, did you take note of the spelling of ‘practise’ in that sentence, and in the heading above? It’s the verb, practise (as in, “I used to practise gymnastics, before I had the accident”. The verb is spelt with an ‘s’, unlike the noun, (as in ‘a doctor’s practice’ or ‘half an hour’s practice’), which is spelt with a second ‘c’ (in British English anyway). This in itself isn’t of any great importance, unless you have a special interest in words, but it’s an example of how most of us miss the details, and you know what they say is in the details!
If you’re on a bus or a train, or standing in a queue, that’s very often time that’s more or less wasted. Why not make use of it! Pick someone and study that person in detail (but without making a nuisance of yourself, or course), seeing how much you can glean from his or her appearance.
Notice the shape of the face, the hairstyle, the clothing, the way the person stands or sits, whether he or she is dressed casually or for business, the person’s manner of speech, any physical peculiarities and mannerisms, and so on. Imagine you’re compling a dossier on the person and you need to memorise all the various details so you can write them up later. It’s good memory practice (and that time practice has a ‘c’ near the end, not an ‘s’, because it’s a noun!).
Use flash cards
Using flash cards is an old fashioned method of studying and memorizing, but it’s actually very effective. You can make the cards yourself and carry them in your pocket. Just put one part of the data on one side, and the other part on the reverse (e.g. if you’re learning French, ‘ouvrez la fenêtre’ on one side, ‘open the window’ on the other, that type of thing). Flip through the cards whenever you have a few spare moments.
There’s a wonderful online version now, called Quizlet. You can make up your own flash cards online, or use someone else’s uploaded sets. Of course, you can decide to make your sets public as well, so that others can use your sets (alternatively, you can keep them private). This online sharing by thousands of users means that there are now countless sets of flashcards ready for use, for learning various languages, lots of academic subjects, and many other things as well.
Stress is a natural part of life. It’s no use getting too worked up over minor problems, and as a general rule you should try to maintain a light-hearted approach to life. You’ve probably noticed that people with such an attitude are generally much happier than average, and more at peace with the world. And it follows that if you’re happier you can deal with life much more effectively. Memory is just one of the many things that you’ll be able to handle much better if you remain relatively stress-free.
There are various methods of regaining your natural, stress-free state, including slow, rhythmic, relaxing exercise, meditation, and listening to relaxing music. As is the way with these things, do what works for you.
Take a multi-vitamin/mineral
You can’t improve on a good, natural diet, perfectly balanced and with sufficient vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Unfortunately, since we don’t all live on farms or near well stocked rivers, our diets very often consist largely of pre-packaged and processed foodstuffs.
With that in mind, and even if you take care to eat a pretty healthy diet, it’s not a bad idea to supplement it with a daily multi-vitamin/mineral tablet. You might want to additionally take omega-3 oils or one or two other supplements, but if you’re happy to stick to a minimum supplement, just take a mulit-vitamin.
The elements provided by such a supplement can make all the difference. Even a deficiency in something that you really only need a tiny amount of can cause your body to be ‘out of synch’, and a daily multi-vitamin can be a real memory booster.
Develop good habits and routines
If you want to know where your keys are (which is a recurring problem for many people) just keep them in the same place all the time. Make it a habit! Every time you come in, put your keys down in the same place. Even if you always just throw them in the dog basket, at least you’ll know where they are when you need them.
The same holds true for lots of things. Try to get in the habit of putting books and magazines away, on a shelf or wherever, so that when you want to read something or check on something you’ve already read, you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for.
If you always need your glasses when you’re out, put them with anything else you routinely take with you. Life’s complicated enough; you don’t need to create more problems where there weren’t any before!
Get enough sleep
I’m not going to say get eight hours a night. Some people get by quite well on six or seven hours, some even less. But you should be aware that if you routinely skimp on your sleep you will be depriving your brain of the rest it needs. Recent research indicates what we already strongly suspected – that when you’re asleep, your brain is actually taking care of very important business.
If you usually wake up feeling sluggish and miserable, that’s a pretty good sign that you’re either not sleeping well, or not long enough.
There are things you can do that will help you sleep better, and you can wake refreshed, even if that seems like just a dream to you right now (perhaps it’s time you woke up!).
If you enjoy listening to music while you’re working or studying, it’s probably helping you along. Music is a right-brained activity (i.e. it’s involved with the arts, with images, emotions, with abstract things). When you’re studying, or trying to memorise things, you’re doing something very left-brained (i.e. dealing with things logically, organising things, filing them away systematically, etc.). By doing something right-brained at the same time as you’re busy doing something left-brained, you’re keeping the hemispheres of your brain working in harmony. A bit of balance is a good thing! Looking at it from an Eastern point of view, it’s all about yin and yang, which, though opposites, go together to make a complete whole.
This is why you’ll often find yourself humming or whistling while you work on something; you’re keeping your right hemisphere busy and feeling involved!
Learn the words!
If you’re going to hum a tune, why not go one better – learn the words, all of them. In fact, if you really like music, and you like humming along to it while you work, you could be doing some valuable memory work by learning as many lyrics as you can. You could develop an encyclopaedic knowledge of music, just by paying more attention. Not sure of the lyrics? Check them out on one of the many sites that list the lyrics of thousands of songs, of all genres, such as Lyrics.com, or A-Z Lyrics Universe.
Again, it’s the little details that mean so much. Just by taking an interest and making an effort to become really knowledgeable about music, you’ll automatically be exercising those little grey cells!
It’s a cliché, but it’s true – we all have so much to be grateful for. We really do, but we usually take it for granted. Take the time, each day, to spend at least a minute or two just appreciating all the good things in your life. As you do this, you will automatically be giving them your attention, and in doing so, you will be doing a bit of valuable memory work – keeping your brain active and focused.
Of course, as a bonus, you’ll find life that much more pleasant too!
Wind down … and relax …
And while you’re relaxing, whether it’s in the bath, or just in an easy chair, you can go over a few things that you’d like to memorise. Because you’re in a relaxed frame of mind, you’ll probably find memorisation much easier, and less stressful.