Tips for Improving Memory and Focus
If you've convinced yourself you have a "bad memory", and there's nothing to be done about it, we're happy to tell you that you're wrong. If you feel you have a terrible memory, it could be that some new strategies for encoding information into your long-term memory could change the game. How you treat information when it's presented to you will dictate where and how it sits in your brain and how easily you can recall it later when you need it.
The older you are, typically the less "plastic" your brain becomes, so creating new neural pathways can be trickier. However, the more you challenge your mind and intentionally try to improve your memory, the more neuroplasticity you will retain as you age. You can start any day! Here are some tips for improving your memory and focus.
Understanding working memory, short-term memory and long-term memory.
"Working memory" refers to what you're accessing from your long-term memory at a given moment – essentially, it's the thing you're currently remembering.
"Short-term memory" is the recall of new and recent information. The way you treat information while it's in your short-term memory dictates if it will land in your long-term memory and be available to you days or years from now. Short-term memory has a capacity of seven, plus or minus two – so, between five and nine 'bits' of information can sit in your short-term memory before you either lose them or you've encoded them into your long-term memory for safekeeping.
You can increase how much you can hold in your short-term memory with a "chunking" method. Chunking involves condensing multiple bits into one memorable chunk. For example, if you needed to memorise a string of 9 numbers, that's the max of what you'll be able to hold short term. But if you chunk some single numbers together into one number, you can fit more bits in, i.e. 9 4 6 7 3 2 1 9 5 2 (nine separate bits of information) could become 946 732 1952 (three chunks).
"Long-term memory" is where information goes to stay when it is effectively encoded. The better that information is locked away in your long-term memory, the easier it will be to pull it into working memory.
Encoding is the process of moving information from short-term memory into long-term memory. The more effortful your initial encoding, the stronger the memory will be later. Some ways to effectively encode information into your memory include:
Repeating something strengthens the neural pathway associated with the repeated information. Repetition is a great way to hold something in your short-term memory for longer, and if you do it enough, it can make its way into your long-term memory. For example, if you said the above string of numbers over and over again enough times, you'll be more likely to recall it than if you'd just read it once.
Putting information to a tune
Repeating something to a melody is an even stronger form of encoding. You can help yourself remember specific information by putting it to the melody of a song you know very well or making up something catchy. If you were studying for an exam about memory and your favourite song was 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton, you could sing to yourself, "Long-term mem-or-y, strengthened by effortful encoding" (hear it?). This is why advertising jingles are so effective; it's almost like you couldn't forget them if you tried!
Ascribing a mnemonic device
A mnemonic device is a story or shortcut you attach to a piece of information to remember. Some examples are:
Roy G. Biv: The order of the rainbow
My Very Eager Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pizzas: the order of the planets
Never Eat Soggy Weet-Bix: the cardinal points North South East West
Lefty loosey, righty tighty: for which way to turn a screwdriver
Acute angle = a cute angle (small one)
A shirt has one collar (c) and two sleeves (s): how to spell "necessary"
You're alone in the deSert, and deSSert is best shared: spelling the homophones
Often the more specific and off-the-wall your mnemonic is, the stronger the memory will be. For example, say you meet someone named Alice, and she's very nice – you could think to yourself, "I won't treat her with malice" (bonus memory points for rhymes!).
Say you move into a new house, and you just can't remember which light switch turns on the laundry light and which one turns on the overhead kitchen light – say the laundry switch is on the left… L for left, L for laundry. It doesn't matter what your story is, as long as it's something significant enough for you to recall it.
A kooky story can be very helpful for remembering specific things. Say you need to remember to take your gym clothes, your salad for lunch, the book your workmate lent you and a gift for your mother-in-law's birthday dinner after work with you in the morning. The night before, tell yourself a story about a set of gym clothes coming to life, reading a book called "Why it's good to return things you've borrowed" while they eat a salad, and then they eat so much salad that they're too full to eat at their mother-in-law's birthday dinner that night. Random, right? You'll probably remember that story tomorrow.
Using context and state-dependent cues
Context-dependent cues are memory triggers that come from environmental context, i.e. a particular smell or colour, the outfit you're wearing, the room you're in, or the music you hear.
State-dependent cues relate to your emotional or physical state; for example, you're tired, angry, or have a broken arm.
You will associate memories with these cues the more you link them over time. So a great way to improve your memory for an upcoming psychology test could be to eat the same snacks, wear the same outfit, use the same coloured stationary, wear the same perfume or deodorant and do everything as similar as possible each time you study that you can then replicate on the day of the exam.
Getting into the zone and finding your focus
Context-dependent cues can help you get into the zone. If you always take notes for a certain subject in green and burn a bergamot-scented candle, your brain will understand it's time to zone into that subject each time you see that stationary or smell bergamot. RESCUE Remedy® can also help improve focus, reduce impatience and support feelings of composure and balance to help you tune out distractions and tune into the task at hand. Our flower essences also help naturally relieve stress to help you feel more capable and calm. Learn more about RESCUE Remedy® and how it can help you through times of emotional demand.