This is the second part of a two-part “learn about” series on memory improvement. The first part covers sleep, physical exercise, and stress management. In this part, I take a look at diet and memory techniques.
As suggested in Part I of this series, habits that keep your body functioning well tend also to help your mind – and by extension, your memory. Diet is no exception. As with so many things related to diet, there is plenty of blather out there about what works and what doesn’t – and a supplements industry happy to sell you anything you are willing to buy. Definitely apply your critical thinking skills before ingesting anything that is supposed to help your brain.
One of the better sources I have found on diet and cognition is an article published in Nature in 2008 highlighting the research of Fernando Gomez-Pinilla. Here’s the full text. I highly recommend it, but here are a few highlights for the time challenged:
Gomez-Pinilla’s article features a great chart that summarizes the effects of different types of food on the brain. While doing research for this post, I also found that the Happy Healthy Long Life blog has included the chart in a great summary it offers of Gomez-Pinilla’s article. As the author notes, it’s worth printing out and putting on your fridge.
In the world of blogging, experts will always tell you that content comes first if you want to attract an audience. Techniques like search engine optimization are secondary – they don’t matter very much if you don’t have a solid base of good content. I think a similar logic applies to memory techniques and all of the brain training hype that is out there these days. They may help, but you should concentrate first on maintaining a healthy, well-rested brain by following the first four paths described in this series.
So, assuming you’ve got a healthy, well-rested brain and are looking to turbo charge it, what are some techniques you can use? Here are three that seem to show up again and again:
Back in the days of old when I taught Russian, we would always tell the students that “Repetition is the mother of learning.” The old joke about how you get to Carnegie Hall (punchline: Practice!) is cut from similar logic. Simply going over something again and again – whether the something is a vocabulary list or Bethoven’s 9th – greatly increases the chances that you will retain it in memory. Naturally, this approach requires time and work, and as a result, often gets pushed aside for supposedly quicker fixes that are rarely as effective.
Use of multiple senses
If we hear something, we may remember it. If we hear it, see it (whether in reality or through use of our imagination), and write it down, our chances of remembering it jump dramatically. It’s well worth both taking notes and revisiting those notes both because this is a form of repetition (see above) and because these activities engage multiple senses. Even if you tend to never review your notes – or you always leave that shopping list sitting on the kitchen counter – the simple act of searching through the fridge and cabinets and then writing items down makes you more likely to remember them when you get to the store.
When I took my first guitar lessons as a kid, I can remember that the teacher’s technique for helping students remember the six strings on the guitar didn’t go over all that well with Southern Baptists. I can also clearly remember his technique – and the strings – to this day: Easter Bunnies Get Drunk At Easter – E-B-G-D-A-E, from the bottom up.
That’s a classic mnemonic device. The teacher used the notes associated with each string to create an acrostic that was much easier to remember than the letters by themselves. “Mnemonic device” is simply another (and much more Greek) way of saying “memory aid.” At the core of all mnemonic devices is the concept of associating one object or idea with another. Weaving vocabulary words into a simple rhyme, story, or song is one example. Visualizing a rose to help you remember the name of a woman named “Rose” is another.
I won’t try to cover all of the possibilities for mnemonic devices here. A simple Google search turns up many great resources, and you may want to check out 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory as well as Fiona McPherson’s writings about mnemonics at About Memory. Here, however, are a few classics American readers may recognize (I welcome examples from other countries in the comments!):
That’s it for my little “learn about” venture into the world of memory. It is an area where I hope to continue building knowledge. And, of course, I hope to practice better what I preach with respect to improving my own memory.
How about you? What have you found useful for maintaining and improving your memory? What are some resources other readers might appreciate knowing about? Please comment and share!
P.S. – If you are really interested in memory – and, particularly, in memory improvement – I recommend Scientific Secrets for a Powerful Memory from The Great Courses.
I am an avid lifelong learner who writes and speaks frequently on the critical role of learning in our fast-changing world.