Our memories shape our personal histories. Every sunrise hike, every moment with your child, and every career goal met are etched into the fabric of who we are.
But memory is not only a tool for reflecting on the past; it also empowers us to excel in the present. Whether it's memorising everyone's name at your sister-in-law's wedding, mastering the finer points of your work presentation, or pushing yourself to achieve new fitness and wellbeing goals, a sharp memory can provide a significant advantage.
One study indicates that having a greater sense of purpose is associated with improved memory, while another found a better memory helps us retain new information, which – in the case of learning names on your first day in a new job, for example – can lead to social advantages, too.
While genetics play a role in memory, your ability to recall information is not entirely predetermined. Memory is like a muscle that can be strengthened through a combination of a good diet, mental hacks, and new challenges, enabling you to lead a mentally stimulating and accomplished life.
Give The Spacing Effect A Try
A favourite among psychologists, the spacing effect isn't as complicated as it may seem. In fact, you've probably been using it since your school days.
The science behind it is simple: the more you encounter information, the more likely you are to remember it. It's why you can recite your older relative's dad jokes by heart and why revisiting the same material over and over was crucial during your time at school. What's important is to attach as much detail as possible to the information you want to remember—whether it's a specific colour or where you heard it—because these details make recall much easier.
Put Things In Their Place
Imagine your brain as your own home. When you're trying to improve your memory, it helps to visualise pieces of information as specific items that live in areas of your actual living space. This way, you can easily find them again. It's like having a designated spot for your favourite jacket—you always know where to find it, right? Well, the same goes for that important email address.
Mix It Up
If you find spending too much time on one topic frustrating, try switching to something else. Moving between topics like this is called ‘interleaving’, and it’s been proven to yield better results than simply focusing on one piece of information/task for an extended period. Think of it like a mental fitness drill. By switching between subjects, you’re actually forcing your brain to become more adaptive and, therefore, more adept at remembering new information the next time you encounter it.
In the midst of life's busyness, don't underestimate the power of doing nothing. First studied in the early 1900s, recent research has confirmed that taking 10-15 minutes of silent rest in a dark environment can have massive benefits (no, scrolling TikTok in your office bathroom doesn’t count).
Studies from Heriot-Watt University found doing so can help your spatial awareness and memory recall for at least a week. So, find a quiet spot, take a break, and let your brain recharge.
Draw A Map
Forget the foggy recollections of pirates and marvel at the extraordinary memory skills of London cabbies. These drivers excel at memorising countless streets, thanks to their enlarged hippocampi, as discovered by researchers at the University of London—the secret lies in drawing maps of familiar places—a technique that enhances memory storage and organisation.
Make A Fist
As well as being a good stress reliever, a study from Montclair University found that clenching your right hand for a minute and a half improved memory formation. If that’s not strange enough, the study also found making a fist with your left hand improved recall. So, next time you’re trying to remember your team’s lunch order, clench your right hand while taking the order and your left while recalling it.
Move, For 10 Minutes
We don't need to tell you we're fans of keeping your body moving. And it turns out it's great for memory too. A recent study discovered that just 10 minutes of light exercise improves connectivity between the areas of the brain responsible for forming new "episodic memories" related to the details of events – a pretty decent trade-off, especially considering the other incredible health benefits of getting your heart rate up and blood pumping, even if it's just walking to the local coffee spot instead of brewing up at home.
Double Down On Blueberries
Or any foods rich in flavonoids: tea, wine (in moderation), onions, apples, dark chocolate, and citrus fruits. These powerful anti-inflammatory compounds not only lower the risk of cancer and promote heart health but also slow memory decline and enhance recall over several weeks. Well worth adding an extra helping to your overnight oats, then.
Fish Tacos For The Win
Omega 3 are healthy fatty acids found abundantly in nuts, avocados, and oily fish. Yes, they’re great for your skin and nails, but they’re also fantastic for your brain. Ongoing studies have found promising evidence that regular doses will help slow memory decline, keeping you at your sharpest for longer.
Break Out The Cards
Even if you only know the one game your grandmother taught you, it's worth breaking out the playing cards every now and then. According to a study from the JAMA Network, regular sessions can help keep your mental edge sharp. And just in case you're wondering, tech card games don't count - it's time to embrace the classics.
Celebrate The Sunday Roast
Specifically, copious amounts of rosemary on your spuds. A study published in the National Library of Medicine found that the herb can improve your memory and have beneficial impacts on mood, learning, memory, pain, anxiety, and sleep. All in all, a great excuse to reach for seconds.
Stay Socially Active
Social interactions and meaningful connections play a crucial role in memory preservation. By having conversations, joining groups, and getting involved in your community, you're giving your cognitive function a boost. Make an effort to spend time with friends, join clubs or organisations, and participate in social events to keep your memory thriving.
Keep A Journal
The physical act of writing things down – whether it's jotting down new goals or summarising your day – is hugely beneficial.
The American Psychological Association confirms that keeping a journal reduces unwanted intrusive thoughts and enhances working memory. By writing by hand, your brain processes information more efficiently, unlocking many benefits to your health and wellbeing.
There are numerous practical and accessible ways to enhance your memory for the long term. But whether it's jotting down your thoughts on paper, playing card games, incorporating memory-boosting foods into your diet, staying active through exercise, or even squeezing a stress ball at your desk, these simple strategies can make a significant impact, starting right now.