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Memory Tricks and Techniques

We all could use a better memory, but not always for the same reasons. Some people want to be able to recall facts and figures as part of the work they do, while others want to remember the names of the people they meet, for both social and business reasons. The ability to have a mental list that is there to be consulted when we wish (like at the grocery store) can be useful as well. With these varying purposes in mind, here are a few memory tricks and techniques which are easily learned and can be put to use today.

How to Recall Names

The first and perhaps hardest thing to do is to listen well when you first hear someone's name. We sometimes are so busy thinking about what we are going to say or ask, that we don't really pay attention when we are introduced to people. Repeat and "hear" the person's name in your imagination a few times as soon as you hear it. This signals your unconscious mind that it's something important enough to be remembered.

If the spelling is not evident, ask about it: "How is that spelled?" Repeat the spelling aloud or in your mind. Then make an association to help you remember the name. For example, if his name is Bill Braun, and he is large, you might think "Billy Brawney," while imagining his muscles all puffed up. If it is Mary Franks, and you already know her husband, you might think "She Married Franks."

Use whatever you can think of to make a memorable connection in your mind. It can help to link some prominent feature of the person to their name. For example, if Harry Smith has long hair, you might think "Hairy Smith," and look at his hair as you do this. Andrew Macon, if he looks a bit like a pig, could be remembered as "Andrew Macon looks like bacon." Rhymes help.

Obviously you'll want to keep these images and labels to yourself. They are simply meant to aid you in remembering. If you've seen a memory expert memorize the names of fifty strangers in a room, these are the kinds of methods likely used. They link body features or personality traits to a person's name in some humorous or unusual way. Of course, it does take practice to get good at this.


Acrostics are verses or a series of sentences in which certain letters, usually the first in each line, form a word or message. They are used as memory devices. For example, if we wanted to remember a simple formula for solving problems or creating new ideas, we could use the word "create," making a memorable line starting with each letter:

C-challenge assumptions
R-rearrange elements
E-employ other techniques
A-add ideas to a list
T-take the best from the list
E-elaborate on the ideas

This makes it easier to recall the six steps. As memory tools, acrostics are limited, sometimes awkward, and there are many techniques which are more reliable. On the other hand, it's fun to invent them, and creating your own probably makes them more effective.

Consider Supplements for Better Memory

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported on a study that found 20% of Americans deficient in Vitamin B12. One of the first symptoms of deficiency is memory loss. Vegetarians are potentially more susceptible to a deficiency, because B12 is found primarily in animal foods. The good news is that it was also found that the synthetic B12 found in multi-vitamin pills can correct a deficiency. In fact, it seems to be absorbed better than the natural vitamin B12 found in meat.

Recent research also shows that women with low iron levels might be at risk for memory and attention problems, as well as poor mental function in general. The research was done with women from 18 to 35 years old, and showed that those with normal iron levels did better on tests than those with low levels. Tests were also administered months later, and those who took supplements in the meantime improved their scores in all areas.

The obvious lesson is to take those supplements. It seems likely that the same results would be found with women from other age groups, and perhaps even with men, but this has not been tested to my knowledge.

The Remembrance Technique

This technique is an old Buddhist method for tapping into the subconscious power of your brain. It is used to overcome the feeling of hopelessness that can immobilize a person when facing a difficult situation. It can also be used just to solve tough problems.

The basic technique is this: when you are trying to decide what to do or to solve a problem, you tell yourself to remember the solution. You might say to yourself "Remember! How did I solve this problem?" This idea that you have solved the problem previously essentially tells your subconscious mind that there is a solution, and that the answer is somewhere in there. The brain (or mind) responds to this assumption by searching for the solution. Our brains are always more powerful than we realize, and sometimes we just need little tricks like this to get beyond our self-imposed limitations. Why not try the technique a few times this week?

More on Memory Improvement

I'll continue to report on the latest research related to memory, in the Brainpower Newsletter, but there are also a few other pages here on the website that you might want to check out. There is a page with six memory tips, and another on improving your working memory (which some consider one of the most important elements of intelligence). There is a page that explains the well-known loci memory system too. That one, you may recall, involves placing the things that are to be memorized in set locations in your imagination, so you can "find" them there when you need them. It was used in ancient Rome to memorize speeches. I can tell you from experience that it works.

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