The mind is a mysterious thing. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the information it retains: You might be able to quickly summon your third-grade teacher’s name, but then struggle to remember what you ate for dinner a couple of nights ago. Sometimes details seem to disappear right when you need them, only to suddenly resurface later. Complicating matters even further is the fact that as we get older, memory tends to get a little fuzzier.
While the mysteries of memory may never be fully unraveled, some of these brain-boosting techniques can help ramp up your powers of recollection.
- Truly listen. We often listen while multi-tasking or entertaining other thoughts. As a result, we don’t absorb everything we hear. "Clear all other thoughts out of your mind while listening," suggests psychotherapist Karen Koenig. "We remember better when we attend closely to what we’re hearing or learning."
- Get enough sleep. Studies show that people who get seven to eight hours of sleep have better memory. According to meditation and mindfulness guide Miriam Amselem, sleep helps consolidate memories and increases memory performance.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat. Whether it’s a name, phone number or series of events, repetition is arguably the best way to commit details to memory. You can either repeat them in written form or speak them out loud to yourself until they are learned by rote.
- Exercise regularly. Research has found that regular physical activity changes the brain in a way that improves thinking and memory.
- Slash your sugar intake. Amselem points out that high amounts of sugar have been linked to reduced memory.
- Practice noticing details. If you’re on hold during a phone call or stopped at a light, intentionally observe everything around you: what you see, feel, smell and hear, suggests Koenig. When you’re eating, focus on taste and texture, satisfaction and fullness. "Practicing mindfulness with everyday occurrences keeps us sharp when we need to remember important things," Koenig notes.
- Include fish oil in your diet. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil have been linked to improvements in brain function and short-term memory, says Amselem.
- Share information with someone else. The act of passing along something you’ve learned helps to solidify it in your memory.
- Take notes. Koenig suggests writing down (or recording on your phone) important items like tasks, names, descriptions or whatever you need to retain. Reread your lists occasionally to keep your memory sharp. "Pretend you’re a detective recording clues," she says.
- Abstain from alcohol. Heavy alcohol consumption has been shown to cause short-term memory loss and is also associated with damage to the hippocampus (the part of the brain that is associated with memory), warns Amselem.
- Indulge in dark chocolate. Not only is it delicious, but the cocoa flavanols in dark chocolate have been shown to improve neural function.
- Relax. "When we can’t recall something, we get anxious, which makes the process even more difficult," says Koenig. "We think and remember better when we’re in a relaxed state. Take a few deep breaths and purposely relax your body, or repeat a calming mantra."
- Schedule mini relaxation breaks. One of the negative effects of stress is impaired memory. Take some time throughout the day for short periods of deep breathing, mindful meditation, stretching, reading a book or whatever activity brings down your stress level.
- Learn something new. Absorbing new knowledge, skills and information works your "mind muscle" and helps to sharpen cognitive function.