Have you ever found yourself in a room without remembering the reason you were there? Or felt the word “on the tip of your tongue” but couldn't remember it? Our brain is responsible for absorbing, processing, and storing gigantic amounts of information, but sometimes slipping along the way can mean forgetting even something fresh out of thought. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take that will help you jog your memory.
Method 1 of 2: Alerting Your Memory
Step 1. Understand the stages involved in remembering
To be able to remember something, your brain needs to go through three steps: getting, consolidating, and retrieving (also called recalling). If something goes wrong in any of these three steps, it will be difficult to recall the desired memory.
- At the acquisition stage, the newly learned information is stored in your short-term memory, before being discarded or encoded as long-term memory. If you don't pay attention to something, like where you put your glasses on before leaving your room, chances are you'll forget about it when you return.
- In the consolidation stage, the information learned is transformed into long-term memory. This is more likely if this information is related to other existing long-term memories, is significant in some respect (related to historical or important events) or has a strong sensory impression attached to it.
- In the recall stage, the information stored in your memory will be retrieved by activating the neuronal patterns used in its storage. This step is often the point at which you notice the feeling of having something “on the tip of your tongue”, and there are a few steps you can take in activating it.
Step 2. Retrace your steps
Research reveals that much of our memory is “context-dependent”, meaning that people find it easier to remember information that exists in an environment similar to the one in which it was first learned.
For example, if you thought of something in the living room and forgot it when you got to the kitchen, try going back to the living room. It is likely that returning to a familiar context will help you to recover the forgotten information
Step 3. Rebuild your train of thought
If you can't physically go back to where you were by forgetting, try to imagine where you were, what you were doing, and how your thoughts connected to each other at that time. Since many memories are stored along several overlapping neuronal patterns, reconstructing the train of thought will help you recover forgotten thought by stimulating related ideas.
Step 4. Recreate existing hints in the original environment
For example, if you were listening to a particular song or browsing a specific page when you had a thought that was forgotten, bringing that information to mind will likely help you recover the one that was lost.
Step 5. Think or talk about something unrelated
Because the brain stores a lot of information along overlapping neuronal patterns, it can be easy to find a block by remembering associated but “wrong” information, like knowing who all the other actors who played Batman are, but not being able to remember the one you are thinking about. Thinking about other things will help you “reset” this informational retrieval.
Step 6. Relax
Anxiety can make it difficult to remember even simple information. If you're having trouble remembering something, don't get angry about it; take a few deep breaths to calm your mind and then try to think of the desired information.
Method 2 of 2: Perfecting Your Memory
Step 1. Create “special tips” when you want to remember something
You will be more likely to encode information such as long-term memory when it is associated with special information that can serve as a “tip” or starting point. Anything can serve as a tip, but actively linking new information to themes already memorized is a good strategy.
- For example, if you're talking to a friend and she tells you the date of her own birthday, try connecting that memory of the conversation to something already well memorized: “Melissa told me that her birthday is on June 7th. Just a week after my mother's”.
- These tips can also be sensory information. For example, scents can trigger vivid memories in many people, such as those given off by cakes being baked, which will bring back memories of days spent at your grandmother's house. If memory is connected to a smell - in this example perhaps the smell of coffee or cinnamon is noticed in the cafeteria - try stimulating the memory with inspiration from familiar aromas.
Step 2. Connect memories to a specific place
Memory is closely linked to the environmental contexts in which information is originally learned. You can make intentional use of this connection, helping you to encode information for future retrieval.
For example, connect the information you want to memorize, verbally, to the place: "When we met at that new coffee shop on Main Street, Melissa told me her birthday is June 7th."
Step 3. Repeat the information immediately
If, like many people, you forget names almost immediately after the presentation, try repeating this information verbally until you memorize it. Linking her to as many tips as possible - her appearance, what she wore, where you are - will also help you remember her in the future.
For example, if you are at a party and a friend introduces you to someone named Masako, look directly at him, smiling, shake his hand and say, “Nice to meet you, Masako. This shirt has an interesting blue!” Reinforcing this sensory information all at once can help you encode that memory for the future
Step 4. Create a “Memory Palace”
Memory Palaces represent a common mnemonic technique used to create connections between information and environmental contexts - in this case, however, those contexts are all in your imagination. Even the famous (if fictional) Sherlock Holmes makes use of this technique!
This tool takes some practice time to perfect, but it will prove very useful when storing information you want to memorize, as it emphasizes the formation of creative, or even absurd, connections between places and memories
Step 5. Avoid learning in high stress situations
This is not always an option, but if you can avoid learning new information under conditions of high stress - for example, the morning off hours before an important assessment - your ability to recall those memories in the future will be very bigger.
Step 6. Get enough rest
Sleep - especially the REM (rapid-eye movement, or "rapid eye movement") phase - is crucial when processing, consolidating and storing information. Lack of sleep affects the firing of your neurons, making it difficult to encode and retrieve information.
Step 7. Drink water
Do something different, believe you are helping yourself - and you will remember!
- Verbalizing your task as you move from room to room can help you bring out the desired memory. For example, if you go to the bathroom to get a multivitamin from the closet, repeat “I'll get the multivitamin” until you reach your destination.
- Use a planner or mobile app that helps you remember really important information, like doctor's appointments and birthdays. Even the best memories can make good use of a little help!