How to Improve Your Memory

Whether you’re trying to memorize the main points of your speech, your to do list or the capitals of the major countries of the world, a good memory can be a powerful asset. The benefits to having an excellent memory are extraordinary: improving your memory will help you be more efficient, learn things faster and communicate better. Here is a far from complete list of skills that you’ll notice big improvements in with a better memory:

  • Public Speaking (remembering your material, especially key points)
  • Networking (remembering names and conversations)
  • Personal Finance (remembering to pay bills and take advantage of deals)
  • Negotiating (remembering information to give you an edge over your opponent)
  • Customer Service (remembering clients and their interests)
  • Problem Solving (remembering experiences and facts)

And there are dozens of other business skills that you’ll automatically improve when you improve your memory. Plus it’ll help you in your personal life as you won’t forget important dates (such as birthdays and anniversaries), you’ll remember how to get places and when it’s time to buy someone a gift, you’ll remember their interests. Not to mention it also comes in handy with these quiz shows where being able to recall random trivia can pay big bucks.

Volumes have been written about how to improve one’s memory and suggest methods ranging from vitamin supplements to mental exercises to unusual memory techniques. Your results may vary from method to method as some work better for certain people than others do.

I’ve come up with a list of tips that I’ve found helpful in improving my own memory. These are methods that I know work with a variety of people as I teach them in my classes and people have had noticeable results. They don’t require you to take pills or spend hours learning a new system. They simply require you to change a few small habits and require little practice. So here they are:

1. Be interested

You’re probably familiar with this classic story: a young boy fails a test where he needs to memorize the state capitals. He tells his parents that he just doesn’t have a good a memory. They ground him by not allowing him to watch baseball for a week. He complains that his favorite pitcher is playing and rattles off all of his statistics.

We’re all guilty of this, even as adults. At a networking event, we may meet several people and remember the names of people that express interest in buying our product but not the other folks. Back in our school years, we’d know the name of that attractive guy or gal who sits on the other side of the classroom, but not the intellectual introvert that sits next to us. The secret: we’re interested so we make the effort to learn the name.

If you think you have a bad memory, look at subjects that you’re interested in such as hobbies or television programs. If you can name all the American Idol winners, all the movies Jessica Alba has been in or the par for every hole at your favorite golf course, then you don’t have a memory problem. You have an interest problem.

When you find yourself in situations where you’re not remembering things, find creative ways to get yourself interested in the subject. Perhaps it’ll help you make money, impress your friends, further your career or at the very least, help you if you’re ever on a quiz show. Seriously though, if you need to remember something, there’s usually a reason behind it and that alone should give you incentive to be interested.

2. Listen

The main reason why people forget names is that they never heard the name to begin with. Years ago when I took my first public speaking class, I was so nervous about standing up and introducing myself to the class that I didn’t hear what anyone that went before me said. Instead of listening, I was busy preparing what I was going to say. I’ve since then overcome that fear and now teach others how to do so, and in my classes when I have students introduce themselves, I listen. I usually have all of the students’ first names and most of the last names memorized within an hour of starting the class. I’m interested and see the benefits of remembering their names, but I also listen carefully, especially if someone has an unusual name.

3. Repetition

Sometimes, brute force repetition is the best way to remember things. Constantly repeating things over and over helps you commit it to memory. When you start a new job in an area you’re not familiar with, you may need to bring directions with you for the first few days (yes, I know many people have GPS systems in their cars, but for the sake of this exercise, pretend they don’t). After a few weeks, you’ll have the new route down. The same is true with almost anything. If you’re trying to memorize a quote, an outline or an entire speech, simply read it out loud several times a day for a week. You’ll be surprised what you can retain by doing this.

4. Visualize

When I was in high school, my brother, my two cousins and I were waiting for a train. My brother had a list of vocabulary words that he needed to study, so my cousin Phil, the eldest of the four of us, suggested associating his words with people we know. The first word was “corpulent” which means “large or bulky of body” so Phil suggested that he think of Al, Phil’s college roommate who looked like football linebacker. My brother simply needed to remember the phrase “Al is corpulent” and he’d instantly know what the word meant since we often referred to Al as “Big Al” because of his size – then we continued to do the same with the rest of the words. This had a lasting effect as it happened over fifteen years ago and we’re all still able to repeat these associations in unison (even if we haven’t see each other in a year).

So the purpose of this story: create an association to what you’re trying to remember and visualize it. If you meet someone new and you want to remember their name, imagine them standing next to someone with the same first name. If you’re trying to remember the title of a movie – create an image in your mind (for example, if you’re trying to remember “Gone with the wind,” imagine a DVD being swept off your front steps by the wind). If you’re trying to remember a series of digits such as a phone number or a price, visualize them as if they were in bright neon.

So there are a multitude of things you can do to improve your memory. We’ve only scratched the surface and we’ll address other techniques for common business situations in future posts.

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