In today’s age, where everything is documented, digitized and stored in a mysterious “cloud,” it’s easy to overlook the importance of a good memory. If we can easily access files within our computers or look up information on our smartphones, what’s the point of embedding a wealth of information in our own memory? The truth is that the benefits of a strong memory go beyond recalling facts and figures.
Being successful in business and life depends on leveraging our memory to forge relationships with consumers, colleagues and clients. It’s about expediting our recall methods and creating meaningful patterns and processes out of seemingly meaningless information.
We can all observe what’s surrounding us, but memory is what allows us to organize, prioritize and harness the information we’ve absorbed and transform it into something useful. So let’s explore some easy tricks to boost your memory as well as your professional success.
1. Make Mnemonic Acronyms and Acrostics
While our computers and mobile devices are flooded with OMGs, BRBs and WTFs, acronyms are not a phenomenon of the digital world. Creating catchy acronyms out of popular, long or complicated phrases is an age-old trick to improve memory.
Throughout school, we were all taught mnemonic devices to help us remember the order of the planets or math’s order of operations, and this tactic can be handy in business as well. Perhaps the most famous is “ABC,” which stands for “Always Be Closing,” but there are innumerable instances where acronyms andacrostics (which are like acronyms, except the letters form a sentence or limerick instead of representing a single word) are useful.
For example, by breaking down parts of your training manual into acronyms or acrostics, new team members can absorb and recall the information quicker and easier, which goes a long way to speeding up and improving the onboarding process.
2. Welcome Distractions
While this might sound a bit counterproductive, studies have shown thatstrategically timed and selected distractions can aid memory. This doesn’t mean that playing “Candy Crush” every few hours is good for memory, but if you move from one work-related task to another, according to researchers, your brain is forced to hold on to what you were initially focused on.
Let’s say you need to create a business plan. If you write out the first section, then go and type out a few emails, then return to the business plan and write the second section, and repeat the process, chances are your brain will absorb the information better than if you had just wrote the entire thing in one sitting. And the benefit will be your ability to spout key facts off the top of your head, rather than having to constantly refer to the written document. The key to this trick is selecting the right distractions, smaller work tasks that supplement larger projects; by doing so, you can boost your memory while staying productive.
3. Create a Memory Palace
This technique has been used for ages. In fact, Dominic O’Brien, a British author and mnemonist, used a Memory Palace to break a Guinness World Record by memorizing a random sequence of 2,808 playing cards. While it might not get us to O’Brien’s level, a Memory Palace is a simple trick we can all use.
Let’s say you’re trying to remember a list or sequence. You can follow these directions to set up a memory palace:
- First, you’ll need to pick a place you’re familiar with, one that you can picture in your mind and imagine walking around in a specific route. A central hallway in your house is a good choice, as are familiar local streets or even the pathway to your office at work.
- Next, make mental notes of landmarks on this path. For example, the first landmark in your house may be your front door, and the second may be a key holder. These landmarks are essential, so make sure they’re firmly embedded in your head.
- Lastly, when trying to remember a list or sequence of events, associate these landmarks with items on your list. So if you’re a new manager who’s trying to remember the names of your new team members, the employee who sits closest to you will be associated with your house’s front door, the second closest will be associated with the key holder, and so on. The more ridiculous the associations are, the easier they’ll be to remember, so get creative with them, and try to have some fun while you’re boosting your memory.
4. Sleep, Nap or Just Rest
As if we needed another excuse to sleep more, it turns out that getting more sleep is essential to better memory. Most of our memory consolidation takes place while we sleep, and even short naps or rests can aid the process. A recent study found that the ability to recall newly learned facts is improved by about 25% when a person naps or sleeps immediately after learning something new.
Furthermore, new memories are stored in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that can be overwhelmed and lose memories when bombarded with new information. Napping, however, allows our brain to process the new memories and store them in our neocortex, which is a more-permanent storage bank that prevents information from being lost. The key is finding an appropriate place and time to rest, but even a quick five-minute nap in your car can go a long way to improving your memory.
5. Parse Things Out With Chunking
Our “working memory,” which is the temporary storing of information that is held until it’s no longer useful, is limited to about seven items, meaning the introduction of an eighth item will cause us to forget previously stored information.
Chunking, however, allows us to work around this limit and expand our working memory by parsing information into memorable chunks that are easier to process. At its essence, chunking is creating something more meaningful from otherwise random bits of information.
For example, when business was still mainly conducted over the phone, companies would use the letters on a phone dial to spell out relevant names (e.g. “1-800-flowers”); this technique replaced 11 random numbers with one memorable alphanumeric “chunk,” freeing up space in your working memory for more information. The trick is connecting seemingly meaningless information into meaningful groups so that they’re easier to remember, but by doing so, that seven-item limit of your working memory becomes almost limitless.
6. Go for a Walk
Scientists once believed that, with age, adult brains stopped creating new nerves and started killing off worn-out neurons, but recent studies have shown that walking can actually introduce nerve growth in the hippocampus, which, as mentioned above, stores new memories.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)was conducted on two groups of elderly volunteers that were relatively inactive. Half of the participants were told to walk for 40 minutes, three times a week for an entire year; the others were told to stretch for the same amount of time. Those that only stretched showed signs of shrinkage in the hippocampus, while the walkers showed growth in the same region of the brain. All in all, the walkers’ hippocampi grew twice as much as the stretchers’ shrank.
So although it may seem counterproductive to step away from your desk when you’re trying to learn something new, be sure to get out of the office from time to time to have a walk around the block. In the long run, you’ll be rewarded with not only better health, but also a fortified memory.
7. Close Your Eyes
It seems to be an instinctual reaction to close our eyes when we attempt to remember something, and recent studies have found out why this is the case.
Sensory input takes up a lot of our brain functions, and a large part of our brain is used to process the information absorbed by our eyes. Unfortunately, that part of our brain is also used to visually recall what we have seen in the past. So when our eyes are open, the brain is focused on visual input, not on visual recollection.
A recent study in psychological journal Memory & Cognitionfound that people who closed their eyes or stared at a blank screen had better memory recallthan others; even those who were distracted by loud noises had better visual memory than those who were bombarded with random images.
So although we all probably do it from time to time, consciously closing your eyes immediately after learning something (or while we attempt to recall that information) can go a long way to boosting our memory.
Write It Down
These are just a few of the ways to improve your memory, but there are plenty of other methods that you can try. If you have tried the tips above and still struggle to recall names or basic facts and figures, try writing more things down. Take more notes in meetings; even if you toss out your notes, it will be easier to recall what was covered.
Remember, your phone or computer may be able to store or access a lot of data, but some of the most important interactions will always be in person. When you’re face to face with a board member, an investor or a big client, the more information and assets you’ve got stored away, the better off you’ll be.