Can’t remember where you put your glasses? Blanked on your new colleague’s name?
“Forgetting these types of things is a sign of how busy we are,” says Zaldy S. Tan, MD, director of the Memory Disorders Clinic at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “When we’re not paying good attention, the memories we form aren’t very robust, and we have a problem retrieving the information later.”
The key, says Harry Lorayne, author of Ageless Memory: Simple Secrets for Keeping Your Brain Young, is to get your brain in shape. “We exercise our bodies, but what good is that great body if you don’t have the mental capabilities to go with it?” Sure, you could write everything down, keep organized lists and leave electronic notes on your BlackBerry, cell phone or PDA. But when you don’t have access to those aids, or if you want to strengthen your brain, try these expert-recommended strategies to help you remember.
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“What the heck is his name?”
• Pay attention. When you’re introduced to someone, really listen to the person’s name. Then, to get a better grasp, picture the spelling. Ask, “Is that Kathy with a K or a C?” Make a remark about the name to help lock it in (“Oh, Carpenter — that was my childhood best friend’s last name”), and use the name a few times during the conversation and when you say goodbye.
• Visualize the name. For hard-to-remember monikers (Bentavegna, Wobbekind), make the name meaningful. For Bentavegna, maybe you think of a bent weather vane. Picture it. Then look at the person, choose an outstanding feature (bushy eyebrows, green eyes) and tie the name to the face. If Mr. Bentavegna has a big nose, picture a bent weather vane instead of his nose. The sillier the image, the better.
• Create memorable associations. Picture Joe Everett standing atop Mount Everest. If you want to remember that Erin Curtis is the CEO of an architectural firm, imagine her curtsying in front of a large building, suggests Gini Graham Scott, PhD, author of 30 Days to a More Powerful Memory.
• Cheat a little. Supplement these tips with some more concrete actions. When you get a business card, after the meeting, jot down a few notes on the back of the card (“red glasses, lives in Springfield, went to my alma mater”) to help you out when you need a reminder.[/step-item]
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“Where in the world did I leave my glasses?”
• Give a play-by-play. Pay attention to what you’re doing as you place your glasses on the end table. Remind yourself, “I’m putting my keys in my coat pocket,” so you have a clear memory of doing it, says Scott.
• Make it a habit. Put a small basket on a side table. Train yourself to put your keys, glasses, cell phone or any other object you frequently use (or misplace) in the basket — every time.[/step-item]
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“What else was I supposed to do today?”
• Start a ritual. To remind yourself of a chore (write a thank-you note, go to the dry cleaner), give yourself an unusual physical reminder. You expect to see your bills on your desk, so leaving them there won’t necessarily remind you to pay them. But place a shoe or a piece of fruit on the stack of bills, and later, when you spot the out-of-place object, you’ll remember to take care of them, says Carol Vorderman, author of Super Brain: 101 Easy Ways to a More Agile Mind.
• Sing it. To remember a small group of items (a grocery list, phone number, list of names, to-do list), adapt it to a well-known song, says Vorderman. Try “peanut butter, milk and eggs” to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” “Happy Birthday” or even nursery rhymes.
• Try mnemonic devices. Many of us learned “ROY G BIV” to remember the colors of the rainbow, or “Every Good Boy Deserves Favors” to learn musical notes. Make up your own device to memorize names (Suzanne’s kids are Adam, Patrick and Elizabeth, or “APE”), lists (milk, eggs, tomatoes, soda, or “METS”) or computer commands (to shut down your PC, hit Control+Alt+Delete, or “CAD”).
• Use your body. When you have no pen or paper and are making a mental grocery or to-do list, remember it according to major body parts, says Scott. Start at your feet and work your way up. So if you have to buy glue, cat food, broccoli, chicken, grapes and toothpaste, you might picture your foot stuck in glue, a cat on your knee looking for food, a stalk of broccoli sticking out of your pants pocket, a chicken pecking at your belly button, a bunch of grapes hanging from your chest and a toothbrush in your mouth.
• Go Roman. With the Roman room technique, you associate your grocery, to-do or party-invite list with the rooms of your house or the layout of your office, garden or route to work. Again, the zanier the association, the more likely you’ll remember it, says Scott. Imagine apples hanging from the chandelier in your foyer, spilled cereal all over the living room couch, shampoo bubbles overflowing in the kitchen sink and cheese on your bedspread.[/step-item]
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“What’s my password for this website?”
• Shape your numbers. Assign a shape to each number: 0 looks like a ball or ring; 1 is a pen; 2 is a swan; 3 looks like handcuffs; 4 is a sailboat; 5, a pregnant woman; 6, a pipe; 7, a boomerang; 8, a snowman; and 9, a tennis racket. To remember your ATM PIN (4298, say), imagine yourself on a sailboat (4), when a swan (2) tries to attack you. You hit it with a tennis racket (9), and it turns into a snowman (8). Try forgetting that image!
• Rhyme it. Think of words that rhyme with the numbers 1 through 9 (knee for 3, wine for 9, etc.). Then create a story using the rhyming words: A nun (1) in heaven (7) banged her knee (3), and it became sore (4).[/step-item]
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“The word is on the tip of my tongue.”
• Practice your ABCs. Say you just can’t remember the name of that movie. Recite the alphabet (aloud or in your head). When you get to the letter R, it should trigger the name that’s escaping you: Ratatouille. This trick works when taking tests too.[/step-item]
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“I just can’t memorize anything anymore!”
• Read it, type it, say it, hear it. To memorize a speech, toast or test material, read your notes, then type them into the computer. Next, read them aloud and tape-record them. Listen to the recording several times. As you work on memorizing, remember to turn off the TV, unplug your iPod and shut down your computer; you’ll retain more.
• Use color. Give your notes some color with bolded headings and bulleted sections (it’s easier to remember a red bullet than running text).
• Make a map. Imagine an intersection and mentally place a word, fact or number on each street corner.[/step-item]