4 Tricks To Have A Better Memory, From A Brain Researcher
If you tend to forget names easily, constantly misplace your things, or unknowingly double-book yourself, you might be ready for some memory training. That's right—you can actually improve your memory with intentional exercises and practices, and it doesn't have to take up too much time, either.
Brain researcher Marc Milstein, Ph.D., author of The Age-Proof Brain: New Strategies To Improve Memory, Protect Immunity, and Fight Off Dementia, recently shared his very best tips on the mindbodygreen podcast—here are his four must-have tricks to try out for a better memory ASAP:
Slow down your thoughts.
Forgetting names doesn't necessarily mean you have a bad memory—it might just mean you weren't putting in enough effort to remember it (by no fault of your own; it's super common!). Instead of meeting someone new and moving on to small talk, try to devote a few seconds to really ingrain that name into your mind.
"Imagine writing their name on their forehead right after they say their name, [so] you focus on their name for an extra few seconds. Your brain goes, 'Oh, this information is worth it,'" Milstein says. "Instead of throwing it away, it transfers it to long-term memory."
You can call upon this method for any kind of important information, not just names. Of course, you can always write information down, but if you want to work your memory muscles, keeping it paperless might be a good challenge. A few other moments this trick may come in handy include:
- When someone tells you when or where to meet them.
- When someone explains how to do something you're unfamiliar with.
- When someone gives you directions to an unfamiliar place.
Give your mind a break.
Society certainly provides an ominous pressure to work, work, and keep working without breaks (aka, hustle culture). When it comes to your brain, though, a break is actually necessary every once in a while if you want to stay focused.
If you never take a day off, skip your lunch break (or eat while working), or fill your weekends with even more work, your brain will be craving a moment of peace sooner or later. "We can be burning ourselves out," Milstein says. Think of burnout as your brain force-quitting your momentum.
Of course, no matter how much you may want to give your brain a break, a weeklong island getaway isn't feasible for most people—so does that mean your brain will suffer? Most definitely not: There are plenty of ways to incorporate brain breaks into your day-to-day life. A few tips:
- Practice meditation.
- Spend five minutes simply sitting and breathing a few times throughout the day.
- Stretch (even a simple cat-cow pose will do).
- Don't go on your phone before bed—instead, journal, daydream, or read a book.
- Use your skin care routine as a moment of peace.
- Take a walk whenever you can, even if it's just around the block.
If you have an important day coming up—say, the first day of a new job, a presentation, or even a big event you simply want to remember for the long haul—you should try to get as much sleep as you can the day-of (and the days before and after, of course).
See, when you learn something new, your brain cells make new connections. "The moment you make the connection is the moment you learn it," Milstein explains. "Then when you sleep at night, you make that connection stronger and stick," he notes. This is why it's so important to get high-quality sleep for cognitive health—if you don't, your brain won't have as much time to really lock in new information.
So along with taking notes, prioritizing a good snooze after learning something new will help you remember it—think of it like another lock on the door. If you want some natural assistance, opt for a melatonin-free sleep aid to encourage rest, sans grogginess—here are nine A+ options we love.
Tie your thoughts to emotions.
Evolutionarily, our minds aren't naturally hardwired to remember complex math equations or codes (though it's pretty cool that we can). "We're programmed to remember things that have real meaning, as opposed to just a random string of numbers," Milstein says.
So if you frequently forget your passwords, that's actually more innate (and common) than you think. "Don't feel bad about those things," Milstein says. Especially when you have a million other tasks going on, random information like that easily gets trashed to make room for more important things.
However, "If the thing that we're learning has meaning, if it has some emotional element to it (it's funny, it's scary, etc.), it's more likely to stick," Milstein notes. This is why you might remember every second of the last scary movie you watched yet slip up on your best friend's phone number.
So if you want to remember something simple (say, a string of numbers like a date or phone number), then you should mentally tie it to something silly or scary, Milstein suggests. "That's the way you make those memories stick," he notes. Dramatizing the numbers or using them in a silly sentence might help way more than you think.
To those who forget passwords, plans, and phone numbers—you're not alone. The brain naturally forgets information it deems unimportant, which is why these exercises come in so handy. Try to tie an emotion to the information, say it a few times in your head, or visualize it written down. And of course, always prioritize brain breaks and get enough sleep. If you want to learn more about how to keep your brain feeling younger for longer, check out the full episode below!
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.