How to Improve Your Memory Retention

a cluttered desk with notes, notebooks, and papers and a woman's hands writing notes in a notebook

Like any other skill, memory is something that can be strengthened and improved upon with practice. 

We all know how hard it can be to recall names, dates, and facts—especially as we get older. But, luckily, there are proven strategies out there to help you improve your memory.

Plus, many of these memory boosting techniques can also benefit other areas of your life, like your concentration, productivity, and even your emotional well-being. 

Here are strategies you can start applying today to increase your memory and ability to retain information. 

Write it down

Our devices might make it easier to read up on any subject whenever we want, but they also make it that much harder to absorb what we’ve just learned. Instead of digesting new information, we find ourselves passively consuming it. 

When it comes to expanding your memory, it’s a good idea to turn to an old school technique: handwriting. 

Whereas online reading is all about skimming and clicking through as much information as possible, handwriting forces us to slow down and be mindful about what it is that we’re reading.  We’re more likely to retain the information because we’re actually taking the time to look at it and think about it. 

So the next time you’re studying for a big exam or sitting in on an important meeting, break out your notebook and start jotting down notes. 

Another advantage of handwriting? It’s a chance to see different perspectives. When we write things down, we have an easier time making connections and deductions because we see the information all laid out on paper. You can make side notes in the margins or draw arrows to connect two points. 

Handwriting helps you gain insights that you would’ve otherwise missed had you skimmed through the material.

Bottomline: take notes whenever you need to learn something important. 

Use writing tools to help you learn 

Make your study sessions even more effective by using tools like colorful pens or highlighters. Underline or highlight important information as you go along, and make them stick out on paper and in your mind.

If you’re a visual learner, you appreciate when information is presented in a striking, colorful manner. Highlighting, underlining, and marking up notes are all different ways to tell your brain: “This is important, remember it.” 

This visual note-taking method will also come in handy when you’re reviewing your notes. You’ll be drawn to these visual cues and be reminded to stop, read, and process this information.

Retain information by reading it out loud 

Another useful memory retention technique is to say the words out loud.

If you’ve ever had to deliver a wedding toast or a work presentation, you know how hard it is to commit the words to memory. You read the script over and over, but the words don’t seem to stick. Instead of working harder, try reciting the words out loud or even mouthing them as you read along. Practicing your speech in this way will make it easier to memorize.

Much like handwriting, saying words out loud forces you to slow down and really engage with what you’re reading. Rather than breezing through the text, you are taking the time to recognize and retain the words. 

Try this technique the next time you’re preparing for a presentation or studying for an exam or learning a new language.

Improve your memory by taking a walk

Puzzles and brain games are said to help our memory and brain power. But did you know that taking a leisurely walk can be just as beneficial?

We all know that walking is good for us. From relieving stress to releasing feel-good endorphins, walking is a calming exercise that gives us tons of mental health and physical benefits. 

And a leisurely walk can even help you improve your memory. 

Research shows that walking three times a week for at least forty minutes can increase our hippocampus and improve our spatial memory

There might even be an evolutionary explanation for this. For our prehistoric ancestors, being able to remember walking routes was vital for finding food and avoiding dangerous predators. 

So the next time you’re cramming for a test or brushing up on notes before a meeting, try going for a walk. Not only will you feel better afterwards, you’ll improve the likelihood of retaining what you learned earlier.  

Practice meditation

Another helpful technique for improving your memory is meditation.

Meditation increases gray matter in our brain which helps us with learning and boosting our memory. 

Plus, much like walking, meditation is a simple activity that can help us manage our stress and anxiety, and become more grounded in the present moment.

Turn it into a story

If you’re having a hard time remembering a history or science lesson, try turning it into a story

As mentioned earlier, human beings are visual creatures. We have an easier time capturing information when we can picture it in our mind. There’s a reason why we distinctly remember stories and scenes from our favorite movies, TV shows, and books. 

On the other hand, it’s pretty hard to visualize random dates and facts. But if there’s a way to turn it into a narrative with characters, images, and a conflict and resolution, you’ll have a framework in which to map your information on. With this recognizable structure, you’ll have an easier time relating to the information. Then, you’ll have an easier time retaining it. 

Make notes in your planner and do weekly reviews

Whether it’s jotting down interesting details from a magazine article or writing down a new vocabulary word, I find it easier to learn new information when I write it down in my planner, and then make it a habit to review it a week later.

The two-step process of writing it down and then reviewing it later on helps me retrieve the information more easily.

And I like using my planner to record notes because I have it around with me all the time anyway, and can refer to my notes on a regular basis.  

What are some techniques you like to use to improve your memory?

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