Unless you have a health condition that's causing memory issues, chances are your memory isn't anywhere near as bad as you think it is. You simply haven't learned to properly harness the power of your brain. A strong memory depends on the health and vitality of your brain, combined with your ability to get it to properly catalog the items it's taking in that you want to remember. If you're constantly forgetting simple items and are wondering how to improve your memory, all it may require are a handful of simple changes to the way you live your life and the way you think.
What Is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the human brain to reshape itself and form new neural pathways as it takes in new information. When you learn, the information isn't just held in your brain. Your brain undergoes actual physical changes that alter the way the neural pathways in the brain connect.
In order to understand neuroplasticity, it helps to think of the brain as a lump of clay. Say you look at a coin and want to remember what's on the face of coin. You press the coin into the clay, creating an impression of the face of the coin. Similar changes occur in the brain as it logs new information and chooses what to remember and what to discard. The brain actually rewires itself as new information is taken in and remembered.
Another way to look at it is to think of the brain as a giant network of electrical wires with little lights that represent each of your memories. As a new memory is added, a new light is added to the network and the existing wires have to be rerouted to accommodate the new light.
By understanding neuroplasticity and making changes to your daily routine, you can improve your brain's ability to rewire itself. The rest of this article covers a variety of simple tips you can use to improve your memory and boost the neuroplasticity of the brain.
The brain takes in a lot of information during the day. Everything you see, hear, smell, touch and taste are all logged into the short-term memory banks of the brain. When you go to sleep, the brain stops taking in new information and starts processing the information it took in during the day in a process known as memory consolidation. When you don't get enough sleep, the brain isn't able to consolidate all of the information it took in from the previous day and will end up having to discard information you would otherwise have remembered.
Lack of sleep results in a brain that isn't able to operate at full capacity. The more days in a row you don't get the sleep you need, the worse-off the brain is. You can give the brain a huge helping hand by not burning the candle at both ends and getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night.
Laugh Loud, Laugh Often
There's an old saying that goes, "Laughter is the best medicine." The person who came up with this saying may not have been referring to neuroplasticity, but it does hold true when it comes to memory.
A happy brain is a highly functional brain and laughter is a great way to get your brain firing on all cylinders.
The following tips can help you learn to laugh more often:
- Hang out with fun people. Funny people are a barrel of laughs, which is just what you brain needs to ramp up its learning ability. Associate yourself with fun people and learn to be fun yourself. A night out with funny friends once in a while may be just what your brain needs to really get it going.
- Laugh at your mistakes. People tend to over-analyze the simple things in life. Learn to take yourself less seriously and laugh off the little things. Your brain will be much stronger as a result.
- Spend time with children and pay attention to them. If you have kids, this is an easy one. If you don't have kids, spend some time with a relative or family member who does. Kids are simple creatures who enjoy the little things in life. They're a great model for learning to laugh and love life.
- Learn to love the sound of your laugh. Are you self-conscious about the sound of your laugh? Most people are. Learn to love the way your laugh sounds, nasally snort and all. Let the haters hate. After all, they're just jealous that you're such a happy person. Love your laugh and you'll laugh more often.
- Be silly. It's hard not to laugh at yourself when you're acting silly. Don't be afraid to let your hair down and act like a goofball every once in while, even if it's just while you're at home alone with nobody else watching. It's OK to act like a kid from time to time. Embrace it and enjoy it.
The Foods You Eat Can Improve Your Memory
Diet can also play a role in your ability to remember. The following dietary choices can help fuel your brain and may be the key to unlocking a better memory:
- Green tea. Green tea contains powerful antioxidants that protect the brain from free radical damage. The polyphenols in green tea may enhance memory and help prevent age-related memory disorders.
- Grape juice. Grape juice contains a compound known as resveratrol that improves blood flow to the brain and reduces the risk of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease. Yes, wine works, too, but only when consumed in moderation. As if you needed another excuse to down a glass of wine.
- Fruit and vegetables. Your mom was right. Fruit and vegetables are good for you and they're good for your brain. The antioxidants in fruit and veggies protect the brain from free radical damage and help the brain function at a high level.
- Fish. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish are another great way to boost the learning ability of your brain.
- Skip the saturated fats. Saturated fats may cross the blood-brain barrier and impair cognitive abilities. Skip the saturated fats and you'll lessen your risk of developing dementia while improving concentration and your ability to focus.
When we're young, we're constantly challenging our brain. We engage our brain in learning tasks, we use our imagination and spend most of the day engaging in cognitive thinking. As we get older, we tend to settle into a routine and most of us allow our brains to go into autopilot for vast stretches of the day.
We no longer have to memorize new things, so our brains slowly but surely lose the ability to build new neural pathways.
Memory is a practiced skill that you either use or you lose. The longer you go without using your memory, the harder it gets to remember things when you do try to use it.
Exercise your brain and it'll stay sharp well into old age. Challenge yourself to learn a new language, to learn to play an instrument or pick up a book of crossword puzzles. It doesn't matter how you use your brain. What matters is that you are using it. Choose tasks that are challenging and fun, so you're likely to stick with them.
Thus far we've discussed indirect ways to improve your memory. Let's switch things up a bit and look at a method you can use to directly influence the way your brain builds neural pathways.
Mnemonic learning allows you to more easily memorize stuff by associating it with something that's already familiar to your brain. Neural pathways are all interconnected and the more connections you can build to an item you want to remember, the easier it will be to recall that item when the time comes that you need it.
The neural pathways of the brain are like a network of little roads, all leading to various destinations in your memory. If there's only one convoluted route to a memory, you're less likely to remember it than if there are multiple routes leading to that same memory. The more connections you build, the better off you'll be.
The following methods of mnemonic association can all be used to improve your neural network:
- Acrostic. Use the first letter of each word you're trying to remember to make a sentence. For example, in order to remember the planets, memorize the sentence "My Very Earnest Mother Just Served Us Noodles." The first letter of each word represents one of the planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.
- Visual imaging. Associate a vivid picture with the item you want to remember. To remember a man named Donald Parks, picture him with Donald Duck's bill sitting on a park bench. It may sound silly, but works surprisingly well.
- Acronyms. Create a word from the first letters of the words you're trying to remember. P.A.S.S. could help you to remember how to use a fire extinguisher. "Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep."
- Rhymes. Make a catchy song or rhyme out of the items you're trying to remember. "I before E, except after C or when sounding like A, as in neighbor or weigh."
- Locations. Picture an area you know well and place the items you want to remember in different areas along that route in your memory. For sequential items, place them sequentially along the route.
- Reassociation. Take something you already know and associate it with the items you trying to learn. If you're trying to remember a person's name, think of someone you know who has the same name and picture them walking hand in hand.
The more of these associations you're able to use while trying to learn something, the more pathways you'll build and the more likely it becomes that your brain will be able to find a pathway to that item when you're trying to recall it.