You Must Remember This: 3 Easy Steps to Better Recall

By Martin Brown

There are three important things I want to share with you about improving your memory, but I’ve forgotten two of them…

Just kidding!

But seriously, we’ve all done something just like that. The grocery items we don’t remember until we get back home, or the promise to call a friend that’s not remembered until it’s too late at night to pick up the phone. Then there are those presentation points that you wanted to make at the meeting, and that really good one that, of all things, you can’t recall.

It’s more than a little annoying. I know, like most of us, I’ve experienced all of the above.

There is a pervasive myth that having a good memory is something we have or we don’t have. More or less that’s as silly as suggesting that the ability to climb three flights of steps without getting winded comes naturally. Just as you need to train yourself to improve your aerobic capability, an improved memory requires focus and practice.

Our tech age has challenged the functionality of our memories in two ways. One, smart phones and map finders, just to give two examples, make it easier for us to bring up information that we no longer need to recall. This is great for convenience, but just as hurtful to building a better memory as pocket calculators have been over the past 25 years to keeping simple math skills sharp in our minds. Memories like all of our other functions, is a use it or lose it proposition. The less you have to remember the worse off your memory will become.  Two, the tech age has brought us information overload. Facebooking with friends, tweeting with the universe, and getting up to the minute news on everything distracts us in countless ways. Focus is a key skill in memory improvement and all those distractions make that discipline far more challenging.

Here are three simple steps for you to combat memory malfunctions and restore a higher degree of clarity and recall in your everyday life:

One, get to know mnenomic devices. These devices are simply a form of association. We have much to learn about brain function, but one thing researchers do know about memory is that we remember things because they bare some association to other things. Suppose you’re on your way to the store and you want to remember some quick items so thinking of carrots, for example, there’s a visual image of Bugs Bunny chomping down on one. Hoping to remember to pick up a bottle of wine for that party you’ve been invited to Saturday night, think about that great wine tasting you went on with friends on your trip to Napa Valley. Don’t want to forget picking up that tea you like, just think of Alice and the Mad Hatter having a lovely party. At first you might think: this is just more stuff to remember, but your mind doesn’t object to the additional information. It welcomes it and can handle dozens of mnenomic devices in the quest for better recall.

Two, memory has a lot to do with focus. That’s why when you’re trying to absorb information, whether that be a test you’re preparing for or learning to cook an exotic new dish, the focus you bring to the task will largely determine your ability to recall bits of information later. Let’s use a situation we have all faced at various times in our life to illustrate this point: You arrive at a social function where in quick succession you’re introduced to twelve new names and faces for the first time. It is possible to remember all these names and the faces in seconds using focus and mnenomics. Focus is very important. If you’re learning a new name and face you can’t also be thinking about the other person you just met or wondering why the room is too warm. Distraction will always cause your memory to perform below its optimum level. Next, associate names in rapid fire with things that you easily recall. When you meet William, he’s “Prince” William. When you meet Carly, think “Simon.” Sally, might be Sally by the seashore. And names that are the same as relatives are the easiest of all. Thereby, the older gentleman named Ed, becomes “uncle” Ed, and the woman your age might be “cousin” Lisa.

Three, repetition greatly enhances memory. If you want to hold on to something for longer than an hour, or a day, repeat it and pass along the information in one form or another. There are lots of ways to do that. Write it up as an online comment at the end of this article you just read, or Facebook it up. Tell someone about what you liked in a movie you saw last night. Share, perhaps, the film’s funniest line and it will stay with you a lot longer. If it’s something you learned at the office regarding your job and you think it’s important to remember, write a brief memo to yourself highlighting the points you most want to recall. When you learn anything, the best way to retain that new information is to share it with someone else.

The biggest mistake we all make regarding memory is to think that it’s always there and it happens naturally. Therefore all the jokes we love about getting older and having faulty recall. Much of that is simply not true. We recall those things we make an honest effort to remember. Otherwise it’s like background noise. It simply passes unnoticed in the river of information that rushes past us. And that is no way to recall the best days of our lives.


Martin Brown is the Heath Channel Editor for, and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Finding Mr. Right.

His next book, Fit in 50 Days, will be available May 2011.