Memory Tricks

Brain Experts' 6 Best Memory Tricks
Confident woman at work - cropped

Wish your memory were a little sharper? Want to remember names and numbers as well as you could a few years back? Brain experts swear by the following six simple techniques.

Look, Snap, Connect to Remember Names

There are three steps to psychiatrist Gary Small's favorite tactic, which he calls "Look, Snap, Connect." The first is to tell yourself that remembering a particular name is a priority, says Small, who's also the director of the UCLA Center on Aging and author of several books about memory and cognition, including The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head.

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Step 1: Really focus (LOOK) on a name and face you want to remember.

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Step 2: Create a visual snapshot (SNAP) of the name and face. Note a key visual characteristic: Big ears? Silver hair? Blue eyes? Dimples? Also create an image about the name: A cat stands for Mrs. Katz, a dollar bill for someone named Bill. "I sometimes see a famous person with a similar name," Small says. "So Angela Shirnberger becomes Angelina Jolie wearing shined shoes and eating a burger."

Step 3: Join the two images (CONNECT): Maybe blue-eyed Bill is a blue dollar bill, or Angela Shirnberger is a silver-haired Angelina Jolie with shiny shoes eating a hamburger. The simple act of thinking up these images helps cement them in your memory -- and ups the odds that the new name will materialize for you the next time you encounter the person.

Use a Name Right Away to Remember It

If a new name goes in one ear and out the other, try to trap it inside your head by using it immediately, suggests University of Wisconsin geriatric psychiatrist Ken Robbins, who's also board certified in internal medicine. When you meet John Jones, Robbins says, deliberately repeat his name: "Nice to meet you, John."

Then use his name in conversation every few minutes while you talk: "So John, how long have you been with your company?" And, "That's a great point, John." You might feel a little like a genial newscaster, but you don't have to overdo it. Every few minutes is sufficient.

Remembering names is tricky because we're distracted by the social interactions of the moment. And names are arbitrary, a type of information that's harder to retain.

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"Simply saying the name aloud a few times helps it stick," Robbins says. As you walk away from the person, say the name again to yourself: "So that was John Jones of ABC Company."

Picture It to Remember It

Don't want to forget to meet your friend for lunch? Need to remember to take your medicine? Create an image that associates the task with something else happening around the same time, and then picture yourself following through when you see that cue, suggests memory specialist Mark McDaniel, a professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis.

Say the mailman comes just before lunch. Now picture yourself getting up to go to lunch when you see the mail truck. Odds are good that when the truck appears, that's what you'll do.

"The concrete environmental event cues you. It triggers the intention," McDaniel says. Studies have shown that women who visualize doing breast self-exams in the shower are more likely to actually do them. Diabetics are more likely to monitor blood glucose daily when the task is tied to another everyday event.

More examples: Remember to take a new morning medication by imagining yourself doing so when you sip juice at breakfast (if you have juice every day). Remember to drop off dry cleaning by picturing doing so as you pass a particular landmark at that intersection.

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How to Remember Where Things Are

Visual reminders are like crutches. Without them, we have to conjure up an answer from thin air ("Now where did I put my umbrella?") or, worse, remember to remember the thing in the first place ("Darn! Forgot my umbrella again!"). Storing an umbrella (or keys, or sunglasses) right by the door makes you more likely to remember to find it and take it with you. Having a habitual storage spot, like an umbrella stand, is another memory booster.

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"Leaving it where you can see it so you don't forget helps your prospective memory, which is remembering to remember things, like where you put something," psychiatrist Gary Small says.

But what if the umbrella stand becomes "invisible" to you because it's sunny on most days, so you risk forgetting the thing when it rains? Again, use a visual reminder, Small says. Move the umbrella right in front of the door as soon as you see the rain forecast.

Similarly, leave papers you need to take home with you on the floor beside your desk, right in your footpath. Assemble ingredients on a counter before you begin cooking, so you're unlikely to forget any. Put a package bound for UPS in your car when you have it ready; don't expect to remember to look for it when you're leaving the house.

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Nightly Review to Recall Important Events

Parents sometimes use a "review the day" tactic at bedtime to give young kids a warm, fuzzy feeling and to recap the day's best teachable moments. A similar process can help your brain recap what's important.

It's easy: Before going to bed, run a mental review of the key things that happened that you want to remember. You got a call confirming an appointment for tomorrow? Promised a friend you'd follow up about lunch? Made a new acquaintance? (What was her name? Her job? Her partner's name?)

Better yet: Carry a small notebook into which you jot critical things to remember during the day. Review these notes at day's end. "Most people find that the combination of writing and then reviewing really helps," psychiatrist Ken Robbins says.

How Repetition Helps You Remember

A tactic that goes by the fancy names of "spaced rehearsal" or "expanded retrieval" is a favorite because it's so effective. Simply repeat something over and over at slightly extended intervals. Memory specialist Professor Mark McDaniel says the tactic is often used with Alzheimer's patients. "And if it works for many of them, it can work for someone with a healthy brain," he says.

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To use it: Say you want to remember a name or a short grocery list, or -- as is often the case for Alzheimer's patients -- you need to remind yourself or your loved one to check a calendar. Repeat the name or task to yourself. Wait 15 seconds. Silently say it again to yourself. ("Bob Smith" or "Check the calendar.") Wait 45 seconds. Bring it back up. Wait 90 seconds, then repeat. "If you can remember it after five minutes, you're in good shape," McDaniel says. "It's been well stored."

"Spaced is the operative word," says Martha Weinman Lear, author of Where Did I Leave My Glasses? The What, When and Why of Normal Memory Loss. "Rapid cramming -- muttering someone's name to yourself over and over in rapid succession -- is not the best way to commit a name, or anything else, to memory."


over 1 year ago, said...

These methods are all tried and true ways to keep focused and remember things. Those names or chores that pop up need to be placed in a space that can easily be referred back to. But this is the twenty first millenium. Smartphones are creeping into everyone's lives. Use the calendar to schedule dates, appointments and recurring tasks and set a reminder (I use an air raid siren). Pick an app that you can store grocery lists, reading lists and todo lists. Don't forget your contacts, family, friends, doctors, vets and other associates. With the one I use I can set reminders both visual and audible. I plug in appointments, chores and mundane details. The only trouble I have since I got the smartphone is that I got stupid. If I don't store the information in the phone, something I need to do blows on right by.


over 1 year ago, said...

It's almost unbelievable how much the world of mental health and treatments over the years have changed, one study right now suggest that alzheimer's can be reversed by correcting brain waves through mirror signalling I saw it in this ted talk below it's very interesting take care. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPfMiQb8sQM


over 1 year ago, said...

I found out that I have the starting of dementia. Would appreciate any I comments or articles concerning dementia. Thank you.


over 1 year ago, said...

I find that the alphabet is an excellent way to remember names.If you go through it from A to Z,Usually you will find that certain letters will be strong and will give you a place to start.Than your subconscious mind kicks in and will trigger the next letters etc. try it.It works for me. good luck.


about 2 years ago, said...

Thank YOU !!!!!!!!!!!


over 2 years ago, said...

I realized a long time ago that so long as I remembered the person i didn't have to remember their name and if I greet them warmly that's what matters and they'll never notice that I've forgotten their name. If it's important that I know their name, say if I want to write to them or send them something, I'll then ask them to write down their name and address!


over 2 years ago, said...

I HAVE TRIED THIS METHOD & DIDN'T WORK. ASKEED MANY FRIENDS IF THAT WORKED & THEY SAID NO


over 2 years ago, said...

Something I do to remember pills for my wife who has dementia. I have lots of pills for heart, colesterol, fibrillation, etc. Of course I use a weekly pill box. In the morning, I have one pill to take a half hour after my breakfast and breakfast pills. I set a glass of water by that pill container and when I walk by and see the glass of water, it reminds me to take that pill. As my wife still likes to go out to dinner, when we come home, I always put the next nights pills for both of us in a small pill box I carry in my pocket. Then no mater where we are the next night for dinner, I always have the pills with me.


almost 3 years ago, said...

i will try all these tips. iam bad with names


about 3 years ago, said...

75 NOW......GETTING QUITE FORGETFUL.......I WILL TAKE YOUR ADVICE AND THANKS......


over 3 years ago, said...

I keep a big book in the kitchen now. One foot wide and one foot deep. Was an accounts book. Next to the phone. I have maped out my days. Its working very well for me. Kitchen counter looks like a desk. Alzimers I know you dont spell it like that - is in the family. So I`m blessed with it to. I dont remeber the bad things - I`m so happy now - best years of my life. Ha! How`s that.


over 3 years ago, said...

I tried writing everything in a note book. Square ones - long ones - red ones. SMALL ones. I just couldn`t remember where I put them - or left them.


over 3 years ago, said...

I might remember - the ryme - the colour - the picture ..... but not the name. Or the person. I have tried that, doesnt work for me.


almost 4 years ago, said...

I will definitely try this.


about 4 years ago, said...

I'm a senior citizen; however, I am a volunteer coordinator at our Community. So, remembering names is very important. Thank you for this creative way to remember names for people love to be recognized by their name. I love it! Thanks a million our family at Caring.com!


about 4 years ago, said...

It served as a review for points i have heard in the past.


about 4 years ago, said...

Everything! Thanks!


about 4 years ago, said...

Most of the suggestions I already knew and use - this reviewed them for me.


about 4 years ago, said...

I put things to remember in my cell phone because it goes everywhere I go. I am very absent minded. If info isn't in my cell phone, it does not exist.


about 4 years ago, said...

if we had to remember that much to remember the name, why not just remember the name! ha


about 4 years ago, said...

44 Comments 95% helpful Confident woman at work - cropped Wish your memory were a little sharper? Want to remember names and numbers as well as you could a few years back? Brain experts swear by the following six simple techniques. 1. Never forget a name: Look, snap, connect. There are three steps to psychiatrist Gary Small's favorite tactic, which he calls "Look, Snap, Connect." The first is to tell yourself that remembering a particular name is a priority, says Small, who's also the director of the UCLA Center on Aging and author of several books about memory and cognition, including The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head. Step 1: Really focus (LOOK) on a name and face you want to remember. Step 2: Create a visual snapshot (SNAP) of the name and face. Note a key visual characteristic: Big ears? Silver hair? Blue eyes? Dimples? Also create an image about the name: A cat stands for Mrs. Katz, a dollar bill for someone named Bill. "I sometimes see a famous person with a similar name," Small says. "So Angela Shirnberger becomes Angelina Jolie wearing shined shoes and eating a burger." Step 3: Join the two images (CONNECT): Maybe blue-eyed Bill is a blue dollar bill, or Angela Shirnberger is a silver-haired Angelina Jolie with shiny shoes eating a hamburger. The simple act of thinking up these images helps cement them in your memory -- and ups the odds that the new name will materialize for you the next time you encounter the person. Previous Page Page 1 of 6 Next Page Was this article helpful? Yes No Share: Recommended for you Which drugs cause memory loss? Sponsored Content How to Deal With Your Aging Loved One's Difficult Behaviors Memory Enhancers for Someone With Alzheimer's 5 Secrets to Aging Well 5 Things That Probably Won't Help You Live Longer 5 Secrets to Slowing Aging Join the Conversation View 44 comments 64px-hhf78e2acc60 Comment E-mail Already registered? Sign in to comment Screen Name:


about 4 years ago, said...

I use to tell all my students the same thing years ago to indentify a suspect, by using a movie star are a pupular person to subsitute for the parson they are trying to remember. It works people, try it and you will noticed the change in your memory


over 4 years ago, said...

The VA Widow's Pension seems like a gamble if the widow has "too much income" which is about $565 a month. Then you have to hire nursing staff or care givers & pay for baths, mental or physical exercise, food preparation, even if you can do those things for the patient. In this case my mom is the patient. There is no guarantee that after 6-9 months the VA will grant your request, however if they do they will interview the independent contractor-caregiver for their ability to handle the $12,000 pension. If you are a felon, have made late payments or bad credit they'll chose someone else, maybe even a stranger. A home health supervisor was rumored to have said that she's never seen the VA or Medicaid reimburse, to the care givers, their home care services-never! Is this another Government scam to suck the last dollar out of the borderline poor?


over 4 years ago, said...

The tips are very practical and easy to practice. Very helpful. I believe this article can really help for the forgetful persons like me.


over 4 years ago, said...

Helpful


over 4 years ago, said...

This seems complicated compared to the mnemonics I use. I don't have time or space to explain it here, but a man named Irv Wermont, who died in 1985, taught it to me. Now, I do use "wormonit" to recall his last name (I last spoke with him in 1966). Basically, the name is affilated with a vocal numeric that has a sound affiliated with it. "Nelson" is 414 (EN+EL+EN) or N+El+N =NELON = Nelson. It has never failed me.