The Brain Has an Innate Capacity for Greatness
4 Tips to Enhance Your Memory and Learning Ability
We live in a world where feats of athleticism are constantly celebrated and immortalized in sports events like the Olympics. But what most people don’t know is that there are also Olympic-like events for the nerds among us, people who can make their mind do amazing things just by willing it – like memorizing a deck of cards in one minute or recalling a string of binary digits from memory for example.
The “World Memory Championships”, as this annual event is called, pits contestants against each other in a series of memory tourneys. The best thing of all – there’s also a chance that you can be a mental champ and perform amazing memory feats of your own (and join the WMC while you’re at it) if you practice hard enough. There’s practically no age limit.
How Can I Improve my Memory Like a Brain Athlete?
The brain is a very flexible organ. Unlike physical athleticism whose peak is often reached in a person’s twenties, the brain is capable of performing at its best until old age. Research has shown that the hippocampus – aka the brain’s “memory center” – can produce and replenish neurons, in a process also known as neurogenesis, well up to a person’s nineties.
So the most effective approach to memory improvement involves training and “exercising” the brain constantly, in practically the same manner as athletes do. Here are a few steps to get started:
1. Create a Personal “Mind Palace”
In the last episode of the third season of BBC’s Sherlock, viewers were given an inside look into how the mind of the eponymous “consulting” detective works. Basically, Sherlock visualizes a memory palace inside his mind, which he then fills with mementos from his childhood and artifacts from previous cases he worked on. Whenever he finds himself in a quagmire (such as getting shot at point blank range, for example), he “walks” the halls of his “palace,” and then finds an object or piece of information that can help him get out of that particular sticky situation – all done in mere fractions of a second.
Sherlock’s technique – fantastical as it may seem – is actually well-rooted in reality. This kind of memory technique was first popularized by ancient Greek scholars, and has since then been used by a lot of brain athletes in tournaments like the WMC (as reported by a former WMC champion in http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/06/01/how-to-memorize-a-deck-of-cards/).
In a nutshell, the “mind palace” technique involves visualizing abstract concepts like cards (the Queen of hearts and 5 of spades, for example), turning them into familiar objects (the queen as your wife and the 5 of spades as your shovel collection), and placing them into very specific “rooms” in your palace. As you move from room to room, these concepts can then be easily and quickly recalled as compared to if you just merely rote-memorized them.
2. Get Distracted
In this age of perpetually Internet-connected smartphones and tablets, multitasking has gotten a pretty bad rep. And that’s understandable – you get distracted too much, and you’re bound to waste most of your time procrastinating and putting off important tasks for later.
But did you know that distractions – done the right way – can be beneficial? The trick to this is to keep your distractions closely related in topic or objective to your main task. For example, while studying Calculus, you can take a quick break and work on some Java exercises for your programming class. This kind of switching back-and-forth between activities forces your brain to work harder to remember the topic that you were previously working on. (http://www.wired.com/medtech/health/magazine/16-05/gs_01distract)
3. Practice Spaced Repetition
If you must memorize things through rote (such as learning new words for a language class), then you can at least try to practice spaced repetition when memorizing. Based on the research of Piotr Wozniak, spaced repetition involves reviewing material at PRECISELY the exact time that you are about to forget it (about five minutes or so during the first few repetitions), and then gradually increasing the time intervals between each review so as to imprint the information in the brain’s long-term memory bank. This is the same principle that Paul Pimsleur used in his very popular language learning system.
In a nutshell, this is pretty similar to using flashcards, with the added caveat of spaced time intervals. If you can’t make up a spaced repetition system of your own, you can try using specialized software like SuperMemo, Anki, and other similar apps, which are specially designed to work with this kind of memory technique.
4. Location is Important
There’s a reason why some people report being more creative and more productive when working in a coffee shop, library, or any place they are not that familiar or comfortable with (compared to, say, a person’s own house, dorm room, or office). The unfamiliar sight, smell, and ambient sounds provided by these locations provide just the right amount of distraction to keep the brain on edge, thus making it work harder in memorizing. There’s also the fact that you’ll be able to associate the information that you’re memorizing with the specifics of the place that you’ve memorized them in (see the “mind palace” technique above) so as to further aide with future recollection later.
In other words, don’t memorize in bed. Get outside and study in new places if you want to make the most out of your time.
If You Are Lazy
So, it is hard to improve one’s memory, it takes practice and discipline, but once you get a routine going for challenging your brain often, it will get easier. If you are feeling lazy however, one way to increased memory capacity is through nootropics. The effects of practicing and challenging your brain are much more long term and without any side effects whatsoever. If you feel the need for a shortcut, we recommend noopept, which, in our opinion is the best nootropic on the market.
Below is the first video in a series of how to learn powerful memory techniques.
Co-Founder of Slowfoodnation. Nutrition expert. Ph.D in Food Science and Nutrition.
Tom Wells is the co-founder and main editor for Slowfoodnation. Initially he was actually in the business of computer science, working with websites. But he realized that this alone didn’t exactly fulfill me. So he decided to combine his knowledge in web development with a PhD in a more organic field. He’s an entrepreneur, food-lover and a gym-freak, always on the move.