There are many ways to make the most out of your abilities. Here are some things you can do when your memory is less than perfect:
- Plan to remember. By saying to yourself, "I am going to remember this," you are less likely to forget.
- Decide what is important. No one can remember everything. Focus on what is the most important, and ignore what is not important. You may want to write notes if important things are very detailed.
- Repeat key pieces of information. By saying and hearing what you are thinking, you can remember in two ways: by thinking about the information a second time, and by processing it in a different way (through hearing and speaking). When you store things by hearing and speaking as well as by thinking them, you form more connections within your brain. This makes you more likely to remember.
- Create lists. This way, you can focus your energy on remembering more important things instead of on your errands or groceries.
- Use mnemonics. A mnemonic (neh-MON-ik) is a rhyme, formula, or other device used to help remember. You've probably used mnemonics before without knowing it. "I before e except after c" is a mnemonic, used to remember how to spell words like believe, conceive, and receipt. "My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Us Nine Pickles" is a mnemonic for the planets in order from the closest to the sun. The M in My stands for Mercury, V in Very stands for Venus, E in Elegant stands for Earth, and so on. You can (and should) create your own mnemonics. Some of the best mnemonics are ones that are unusual and have meaning only for you.
- Make connections to meaningful memories. The more personal and important the memory, the better. So if you have to remember an address such as 1086 Forest Drive (and you are a baseball fan), think of driving through the forest and listening to the Mets win the World Series on the radio-which, as a baseball fan, you know happened in October (the 10th month) of 1986.
- Keep things in the same place. Always put your checkbook in the same drawer, or your keys on the same part of the counter. Let people you live with know you are doing this for a reason, so they don't move them.
- Don't focus too much on a memory slip. Everybody has them, even the great minds. If you keep thinking about a small lapse, you will only make yourself upset. Try to learn from your slip and move on. If you get the missing information, great! Write it down. If you don't, try to work around it. It may come to you when you are not thinking about it.
- Exercise your brain. You may have heard that the mind is like a muscle; if you don't use it, it gets out of shape. Find something that interests you and makes you think. Take a course, read classic books, start playing a musical instrument, watch educational programs, write poetry, or learn to speak a new language.
If you want more help
If you are concerned about your memory, ask your doctor to refer you to a neuropsychologist, who can find out just what kinds of problems you may have and advise you on how to handle them.
In addition, there are many books available to help you improve your memory. A fairly intensive book by Cynthia Green, Ph.D., called Total Memory Workout: 8 Easy Steps to Maximum Memory Fitness, may be useful. She includes several practice exercises so you can try out different strategies.