How to improve your memory

A good memory is a huge asset in every area of life, but how many people struggle to remember simple everyday things?

Psychologists universally agree that there’s a great deal we can do to improve. They  distinguish between short- and long-term memory. Short-term is the stuff of day to day living and long-term, well, longer. The techniques taught in memory books and courses deal mainly with the short term memory.

Improving short-term memory

Here are some hints:

  • Write things down. Make shopping lists, action plans, ‘to do’ lists. Keep a notepad with you – paper or electronic and use it.
  • Pay attention. You are more likely to remember something you pay attention to in the first place.
  • Take an interest – we find it easier to remember things which interest us. E.g. sports fans can reel off facts and figures from fixtures long ago.
  • Practise – like most skills, the more you practise, the better you get. And practising a little every day is more effective than a frantic session once a fortnight.
  • Repetition – the continual repetition of information, silently or aloud, ingrains it in the memory. Memory responds to repetition – this is a core principle.
  • Use rhymes – for example, ‘In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.’
  • Mnemonics involve using words and letters to remember things; a popular one is ‘ROYGBIV’ to recall the colours of the rainbow.
  • Weave the items you wish to remember into a story – the more outrageous the better. E.g. if you want to remember items on a shopping list your story might go: ‘One day, when spreading butter over the teacakes, an argument broke out. The man said he’d like some eggs. His wife asked him if he’d prefer bread instead. He said ‘no’, pulled out a tube of toothpaste and hit her over the head with it. She responded by hitting him with a bottle of shampoo….’
  • Use associations. They make use of the way the brain connects and stores information. E.g. the ‘place method’ – physically leaving objects in a special place which acts as a reminder; or ‘face name’ associations – changing a person’s name into something meaningful and matching it with something unusual about them, such as Mr Rose who has a big nose.
  • Another method is to mentally retrace a series of events to jog the memory, e.g. to remember where you left something or recall at what stage a significant incident happened.
  • Memory pegs are a popular way of remembering lists. You can invent memory pegs which mean something special for you. For example:

One is the sun

Two is a shoe

Three is a key

Four is a door

Five is a hive

Six is sticks

Seven is heaven

Eight is a gate

Nine is a sign

Ten is a pen

When you want to remember a list, such a shopping list of butter, eggs, bread, toothpaste and shampoo, ‘hang’ the items you want to remember on the pegs. Each item goes with one peg, and you imagine the two together. So, make an image of butter melting in the sun; eggs cracked over a shoe; bread on a table next to a key; a tube of toothpaste splattered on a door; shampoo spilt over a hive, etc.

When you want to recall the items, simply go through the peg words and note what object you placed on each peg. The pegs trigger your memory, and with practice you can easily remember up to two dozen items or more.

  • Use an affirmation. E.g. If you’re having difficulty recalling something, use an affirmation such as: ‘Right now, I can’t recall… but soon I will. My unconscious is helping me and it will come to me shortly’.
  • Triggers: Close your eyes, take a deep breath and relax. Then put the thumb and fingers of your dominant hand together and whisper ‘Alpha’ under your breath (this acts as a ‘trigger’). Ask for the information you require. The answer may pop into your head immediately or come to you later. Your intuition will lead to where you left the object.
  • The ‘place’ method: e.g. imagine a set of the objects you want to remember placed in different locations around the house. Imagine them in different places as you move through each room in a logical order. With practice you’ll find it easy to recall the object/s you ‘left’ in each place.

Improving Your Long Term Memory

These techniques can be useful when you need to remember blocks of information for longer than, say, a week or two, for example when studying for an exam.

  1. Be systematic

Commit the information you wish to store and retrieve to memory systematically. This makes it easier to harmonise with material already stored. Sometimes recalling a fragment of information makes the rest more accessible.

  1. Think about it

Think about what you want to remember and its application to experiences you’re having: it makes a big difference.

  1. Focus

Next time you want to memorise something, imagine that your memory is a clean sheet of blotting paper. Focus intently, imagining the material being absorbed in the same way you would press the blotting paper over the page.

  1. Autosuggestion

Use autosuggestion to programme the memory ‘computer’ housed in your unconscious. Relax into the dreamy Alpha State (the ‘CALM’ setting on the AcuPearls can help with this), then affirm, with feeling:

‘I have perfect memory and concentration. Therefore I can recall instantly and easily whatever I hear, read or study. Because I have perfect memory, I can remember at will whatever I require. I am at one with the source of all knowledge.’

Do this regularly and you will soon notice an improvement. You may find it helps to record the message onto an audio device.

  1. Affirmations and Creative Imagery

You can use affirmations and Creative Imagery to programme your memory. E.g. if you want to remember the contents of a book or lecture, use the thumb and fingers trigger and affirm:

‘I will remember the information I am about to study easily. My mind is clear, my memory is perfect. It is the nature of my mind to remember effortlessly.’

When you have finished, affirm:

‘The information I have just studied will flow quickly and easily. My mind is clear, my memory is perfect. It is the nature of my mind to remember effortlessly.’

Accelerated Learning

Physical and mental relaxation assists learning by reducing anxiety. You can deliberately store information for straightforward retrieval using deep relaxation into Alpha State. This is the basis, for example, of the accelerated language learning method pioneered by Michel Thomas in the 1980s – he demonstrated that students could go from zero to proficiency in a few months.


Memory training appears daunting at first, but with perseverance the result can be impressive and have a knock on effect on all areas of life.

©David Lawrence Preston, 2.10.2018

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Children in Eastern Europe have long been using accelerated learning techniques to learn foreign languages, sometimes reaching fluency in just a few months. The language teacher, Michel Thomas, used these techniques to help celebrity students from nil to fluency in a few months.


Accelerated learning removes the main blockage to learning – stress. Pupils relax, close their eyes and drift off while the teacher speaks the information at a slow pace and prescribed pitch and rhythm. In some cases, they learn more than a hundred times faster than before.


You can do the same using the thumb and fingers trigger, which is particularly useful if you have reasons for wanting to absorb a large amount of information (e.g. an exam, or if you’re an actor/actress remembering your lines).


Relax. Bring the thumb and fingers together (this sends a signal to the brain to prepare for stronger programming). Affirm that you will easily remember everything you are about to see or hear. Add, ‘Nothing will distract me. I have superior concentration and understanding’.


Read the material (or record it beforehand) at a slow and steady pace. You will absorb and retain the information more readily than in the waking state.


When you’ve finished reading, again use the trigger to relax and affirm ‘I can recall the material I’ve just read/heard about… (mention the subject) at any time using the thumb and fingers trigger’.


When you need to recall the information, use the thumb and fingers trigger and affirm that the material will rapidly return to consciousness.


Steve, a young student, was worried about his forthcoming exams. He’d done very little work, but with less than a month to go, was willing to do whatever he could to get good grades. He prepared a précis of the information, recorded it onto tape and listened to it daily, morning and night. He used the memory affirmation and the thumb and fingers trigger. During the exams, he used quick relaxation techniques and deep breathing to stay calm.


Steve achieved the right grades. He felt he’d cheated the system, but he hadn’t. He’d just found a way to make his brain work better, and surely that’s what it’s all about.


These techniques work. They’re tried and tested and are frequently taught in memory training courses. But they have to be practised regularly for maximum results.

You won’t get far without self-belief. It’s one of the biggest factors in success, yet many people, even the most able, lack it.

To strengthen your belief in yourself:

  1. Make your short-term goals challenging but within reach. Your unconscious finds it hard to accept a huge leap but can adapt to a series of small steps. For instance, if you want to be a radio presenter, don’t expect an early call from a national station – you’ll only be discouraged when it doesn’t happen. Instead, get some experience on hospital radio, then work your way up to local radio, then regional stations.
  2. Reflect on your successes. A belief can be formed instantly, after one event, so long as you think about it and dwell on it. Whenever you succeed at something or exceed your expectations, reflect on it. Keep a list of the goals you’ve already achieved and read it through frequently. Your confidence will grow with every positive step, however small.



  • Read and repeat your written goals to yourself every day. Keep your mind on your goals, keep going and be alert to every opportunity.

Think success. When you face a difficult situation, think, ‘I can do it, I’m equal to the task’. Constantly remind yourself that you’re better than you used to think you were.


  • Write down affirmations that support your new beliefs. Copy them out frequently. Read them morning and night. Commit them to memory and repeat them silently as often as you wish.


  • Learn from others in every possible way. Associate with people who support your goals and share your philosophy. Read self-development books. Listen to motivational audio materials. Attend workshops and lectures given by inspirational people.


  • Persist, persists, persist. Don’t let anyone steal your dream or alter your new reality.




Exercise 5.9


Think of additional things you can do to build beliefs.

Write them down.

And do them.




Memory – what it is and how it works

Without memory, we would greet every new experience and every new piece of information in the same way as a new born baby.

Memory is the mental function which enables us to retain information, images and ideas when the original stimuli are no longer present. No memory is ever permanently erased (unless you suffer brain damage).

A powerful memory is a major asset – and it’s something everyone can develop. Consider: how different would your life be if you could easily recall conversations, names, dates, times, places, facts and figures – in detail?

Three levels

Your memory has three distinct levels:

Sensory memory

Sensory memory records information received directly through the sense organs, (eyes, ears, nose, taste and touch sensors). It stores it for a fraction of a second, then it rapidly fades unless sufficient attention is paid to it to transfer it to short term memory for further processing.

Sensory memory can hold only as much material as can be absorbed by the senses at any one time.

Try this: Look at any small object then close your eyes. What do you see? You will usually see an ‘after image’ in your mind’s eye that soon fades. This is your sensory memory working.

Short Term Memory

This is the part of your memory used for storing small amounts of information on a temporary basis. It enables you to perform calculations and remember things like names and telephone numbers. It works by combining new information with knowledge stored in long term memory.

The short term memory has a very limited capacity, and retains information for no more than a few minutes. Most people can remember six to eight items for a minute or two, which is why postcodes, car number plates and telephone numbers normally have only six to eight digits.


Material in the short term memory is coded by the brain so that it can be organised into a more easily handled format. One method is ‘chunking’ – organising information into ‘chunks’ that have a more familiar form to the user. Some information lends itself to chunking more easily than others. For example, instead of attempting to remember a telephone number such as 0107095445 3317, ‘chunk’ it into 010-7095-445-3317. Rhythmic repetition of the chunks makes recall easier.

Try this: Use ‘chunking’ to memorise the spelling of the following well known Welsh railway station:


 (The locals refer to it as Llanfair PG!)

Long Term Memory

Have you ever tried to recall something which is ‘on the tip of your tongue’, then some time later, when you’ve moved on to something else, it suddenly comes to you? This is your long-term memory in action.

Long term memory is a permanent storehouse of information. Everything you have ever experienced through your five senses or imagined is stored away in the vast memory banks of your unconscious. No memory can be erased; it is simply a matter of knowing how to bring it back into consciousness when you need it.

In the 1950’s, Dr Wilder Penfield astounded the scientific world with a series of experiments which involved touching the temporal cortex of the brain with a probe carrying a weak electric current. Patients who were fully conscious under local anaesthetic were suddenly able to recall childhood incidents in great detail.

One middle-aged woman relived her fifth birthday party – she felt as if she was actually opening her presents (describing each one in detail), and blowing out the candles on her birthday cake. She named all the guests, even though she ‘saw’ them as little girls, most of whom she hadn’t seen for many years.

Although no memory is ever lost, material stored in the long term memory may not be strictly accurate. It has undergone a large amount of processing, having been filtered through your attitudes, beliefs and perceptions. Hence you remember what you perceived and believe happened rather than what actually did.

Memory is also affected by any strong emotion you were experiencing at the time of the original learning or incident, and also depends on the context in which the information was received. Remembering the circumstances in which an event was experienced often brings it back more easily.

Material is ‘forgotten’ by long term memory when new learning interferes with what is already stored. This can also happen in reverse: material already stored in long term memory can also interfere with remembering new material.

You never lose what is in the long term memory, but you may not remember the key which enables you to access it. It’s a matter of learning how to bring it back into the conscious mind – which you can do without using an electric probe.

Features of Sensory, Short Term and Long Term Memory

You can improve the workings of each of these ‘storage registers’, increase their capacity and retrieve information more easily. See other blogs to learn how.


   Storage time  Quantity  Method of coding  How material is ‘forgotten’
Sensory memory  Fraction of a second Everything that sensors can deliver Direct representation of reality Very rapid decay
Short term memory
Less than one minutes Approx 7 items on average Indirect, e.g. ‘chunking’ Quick decay
Long term memory  Almost unlimited Almost unlimited Clusters by meaning Interference from new learning


©David Lawrence Preston, 30.7.2016

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