12 Steps to a Better Memory


An improved memory can benefit anyone — but for students today, it is critical to develop the memory power that puts you ahead on test scores. Here is the only' reference you'll need to sharpen your memory skills and excel in academics, career, social life, and even the joy and convenience of daily tasks.

This accessible and informative guide explains the proven method of ...

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An improved memory can benefit anyone — but for students today, it is critical to develop the memory power that puts you ahead on test scores. Here is the only' reference you'll need to sharpen your memory skills and excel in academics, career, social life, and even the joy and convenience of daily tasks.

This accessible and informative guide explains the proven method of Loci, the Link Method, the Peg System, mnemonic techniques, visual aids and other strategies that can help you to:

  • retain factual information
  • improve study skills
  • master foreign languages
  • recall names, numbers, dates, faces, locations, appointments, and more.

Also included is insightful information on the effects of aging on memory, preventing or reversing memory loss, and how factors including stress, caffeine, sleep, and diet affect memory.

For everyone who has ever forgotten birthdays, misplaced important papers, or had to cram for a test, help is on the way! This brand new guide explains all the latest techniques for recalling names, places, lists, faces, addresses, numbers, and any other hard-to-remember information--in just six short weeks.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743475754
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 7/1/2003
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.60 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Read an Excerpt


Understand How Memory Works

Whether it's the date of your spouse's birthday or where you left the keys to your car, nothing is more frustrating than not being able to remember something. Forgetting may also have more serious consequences, as when you can't remember information for a test or forget an important business appointment.

Before getting into a discussion of how to improve your memory by learning new behaviors and memory strategies, it's a good idea to have an idea of how we form and recall memories in the first place.

Memory is really not so much a retrieval as it is an active construction. If you say that you know something, you're really speaking metaphorically — you're assuming that you can construct the answer. Contrary to beliefs in past centuries, memories do not exist as fully formed bits of flotsam in your brain.

Where Is Memory?

At present, the seat of memory cannot be found in any one place in the brain. Instead, scientists believe memory actually functions on a much more basic level — the level of synapses scattered in weblike patterns throughout the brain. In fact, scientists don't really make any distinction between how you remember and how you think. No one completely understands either process. The quest to discover how the brain organizes memories and where those memories are acquired and stored is a continuing challenge for brain researchers.

In order to study memory, traditional researchers have used drugs or surgery on animals to affect parts of the brain, and then applied behavioral tests to measure those effects. These experiments have shown that memory is a biological phenomenonwith its roots firmly in the senses — sight, sound, smell, touch, kinesthetic, and so on.

How Memories Begin

The latest research suggests that memories begin with perception. If your earliest memory is of nestling in the arms of your mother, your visual system identified the attributes of objects in space: "This shape is Mother's face, this shape is a sweater, this is its color, this is its smell, this is how it feels."

Each of these separate sensations then travels to the part of the brain that integrates the perceptions as they occur into a single, memorable moment, binding them into the experience of being held by Mother. The brain then consolidates information for storage as permanent memory. Thus, memory and perception are intertwined in a subtle and unbreakable bond that unites all of our experiences.

However, it is possible to speak of visual memory and verbal memory as two separate things. About 60 percent of Americans have a visual memory, easily visualizing places, faces, or the pages of a newspaper. The rest seem better able to remember sounds or words, and the associations they think of are often rhymes or puns.

How Memories Are Recorded

Understanding the link between memory and perception provides only part of the picture. While memory does indeed begin with perception, many researchers believe that memories are recorded by electricity. Nerve cells connect with other brain cells at junctions called synapses; the cells fire electrical signals to each other across these junctions, which triggers the release of brain chemicals. The human brain contains about 10 billion of these nerve cells joined by about 60 trillion synapses.

The wispy tips of the brain cells that receive these electrical impulses — the dendrites — seem to play an important role in memory. It is suspected that when an electrical impulse reaches a brain cell (perhaps carrying the information of a seven-digit phone number), the impulse compresses the dendrite. When the dendrite springs back into its usual shape, the electrical pulse disappears, along with the phone number. This, then, could be the mechanism of short-term memory.

Most scientists believe that memory occurs as a result of functional changes in synapses or dendrites caused by the effects of external stimuli prompted by training or education. And while memory can be found throughout the brain, many scientists also believe that various specialized types of information are contained within specific areas of the brain. It might be that the consolidation of this information into a thought or image requires multiple nerve-cell firings in different parts of the brain. Researchers have found that nerve cells in separate parts of the brain fire rhythmically and together when responding to visual stimuli that appear to come from the same object.

How Memories Are Retrieved

It does seem to be true that anything that influences behavior leaves a trace somewhere in the nervous system. Theoretically, as long as these memory traces last, they can be restimulated, and the event or experience that established them will be remembered. The brain appears to retrieve memories by using a single moment or sensation to trigger recall of others: the smell of your mother's perfume or the feel of a soft sweater brings with it the memory of /= Each time the memory is called up, the brain strengthens the connections between the various elements of each perception. It is only after years of such recall that a memory is laid down permanently in storage, where it can be called up without the aid of a particular area of the brain. The study of memory, then, tries to find out how to identify the conditions for the persistence of memory traces and how to restimulate them.

While people often think of memory as a single phenomenon, in fact there are two distinct mechanisms, corresponding to different mental processes — voluntary and involuntary memory. The smell of your mother's perfume may trigger an involuntary memory if the sensation comes by surprise, or your memory of her may appear as a voluntary memory if you choose to search for it.

The Three Stages of

Memory Formation

While most people think of long-term memory when they say "memory," in fact information must first be perceived and then pass through short-term memory before it can be stored in long-term memory.


Formation of a memory begins with registering the information during perception. The data is then filed in a short-term memory system that seems to be quite limited in the amount of material that it can store at any one time. Unless the information is constantly repeated, material in short-term memory is lost within minutes and is replaced by other material. (Think of how long you can retain a phone number between the time you look it up in the phone book and the time you dial it. Most people can retain it only if they keep repeating it aloud as they dial.)


Important material is not lost, but is transferred to long-term memory and retained. The process of storage involves making associations between words, meanings, visual imagery, or other experiences such as smells or sounds. People tend to store material on subjects they already know something about, because this information has more meaning for them. This is why a person with a normal memory may be able to remember one subject in great depth. In addition, people remember words that are related to something they already know, because there is already a "file" in their memory related to that information.


The final stage of memory is recall, in which information stored on the unconscious level is brought up into the conscious mind. How reliable this material is, researchers believe, depends on how well it was originally encoded.

Memory Lapses

While most people speak of having a "bad memory" or a "good memory," in fact most people are good at remembering some things and not so good at remembering others. If you have memory problems, this probably means that some part of the process has developed a glitch. It doesn't necessarily mean that your entire memory system is starting to self-destruct.

Can't remember where you parked your car? Try paying attention to your surroundings; notice unusual landmarks as you remove the key, open the door, and get out of the car. This will help you find your car later. If you forget, one of several things might have happened. You may not have been paying close attention to start with, you may not have retained what you registered, or you may not be able to retrieve the memory accurately.

Research suggests that older people can have trouble with all three of these stages, but they have particular problems with registering and retrieving information. But if people of any age want to improve their memory, they must work on improving all three stages of the memory process.

Many factors go into how well a memory is formed, including how familiar the information is and how much attention has been paid to it. Good health also plays a major part in how well a person performs intentional memory tasks. When mental and physical conditions aren't the best, the entire memory system functions at a slower pace, diminishing attention (the key to good memory performance) and weakening long-term memory. Ideas and images are not likely to be registered as strongly, and memory traces become fainter, making them harder to retrieve or file into long-term memory. In fact, patients who get sick often have significantly more memory problems than those who enjoy good health, according to a survey of 1,000 subjects by the National Center of Health Statistics.

IQ and Memory

People with high IQs generally have good memories, although some people have exceptionally good memories that seem to be unrelated to intellectual functioning. There are even some people with serious mental disabilities who have profoundly intense memories for specific types of information — the so-called autistic savants.

Nearly 10 percent of children diagnosed with autism may be classified as savants. No matter what their particular talent, all savants share a prodigious memory; their skills may appear in a range of areas, including calendar calculating, music, rapid arithmetic, art, or mechanical ability. One of the more common patterns that can be found among savants is a triad of mental retardation, blindness, and musical ability.

Sleep Learning

While it is popularly believed that a person can learn and remember better while sleeping, in fact research has shown that learning does not take place while you are sound asleep. If you play an educational tape while you're asleep and you learn some of the material, you have actually remembered what you heard during a waking period.

However, there is some evidence suggesting that you can learn while you are very drowsy, or even in a very light sleep. The material must be presented at just the right time; if you aren't sleepy enough, the material will wake you up, and if you're too deeply asleep, the material won't make an impression at all. In addition, complex material involving reasoning or understanding can't be learned while in this drowsy state.

What can be learned during this period are nonsense syllables, Morse code, facts, dates, foreign languages, and the like. But this type of drowsy learning is not enough on its own; it is effective only if used along with daytime learning.

On the other hand, falling asleep immediately after learning something does help you retain the information better than if you stayed up and participated in another activity. And a good night's sleep will help make you alert for memory tasks the next day. This doesn't mean that taking sleeping pills will help you remember, however. The lingering effects of these drugs will make you less able to register new memories the next day, and you'll be less responsive to stimulation that can help you remember already-learned information.

Memory Improvement Techniques

Fortunately for all of us who have trouble learning while sleeping, there are a number of techniques for improving memory that can be learned while you're awake, and they will be explored in depth in this book. Because remembering is a learned skill, it can be developed just like any other type of skill. Learning anything takes time, patience, practice, and experience, and the same is true for memory improvement techniques. It's not a matter of learning one or two "tricks" and having a good memory for life. In fact, studies show that adults who remain mentally active by maintaining their reading and study habits are able to remember what they read better than those who aren't mentally active.

While you may have given up on your memory in despair, it's important to understand that actual differences in memory ability are not nearly as important as differences in learned memory skills. How good your memory really is depends on how well you've learned memory techniques, not any function of innate memory ability. Therefore, if you learn more memory strategies, you'll automatically improve your memory.

Copyright © 2001 by Carol Turkington

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Table of Contents

Step 1 Understand How Memory Works
Step 2 Recognize the Keys to a Better Memory
Step 3 Improve Your Everyday Memory
Step 4 Learn the Method of Loci
Step 5 Follow the Link Method
Step 6 Master the Peg System
Step 7 Remember Names
Step 8 Remember Speeches and Foreign Languages
Step 9 Remember Numbers
Step 10 Improve Your Study Methods
Step 11 Maintain Memory with Age
Step 12 Improve Your Memory Through Your Lifestyle
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