How to Improve Your Memory Skills

In 1984, after graduating from the totally tubular (an 80’s expression) Camelback High School in Phoenix, Arizona, I decided to enroll in the nearest and cheapest institution of higher learning, which in my case was Phoenix Community College. While I don’t remember much of what I learned during my first year of college, I do remember one class with crystal-clear vividity: Improving Memory Skills.

The class obviously worked because I still remember many of the mnemonic tricks and techniques that were taught, such as linking, chunking, and pegging. I also remember a 109-digit number, what day of the week any date falls on, and how to remember phone numbers, dates, faces, formulas, facts, ideas, quotes, etc. Furthermore, I also remember that this was the only class that semester in which I received an A—all the rest of my grades were (cough) way, way below average. But the class truly did help me learn faster in the future. In fact I was able to retake my failed classes, earn far better grades, and eventually graduate magna cum laude.

Over the years I’ve had a number of occasions where it was useful to dust off long-term storage unit in my brain and pull out some memory techniques that could be used to made my life easier. Whether it is recalling the name and phone number of clients, colleagues, or cousins, or betting someone that I could tell them what day of the week they were born, or remembering what items I need to pick up at the grocery store—using your memory effectively is more powerful than the latest hi-tech gizmo or gadget, plus it doesn’t need electricity.

I’ve also used this information to teach my kids a thing or two about memory so that they could pass their classes. For example, several years ago my third son, Matthew, was in the sixth grade and had an assignment to memorize the names of all the presidents of the United States. Because I believe in going the extra mile in just about everything, I not only taught him how to memorize the Presidents’ names, but how to to memorize them in chronological order. It took us about an hour to learn the info, and a few 10-minute practice sessions to recall the names, but he learned them much faster than anyone else in his class. He aced his tests and impressed those around him with his mental prowess. He still remembers the Presidents to this day, although he wishes he could forget number 44. 😉

So what are the secrets to a good memory? How do you recall things that are important to remember? How do you get to the point where it seems like you have a photographic memory, when in fact, you just know how to make something more memorable than other people? Well, I’m going to attempt to answer these questions over the next few blog posts.

However, please keep in mind that I’m not a memory expert. In my psychological studies I focused on personality, not cognition and memory. And I’m not skilled enough to go on the Tonight Show and recite the entire phonebook or the names of all the audience members. And I’m not an gifted savant with a brain anomaly. I’m just an ordinary guy with an ordinary brain who likes to learn new things, such as how to improve memory skills. Nevertheless, I can honestly say that I possess the ability to recall most of the things that I want to recall—and that’s enough for me.

Over the next couple of weeks I plan to write a few entries about the memory skills that have worked for me. I’m not going to tell you everything I know—just enough to get you moving in the right direction. People far smarter than I have written a number of great books, videos, and websites on this topic, so after you’ve seen what I’ve written, please check out what the experts say for further enlightenment.

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