Aging

Easy Memory Tricks to Keep Your Mind Sharp

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Whether you need to recall your grocery list or the names of a few folks you just met at a party, our experts share the easy, fun tricks that’ll show you how to remember things, fast!

Toss a pen. Need to, say, remember to mail a bill or run an errand in the morning? Before you go to bed, throw a pen onto the middle of the floor and tell yourself what you need to write or remember to do the next day, advised four-time USA Memory Champion Nelson Dellis. Putting a pen in an odd place where you know you’ll find it later makes your brain notice that something is out of the norm, and you’ll instantly remember why, he explained. “I do this trick a lot, and when I wake up the next day, I walk near the pen and am reminded of what it is that I need to do,” he said.

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Create wordy cues. Always forgetting where you put your phone? Next time you set it down, come up with an easy-to-remember acronym—a word using the first letters of wherever you placed the item, suggested memory expert Kevin Horsley. For example, if you put your phone on your coffee table, your acronym would be “POT” for phone on table. Placed it on your desk? Your acronym would be “POD” for phone on desk. A simple word is much easier to remember than trying to retrace where you may have left something.

Also smart: Try a memory-jogging jingle. Can’t find your reading glasses again? Just make up a funny rhyme when you put them down, such as “glasses by the bed when they’re not on my head,” and you’ll quickly remember where they are! Words that rhyme create a pattern that sticks more readily in your brain, which is the reason it’s so easy to remember catchy jingles, explained Horsley. Tip: Your rhyme will be even easier to remember if you sing it to yourself!

Never forget someone’s name. Whenever you meet someone new, immediately repeat their name once or twice, which forces you to focus on it, said memory coach Chester Santos. Then, connect their name to an image. For example, the name Tom might make you think of the cartoon cat from The Tom and Jerry Show. To strengthen the connection, pick something unique about the person and attach it to that image—say, Tom has gray hair like the cartoon cat—that’s a vivid picture that’ll stick in your mind. Finally, when you say goodbye to the person you just met, repeat his name and the picture you made. This method of repetition and visualization has been shown to increase name recall by 80 percent, he said.

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Remember passwords with a silly sentence. Making up a silly one-sentence story makes it easy to remember even the most complex passwords and phrases, promises Dellis. Here’s how: Your sentence should have three parts: a person, an action, and a thing. An example: Oprah Winfrey cuddles 10 kittens. To create a password out of this sentence, just use the capital letters of the name, followed by the first letter of the action (in lowercase), and finally, a symbol or number for the thing, so this sentence becomes OWc10. When you remember this silly sentence, your password will come right back to you.

Imagine a wild scenario. Always misplacing your keys? When you put them down, picture them dancing to the sound of big-band music in that spot. The more outrageous your mental picture, the more it’s going to stick in your mind, explained Horsley. Studies show this trick is even more effective if you engage all of your senses, so add a smell to your mental picture by, say, imagining them on the kitchen counter with the aroma of bacon drifting over the dancing keys.

Laugh out loud, too. Laughing at a funny cat video or your grandchild’s antics helps supercharge your memory. That’s because laughter lowers your level of the stress hormone cortisol, which impairs memory. The proof: Adults in a recent study who watched a funny 20-minute video had lower cortisol levels afterward, which improved their short-term memory as much as 43 percent.

Wow, good to know!

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