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Hack Your Memory: 3 Basic Tricks to Remember Anything

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A few years ago my wife and I went on a two-week trek through Italy.  Our final stop was Positano, a sleepy coastal town on the Amalfi Coast, and we read voraciously in the sun for days.  It was fantastic.  It was during this time that I read Mind Performance Hacks by Ron Hale-Evans (the picture is proof – that’s my 2006 self on a deck in Positano, with my then new glasses and a glass of Italian wine, reading this book.  Skip to the bottom of this post to see one reason why it was so much fun to read there!)


The book in general was a fascinating read – I took lots of notes in my Moleskine (which have since made their way into Evernote along with everything else).  The biggest takeaway I had, and something I’ve referred back to time and time again at work and play, relates to ways to improve short-term memory.  I’ve used some of these “hacks” during games with family where memory is the limiting factor.  I’ve surprised myself more than once with just how easily I’m able to remember things just by converting them to the visual representations described below.

Memory is critically important in everyday life, yet we’re outsourcing our memory to search engines, Wikipedia, and other tools on a daily basis.  For most of human history, people have been exercising brain power out of sheer necessity.  We didn’t have digital to-do lists and access to all the world’s information on our smartphones; if we wanted to speak intelligently about a subject, for the most part, we had to store that information in our brains (the horror!)

We’ve since gotten lazy.  And that’s OK for most things, but it means that when our memory is needed, it’s not always ready.  We haven’t trained ourselves to be able to recall things at-will, and that ultimately has an impact on our lives (where was I going with this again?  I can’t remember).

If you find yourself struggling to remember things – and if you feel this is impacting your life in a negative way – there are some things you can do to work around it.  With just a little bit of practice, you can improve your chances of remembering your landlord’s last name, your girlfriend’s phone number, or your credit card’s 4-digit PIN.

The basic idea is this: for thousands of years, our ancestors spent a lot more time processing spatial data than they did with numbers.  The difference in the size or color of a predator or plant made a big difference in terms of survival, but remembering sets of numbers or a list of Starbucks drinks to buy for friends didn’t.  So most of these hacks rely on your brain’s ability to remember a short static list of things (“pegs”) to start from, and clear images to go along with them that you “burn” into your mind. 

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Written by Mike Torres

January 13th, 2010 at 6:32 pm