Mental Training and Memory Mnemonics

Photo credit: j4p4n, Creative Commons, original illustration
Photo credit: j4p4n, Creative Commons, original illustration

One of the most important functions of our minds is memory. It is the basis for everything we do in both our professional and personal lives.

A recent interview with a world-class memory champion revealed a lot about what we can do to flex our mental muscles in simple ways to keep our minds sharp.

U.S. memory champion Nelson Dellis revealed to Forbes some of his rather interesting techniques for making information stick, and the advice is gold for any new professional who seeks to make the most of their time – including not spending it looking for their keys.

The first tip is simply to be mindful.

When dropping your keys on the sofa in a rush, there is a slim chance that you actively noted your move or will think to dig through the cushions the next morning before work.

Dellis’ recommends people mark their memory by either visualizing an image or letting out a shout that alerts the mind of novel information.  The goal is to create novel stimuli and to take a moment to actually create a memory, not just an action.

Remembering names is also an exercise in deliberate thinking.

When you meet a new person, make sure you ask them to clarify pronunciation.  If the name is at all difficult to understand, ask how it is spelled and visualize the spelling as you hear it.

The act of encoding a name will make a lasting impression on your mind, much more than passively shaking a hand and not thinking twice.  Whether it’s a new colleague or your date’s boss, getting someone’s name right is part of making a good impression and creating a network.

Another key element to Dellis’ memory advice is the use of images.

When dealing with complex ideas, try to imagine an image that defines a key relationship or aspect of the information.  One way to store a good image of an abstract idea is to store it within a “memory palace.”

This is one way of storing ideas without simply trying to memorize. “The problem with repetition is that you’re not saving it in any place in particular,” Dellis says.

Building a palace of memories is a way to use special recognition to create common associations with abstract ideas.

It’s like framing a picture of a great day you intimately remember; when you think of it sitting on the shelf, it becomes easy to remember everything that was part of the snapshot, and details come pouring through the little frame.

Central to all of Dellis’ advice is the practice of physical exercise and good diet.  With a bad diet and poor health, the workout mantra of use it or lose it works on a deeper level.

Without consistent exercise, the part of the brain linked with cognitive function and memory, the hippocampus, literally shrinks.