Learning and memory are greatly connected and therefore it makes sense that we cover some memory enhancement tricks to help you become a more effective learner. Learning can be thought of as the process that will modify behaviour and memory is our ability to remember our past experiences. For example, when you learn a new language you study it but then to speak the language you rely on your memory to retrieve the learned information. Clearly, memory is pretty essential to learning as it lets you store the information that you learn.
Just as memory depends on learning, learning also depends on memory because how we store information while we learn determines how easily that information will be to retrieve later on. Based on previously detailed learning strategies, our ability to link information to existing knowledge or deep processing is what leads to better memory for that information.
So far we’ve shared with you science backed tactics to improve your long-term memory and learning here, here and here. Today we’re going to focus on some quick, easy and somewhat odd ways of increasing our memory.
As always, this post is based off of established academic research. Our team of psychology and neuroscience PhDs have sifted through hundreds of papers to ensure you have the fullest confidence in all our recommendations.
Learning/memory exercises to become a better learner:
- How clenching your fists can lead to memory improvement
- How practicing good posture can positively affect memory
- How unusual fonts can help enhance memory
- How moving your eyes side-to-side is a quick way to increase memory
By the end of this article, you will have some quick memory fixes for those of you who want to remember something in a pinch.
Clench your fists as a memory booster
Yes, you read that right. Balling your fists up can actually improve memory! Need to remember someone’s name? Or are you at a networking event, forgot your phone and NEED to remember the name of a company for later on? Try clenching your fists and you’ll be more likely to remember that information later on.
Electrical brain imaging techniques demonstrate that 90 seconds of clenching one fist versus the other increases neuronal activity of the frontal lobe in the opposite side of the brain. The researchers suggests that left prefrontal regions of the brain are associated with encoding memories whereas the right prefrontal regions are associated with retrieval. Therefore, increasing brain activity in one versus the other hemisphere prior to encoding and then prior to recalling information influences our ability to recall that information. These findings show that simple movements temporarily change brain activity leading to a memory enhancement.
Why did these researchers ever think that clenching fists could somehow affect memory? Well, this stemmed from past research which has shown that this action also has an effect on emotions. Specifically, right hand clenching (remember this activates the left hemisphere) creates an increase to approach emotions (e.g. happiness, anger) and left hand clenching (activates the right hemisphere) increases withdrawal emotional states (e.g. sadness, anxiety). Therefore, these researchers suspected that since single hand clenching activated one versus the other hemisphere, then we should expect to see an increase in processes associated with the more active hemisphere.
How to clench fists to improve memory
- First things first, this research was done on right-handed people only. If you’re left handed the reverse will apply
- Right before you want to remember something, clench your right hand into a fist for 90 seconds
- Learn the thing you’d like to learn
- Right before you would like to recall that information, clench your left hand into a fist for 90 seconds
- Voila! Instant memory trick!
Practice good posture for memory enhancement
You’ve probably heard by now that sitting is the new smoking. This isn’t surprising as most of us spend an average of 7 hours a day at our desks. As such a big portion of our day is spent sitting, maybe it’s time we start working on a proper posture. This could be a really easy task for all of us to practice but did you know that your posture could have an effect on your memory? Turns out sitting erect and maintaining appropriate posture significantly helps with memory enhancement.
The way this works is actually pretty intuitive and it follows the theme of a lot of our posts. Basically, it involves blood flow to the brain. You see, you have carotid arteries on either side of the neck. A forward head position compresses these arteries and diminishes blood flow to the brain much like a kink in a water hose will decrease the flow of water through a hose. The result of such compression could include symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, depression and mental sluggishness including lack of learning and memory. Maintaining an appropriate posture can increase the blood flow to your brain by up to 40%.
Some things to remember:
- When your head is positioned over your spine, the carotid pulse is nice and strong.
- When your head is positioned forward, the carotid pulse is weak.
The research of posture also extends to mood changes and behaviour as well. Turns out, posture can significantly influence our ability to access both positive and negative memories. This research found that a slouched/collapsed position was associated with a recall of more negative memories. On the other hand, an upright posture was associated with a higher recall of positive memories. So with a bad posture, you’re more likely to ruminate on negative memories which has been shown to decrease subjective energy and increase depressive feelings. This is not only interesting from a memory/learning standpoint but also from an affective perspective. If you’re in a negative mood while at work (which has its own negative effects on learning), slouching at your desk can actually keep you in that negative mood. Simply changing your body posture makes it easier for you to shift your mood into a more positive one.
How to achieve good posture while sitting
- Keep your back straight and shoulders back
- Distribute your weight evenly between both hips
- Your butt should touch the back of your chair
- Keep your knees bent at a 90 degree angle
- Never cross your legs
- Have your feet flat on the floor
- Keep your knees at the same level or higher than your hips
- Try to get up and move every 30 minutes!
How to achieve good posture while standing
- Keep your chest held high
- Keep your shoulders relaxed and pulled back
- Keep your head over your body – do not tilt it forward, back or side to side
- Keep your abdomen and butt pulled in
- Keep your feet parallel
- Do not lock your knees
- Make sure your weight is evenly distributed between both feet
Use unusual fonts to enhance memory
Need your team to remember something? Or is there something difficult you’re trying to learn but are having a hard time with the details/overall idea? Try putting the information in an unfamiliar font or one that is harder to read. Turns out, this will significantly improve your memory for that material.
As you may remember from our post on overcoming illusions of learning, people are poor at judging how much they have learned after a learning session. People tend to think that if learning is difficult, they won’t retain as much as when learning is fluent. The opposite actually tends to be the truth. There are times where a concept can seem perfectly clear when we learn it but then difficult when it comes time to recall. Other times, ideas that seem hard to grasp at first, tend to click into place when it counts. Our brain automatically associates perceptual fluency, or ease of processing, with ease of retrieval. However, we tend to learn more when it feels harder than when things are easy to learn. Recently, researchers have been working hard to understand when this is the case and have come up with a collection of ideas to describe these situations — desirable difficulties.
When we use fonts that are big and super easy to read, we tend to think that we’re more likely to retain that information as there is a high ease of processing. In fact, the opposite is the case. Turns out, font size doesn’t really have any effect on learning however, altering font style can make a difference. If we make the font harder to read, we decrease the fluency, and our brain has to work harder to process that information, creating a more concrete store in memory.
Take the following example where 28 men and women were asked to read about three species of aliens — each with varying characteristics such as “eats flower petals and pollen.” Half of these people learned the characteristics with an easy-to-read font (Arial) and the other half learned the characteristics with an unfamiliar or hard-to-read font (Comic Sans MS or Bondoni MT). Those who learned with harder-to-read fonts outperformed those who learned with easy/familiar fonts. We need to think about the material deeper in order to process the information, leading to a memory enhancement!
Move your eyes from side to side for memory enhancement
This memory improvement tip isn’t for those who are prone to dizziness! Moving your eyes before putting things in memory will make it more likely that you will be able to recognize that information later on. However, this quick memory exercise is dependent on how you move your eyes! Moving your eyes horizontally is where it’s at, moving your eyes vertically up and down doesn’t provide the same effect. Why does this work? Horizontal eye movements cause the two hemispheres of the brain to communicate with one another which is essential for retrieving certain types of memories. However, the exact mechanism at play is still up for debate and further research is underway to get to the bottom of it.
This memory exercise works for both recall and recognition of memory. Recognition memory differs from recall memory in that when trying to recognize words you may falsely attribute a different source of the memory — this is known as source monitoring errors. For example, you may think you just read a specific word in a document earlier in the day when you in fact heard it in a conversation 10 minutes ago. As you can imagine, this is a good error to avoid. Recall memory on the other hand is being able to remember a word or some item from memory.
How to do it:
- Before entering a situation involving important information, move your eyes back and forth horizontally for 30 seconds
Today we covered some really novel and quick tips to help you become a more effective learner, by enhancing your memory. As you’ve probably gathered by now, learning and memory are closely related. Learning is the acquisition of knowledge while memory is the ability to deliver the knowledge you’ve acquired. There is also a difference in the speed at which both things are acquired. Learning is a more slow and laborious process whereas forming a memory can happen at a faster rate. Therefore, learning ways to improve your memory can also help in learning capabilities. Let’s go over some of the easy steps we learned to achieve this today.
- Clenching your fists can lead to memory improvement
- Right before you want to remember something, clench your right hand into a fist for 90 seconds (remember if you’re right handed only! Clench your left hand if you’re left handed.)
- Right before you would like to recall that information, clench your left hand into a fist for 90 seconds (and your right hand if you’re left-handed)
- Increasing brain activity in one versus the other hemisphere prior to encoding and then prior to recalling information influences our ability to recall that information.
- Practicing good posture for memory enhancement
- Bad posture compresses carotid arteries and diminishes blood flow to the brain much like a kink in a water hose will decrease the flow of water through a hose.
- This could result in symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, depression and mental sluggishness including lack of learning and memory.
- Maintaining a good posture can increase the blood flow to your brain by up to 40%!
- Using unusual fonts to help enhance memory
- Using hard-to-read fonts decrease the perceptual fluency.
- Our brain has to work harder to process this information, creating a more concrete store in memory!
- Moving your eyes side-to-side is a quick way to increase memory
- Moving your eyes horizontally for 30 seconds before learning new information will make it more likely that you will remember that information later on
- Horizontal eye movements cause the two hemispheres of the brain to communicate with one another which is essential for retrieving certain types of memories
Use these four quick memory tricks for quick memory retention capabilities. Try them out and see how they work for you!