These strategies, tips, and tricks can help jog your memory.
- Memory lapses can happen to anyone and are not just age-related.
- The most effective memory techniques often do not rely on memory.
- Having a sense of purpose can actually improve memory as you age.
Anyone can have a memory lapse.
When I polled a group of friends to find out their favorite memory tips and tricks, the most common response was, “Sorry, I don’t remember.” Haha. I guess I’m acquainted with more comedians than I thought.
Fortunately, other people had scads of useful ideas for triggering memories. This blog will be devoted to the best memory tips I could find from experts, friends, and my own experience. At the end of the blog, I’ll offer a few research-based tips for strengthening memory at any age.
While it’s true that some forgetfulness occurs with aging, memory lapses can happen to anyone, according to psychologist Lydia Cho. Still, it’s disconcerting when a name or a fact slips your mind. Here are seven general strategies you can use to minimize memory mishaps.
Strategy 1: Don’t try to remember.
Ironically, the most powerful memory tip might be… “Don’t try to remember.” Instead, the instant you think of something you want to act on later, write it down. Yes, make lists.
This practical idea comes from productivity guru David Allen in his classic book, Getting Things Done. If your brain is filled with to-do items, project ideas, long-term goals, short-term goals, grocery lists, and whatever, you can easily feel overwhelmed. Allen advises you to capture “all the things that need to get done—now, later, someday, big, little, or in-between—into a logical and trusted system outside of your head and off your mind.” (Italics are mine.)
I would add: Forget things that don’t matter to you. In other words, first set priorities. Then pay attention only to what is essential to your goals and values. Sweep the rest out of your mind… or into a folder that you can look at again if you need to.
It’s striking that only a few of the tips below rely on actual memory. The rest depend more on habits, systems, and records. Like this one:
Strategy 2: Write it down.
Here are a few trusted tactics to get your to-dos off of your mind and onto a list ASAP:
1. Email yourself from your cellphone. This is my favorite technique. I email myself reminders, articles from newsletters and social media, items to put on my Master To-Do List (“The List of Lists”), and everything else.
2. Use your phone or paper calendar. One friend enters everything she wants to do as an “Event” on her cellphone calendar. Others write goals and tasks on their paper calendar as if they were appointments, such as: “10 a.m.: Exercise.” “Find a time for it” is one of the most effective ways to follow up on your goals
3. Write notes in large letters on a whiteboard, a notepad, or a sticky note. Then tape them to a spot where you can’t not see them.
4. Use general terms to back up specific ones. On your phone contact list, for example, add a title or category to a name: “Dr. Samantha Brown, neurologist”; “Rennie Bowles, electrician.” If you forget the name, you have another way to retrieve it.
Read more here:
Thanks to these friends for ideas: Ann Ross, Sara Salmon, Jane Klopfenstein, Kate Kimelman, Brian Carr, Beth Powell, Susan Waugh.
Allen, D. (2001) Getting Things Done. New York: Penguin.
Selig, M. (2009) Changepower! 37 Secrets of Habit Change Success. New York: Routledge.
Solan, M. “Managing memory slip-ups.” 1/1/2022. Harvard Health Publishing.
Dr. Meg Selig
(c) Meg Selig, 2022. All rights reserved.