Most of us think that having a good memory is a trait that's outside of our control. But good memory is a skill and learning how to improve it can help you become a more creative, innovative business leader.
The first step is changing the way you think about your memory. Your memory isn't designed to remember names, find missing keys, or store every password you've ever created. Your memory is designed to work in context. For example, if you try to make a list of every vegetable you can remember, you will make a much longer list if you imagine walking through a grocery store.
"What your memory is really for is giving you information about what to expect in the world and how to solve problems in those situations," says Art Markman, a cognitive psychologist and author of Smart Thinking (Perigee Trade, 2012). Ideally, you want your memory to be filled with useful information that helps you solve tough business problems.
To store substantive memories that will make you a more creative thinker, try these three tips:
1. Engage both your body and mind. If you want to remember new ideas, you need to listen and focus. First, stop multitasking. "The human mind doesn't multitask really, it timeshares," Markman says. "You end up flipping back and forth between tasks, which makes all of your learning less effective."
To enhance your memory even more, engage your body as you listen. Sit up straight, take notes, stand up if you feel tired, gesture or move around a bit. "Engage your whole self," Markman says. "We're not just brains in a box."
2. Review three points you want to remember. When you learn new information (by reading a book or attending a meeting, for example), you tend to remember only about three things. To control what you remember, Markman recommends reviewing the three takeaways that matter most to you. "Otherwise, you leave the three points up to chance," he says.
When the information is fresh in your mind, take a few minutes to review the most useful points. Try saying them into a tape recorder, writing them in a journal, or recounting them to a friend. "That helps solidify those three points in your memory," Markman says.
3. Explain new concepts to yourself. For an entrepreneur, a rich memory helps you combine disparate ideas to find a novel solution. "To do that, you need to understand how the world works," Markman says. You gain that knowledge -- and remember it -- by explaining new concepts to yourself or to someone else.
When you hear a new idea, look for gaps in your understanding and fill them in. Ask yourself, why does this work? How? Look for words that you may not understand even if (or especially if) they are familiar business buzzwords. Clarify what the word means in that specific context or to that particular speaker. The clearer the concepts, the easier they will be to remember.
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Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.