If you want to do get to the top of your class or climb the ladder at work, you give yourself a gigantic advantage over everybody else if you can recall more information at a faster speed.
Developmental psychologists and cognitive scientists have found range of factors that help do just that — and some of them are pretty weird.
Here are a few.
1. Reading physical books will improve your memory of what you read, since memory is also tactile.
We usually think of reading as a totally visual exercise; after all, it's just your eyes scanning the page, right?
Not quite. Turns out that we remember things better when we read them in a more physical form, like say, for instance, a book. It's because the experience of reading is also tactile. When you're reading a book, you're also holding it, feeling the heft of it in your hands. As you read through the text, the pages move from your right hand to your left, redistributing the weight of the book. Research suggests that your brain uses this movement of weight as an anchor of memory.
2. A happy marriage lets you "distribute" your memory tasks between you and your partner.
In news that will delight monogamists everywhere, research shows that people in long-term relationships have several memory benefits stemming from their couplehood — like recalling people's names or what happened at events.
When two people are in an intimate, long-term relationship, they distribute the responsibilities of thinking in the same way that they split up household chores.
One psych writer observed that a couple isn't just two individuals spending lots of time together, but a "socially distributed cognitive system." Put in plain English, two heads really are better than one.
3. A little "expressive writing" will free up your mental resources, thus improving your ability to recall.
For 30 years, psychologists have been studying "expressive writing" — writing about difficult experiences for at least 15 minutes. Experiments show the introspective exercise is much more than just navel gazing. People who regularly write expressively have lower blood pressure, higher productivity, and a greater sense of personal well-being.
North Carolina State University psychologist Kitty Klein has shown that expressive writing increases memory, too. Her explanation: Expressive writing lets people disclose thoughts they otherwise spend mental energy trying to avoid, allowing more energy to be allocated toward memory.
4. A walk through the woods will put you at ease — and improve your memory.
University of Michigan psychologists asked two groups of experiment participants to go for walks. One group walked around an urban environment, and the others wandered around a forest. Then they were given a recall test. The folks who sauntered among the trees performed 20% better on the memory test.
5. Connecting what you just learned with what you already know will strengthen your memory.
Washington University cognitive scientists Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel co-authored "Make It Stick," a masterful book on the way we learn. The book's got tons of great takeaways, but the most immediate are approaches for training memory. One of those techniques is elaboration — the process of connecting novel information to what you already know.
"The more you can explain about the way your new learning relates to prior knowledge," the authors write, "the stronger your grasp of the new learning will be, and the more connections you create that will help you remember it later."
Say, for example, you're learning about heat transference. Instead of memorizing the definition — heat moves from a hot object to a cooler object — you could use an example the way that the heat from a hot cup of cocoa warms up your hand on a chilly winter's day.