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These ?9 Techniques Will Help You Stop Forgetting Things All The Time


If I told you there was a giant top hat in my kitchen sink, a pot of baby oil brewing in my coffee maker, granite spilling out of my fridge, hay stuffed in my microwave, and Garfield the cat roasting in my oven, you’d likely smile politely, nod, then back away. Very. Slowly.

Don’t worry; I’m not seeing things. All of this stuff is just a mental shortcut, a way to remember the past presidents, specifically POTUSes 16 through 20. (You following? Lincoln is the top hat; Johnson, the baby oil; Grant, granite; Hayes, yep, hay; and President Garfield is the cat.) I learned this little trick while interviewing “memory athletes”—intellectual jocks who have competed in the USA Memory Championship or the World Memory Championships (real events!). In these mental games, masters of the mind go head-to-head in hellish-sounding events like memorizing two decks of cards in five minutes or seeing who can put the most names to faces in the least amount of time.

My learning to rattle off all 45 presidents in under 60 seconds is impressive, but what’s the point, you might ask? It proves what science is telling us: You can better your memory when you put your mind to it. Researchers recently found that when people used strategies from 23 of the world’s most successful memory athletes, the rookies “more than doubled their performance on certain tests, such as memorizing a random list of words, in just six weeks,” says study coauthor Boris Nikolai Konrad, Ph.D., himself a Guinness World Record holder for memorizing 201 faces and names in 15 minutes.

That’s a much-needed revelation, given how our collective memory seems to be failing. One national poll found overstressed, multitasking, tech-reliant millennials are more likely to forget what day it is or where they put their keys than those age 55 and older. No surprise: Blame our reliance on tech devices to store info. One survey by Internet security company Kaspersky Lab found about half of us can’t call our siblings or close friends without peeping at our contacts list. “If you just enter a new number in your phone, you’re not engaging with the material enough to remember it,” says memory researcher Mariam Aly, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University in New York City. “You need to pay attention to something to learn it.”

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Most of us do the opposite. “We tend to treat our memories like junk drawers, throwing everything in,” says Monica Shirey, a 49-year-old former memory athlete from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, who has coached high school memory teams. To store information more efficiently, you have to engage with it by, for example, writing it down or repeating it over and over. Then, “when you need to remember something, you’re not rummaging around, frustrated, saying, ‘I know it’s in here somewhere,'” says Shirey. The same goes for Googling everything the second you can’t remember it: Research from Columbia University shows that people are less likely to recall something when they know they can just look it up later.

Knowing Woodrow Wilson preceded Warren G. Harding won’t necessarily put a full stop to my tendency to forget where I left my keys. But memory is like a muscle: Using it makes it stronger. So give your mind a workout with these unforgettable methods—which all link material to something that’s easy to remember—employed by the world’s champion memorizers.


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