Hang on to those memories

Memory hacks to help you remember things

By Barbara Pierce

The average person squanders 40 days a year trying to remember things he or she has forgotten. That’s 40 days a year lost, running around looking for keys or eyeglasses, running through our mind trying to remember this or that.

Most of us occasionally forget things — we forget names, we can’t find our car keys, or we forget something we needed from the store.

Most of the time we forget because we’re really not paying attention. We’re distracted — thinking about all the things we have to do when we walk through the door of our house, so we don’t pay attention to where we put our keys. When we meet someone new, we’re thinking about what we want to say next, or his or her weird hair or whatever, so we don’t really listen to names.

Think back to our ancestors many, many years ago. They needed to remember where to find food, where the non-poisonous berries are, how to bring down a deer, how to catch a fish, and how to get home from the lake. They didn’t need to remember phone numbers, hundreds of passwords, or where they left their car at the mega mall.

Our brains were shaped by the kind of remembering our ancestors did. Our brains don’t remember all types of information equally as well. But we can train them to do better.

The point of memory techniques is to take the kind of memories our brains aren’t good at holding onto and transforming them into the kind of memories our brains are built for.

Things that grab our attention are more memorable — perverse, different, nasty, disgusting things.

• Finding stuff, like your keys or eyeglasses: Sometimes a good memory has more to do with organization than brainpower. If you regularly find yourself searching for your keys, put a basket or hook by the door. Put your keys in the same place as soon as you get home, every time.

Routine is a friend to memory — every time you get the keys from their place, you reinforce the critical neural connections in your brain.

• Remembering names: The main reason we don’t remember people’s names is that we’re not really paying attention. When we aren’t paying attention, the memories we create are weak.

When you forget someone’s name two seconds after you’ve heard it, it’s not a problem with your memory, suggests Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center. It’s a problem with your focus.

“Look, snap and connect” is the technique Small recommends. When you meet someone, really “look” at her and listen to her name.

‘Write down things you want to remember. Use your calendar or your phone, even for simple things.’

Make connection

Make a mental picture (“snap”) of her name and face, and mentally “connect” them: That’s Sandy, lying on a sandy beach. Our brains are hardwired to remember visual images; we remember pictures easier than words.

Just met a Mr. Siegel? Picture his face on a seagull. If he’s Steve, picture him on a stove; Liz, a lizard gliding on her face.

Ask them to repeat their name if you didn’t hear it right. Even ask how to spell it, as that will really help you visualize the name with the face. People don’t mind being asked; actually, they like it.

Another tip: Use their name in a sentence and again when you’re ending the conversation. “So nice to meet you, Debi.”

Keep the name running through your head as you talk to them. Then think: “Debi has pretty white teeth; Debi has an interesting job I’d like to ask her about,” etc.

Then make note of it.  Use your smart phone.

“Write down things you want to remember,” suggests Fred Deck, administrator, The Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing, Ilion. “Use your calendar or your phone, even for simple things.”

• Remembering where you parked: Use the “look, snap, connect” technique to easily find your car in the parking lot. As soon as you park, “look” to see what section you’re in. Then, “snap”— create a mental snapshot. If you’re in section 3D, imagine three dogs laughing at you. If the sections aren’t numbered, notice what store you are in front of and where you are in relationship to that store, and make that your memory.

Connect by speaking it aloud a few times to help cement the memory.

• Remembering passwords: Create a base password, something that you can easily remember. For example, mine is something like Daisy12 — the name of my dog and the year of her birth. Then I use that base password with the addition of something from the website: UB for Bank of Utica. My password for UB: Daisy12UB. My password for Amazon.com: Daisy12amazon.

“Drink in moderation — too many drinks can affect your memory,” Deck reminds us.

Also, some medications can do destructive things to your brain cells. If your memory is getting worse, look into your medication for a culprit.

Stretch your brain to keep your mind sharp, advises Deck. People who are more active in mentally challenging activities are more likely to stay sharp.

The adage, “Use it or lose it,” holds true as we age.