How to boost your memory and cognitive skill

How often has forgetting things caused you inconvenience? How about taking too long to solve a problem in your head? We all experience these kinds of problems one way or another. We are only human after all! But too often we overlook how much power we really have to boost our memory skill.

You can actually enhance your memory in many different ways. In fact, simply eating the right foods can help you to learn and concentrate more easily! At the same time, some simple tips and tricks can make all the difference to your memory.

Enhancing your brain power could be easier than you think! Make forgetfulness and poor concentration a thing of the past with these simple ideas.

What are Memory and Cognitive Skills?

We all talk about having a good or bad memory, or whether someone is a quick or slow thinker. But did you know that your cognitive skills can actually be separated into categories?

In order to analyse and study the way we think, scientists have worked out several different categories for thinking skills. These can be about the duration of memory, the ability to process sounds or images, or even how we prioritise information. Each different type of cognitive skill plays a vital role in every day thinking and problem solving.

What are the main types of cognitive skills?

There are 7 different ‘compartments’ which are often used and measured when looking at memory and cognitive function. One well known aspect of thinking is logic and reason.

These cognitive skills are essential for solving problems, particularly when you are faced with new or unfamiliar situations. So reason and logic play a big role in solving puzzles!

Alongside a combination of other cognitive skills, your reason and logic allows you to decide which pieces would fit together and which won’t.

Visual processing, rather obviously, refers to your ability to analyse visual cues. Whenever you see something, your visual processing kicks in and helps you to think about and understand the visual image. But this isn’t just about seeing a tree or a painting and understanding it! When you read, drive, exercise or draw, you are using your visual processing skills. Auditory processing is very similar, but concerns sound in particular. It is sometimes known as phonemic awareness.

what is memory or cognitive skills

Aside from just understanding and processing things you hear, this cognitive skill allows you to speak. So it is pretty important! But did you know that you also need your auditory processing skills to help you to read and spell? It’s true! When you read and spell, your brain is working out the sounds of each letter and their combinations. This helps you to process individual words and understand how they sound. As children learn to read and write, they are developing both their visual and auditory processing skills.

Short term vs Long term memory

You have probably heard of long term and short term memory. They are quite simple to understand! Short term memory refers to information that has recently been memorised. Any information that is at the front of your mind and ready for immediate recall can be called short term memory. Your memory is constantly working, and this is mainly due to short term memory. You need it to perform immediate and quick tasks. On the other hand, long term memory refers to information and knowledge that you have accumulated and stored throughout your life. Whereas short term memory is temporary, long term memory is lasting. For example, if you remember a childhood holiday, that is long term memory. However, if you remember a 4 digit number for 10 minutes then that is short term memory.

If you have good processing speed skills, it means you can get through a lot of information quickly. A pretty desirable skill! The majority of people process information at very similar speeds, and it is rare to find anyone who does process things extraordinarily quickly. If you can process information quickly, you can usually think and learn much more efficiently as well.

But to process things quickly you also need good attention skills, another category of cognitive function. There are actually 3 different kinds of attention skills. 

Sustained Attention

Your ability to maintain concentration for long periods of time i.e through long work days

Selective Attention

How you sift through lots of different pieces of information to prioritise them, or pick out what is important.

Divided Attention

Is all about multi-tasking and having many things on the go at once and dividing your attention between them.

You may find you are better with one form of attention than another. You may be excellent at performing multiple tasks at once, but find it difficult to pay attention to something for a long time. On the other hand, you might be good with selective information. Whatever your strengths are, play them to your advantage! Use your best attention skill when learning or working if you can.

You are always using these cognitive skills, and being poor in any of these areas can affect your overall ability to recall memories, to learn, or to think on your feet. If one of these skills is a weak area for you, it can potentially affect some of your other thinking skills as well! So keeping your mind sharp throughout your life is a good idea to prevent any weakness.

Keeping your cognitive skills in use can help you to also keep your brain healthy and functional. Many people who try to exercise their brain find that they have good memory and cognitive function.

If you want to look after the health of your mind, then there is a lot you can do. Supporting memory and cognitive function through some simple tips and techniques can be a quick, free, and effective way to keep your brain working properly. You can also use your diet to keep your mind young and healthy.

How to enhance your thinking skill

Memorisation Techniques

how to stop losing train of thought

This may sound a little odd, but your forgetfulness could be blamed on doorways. Yes, you read that right! According to scientific studies and research, simply walking through a doorway could cause you to forget what you were previously doing. How many times have you walked into a room and forgotten why you went there? Probably countless times! It’s a common problem.

Although the precise reason for this isn’t known, scientists have found that moving from one place to another can cause you to lose track of what you were originally doing. In one study, participants in both real world and virtual models would be likely to forget an object when they moved through a doorway. The participants had placed an object in a container, and moved to another room. Then they were asked what object they had put in the container. Most of the time, they couldn’t remember! However, if they didn’t leave the room, even if they travelled the same distance, they were able to more easily remember.

Whatever the precise reason for this bizarre phenomenon is, you can still use it to help you! Avoid such forgetfulness by taking some kind of reminder with you before you leave a room. Scribble a note on a piece of paper or on your hand, or take an object that relates to your purpose with you. This way you can avoid walking somewhere and forgetting what you were doing!

Making associations, or visualising what you need to do, are very good memorisation tactics. If you need to make an association, try to find a rhyming word or association that you will remember. You can also make a catchy rhyme! For example, if you need to remember to post a letter on time, think ‘better remember the letter’! You can make the associations as silly as you like, which might make it easier to remember. A classic memorisation technique is to associate images with words. If you want to remember someone’s name, try to make a rhyme or association with their name. For example, you could remember ‘Brad Pitt’ by thinking of a ‘broad pit’! This type of mnemonic or memory device can be fun as well as helpful. For visualisation, you need to imagine a scenario or image related to what you need to learn or remember. So if you need to remember to vacuum, try to picture yourself going through the process of getting the vacuum out, and vacuuming the room. Or if you need to go to a meeting, picture yourself travelling to the exact room for the meeting. But if you want to imagine something more fanciful, then this can help too. Psychologists have found that vivid imagined scenarios or images stick in the mind for longer. You can use images instead of words as an association. So for the Brad Pitt example, try to actually visualise the ‘broad pit’, as well as making the silly word association. Such a funny image will surely spring to mind when you see that person again, helping you to remember their name when needed!

Chewing gum could help improve your memory!

If you are a regular gum chewer, then you could actually be better at remembering information than those who don’t! Whatever your opinions about habitual gum chewers, there is no denying the evidence. Scientific studies have found that the act of chewing enhances concentration.

In one study it was found that chewing gum whilst learning a piece of information could help you to store it better. The chewing motion was also found to result in improved performance at audio and visual tasks.

Whilst chewing gum may help to support your brain during long memory tasks, it doesn’t help with short term memory. So if you only need to remember something for a short while, it may be best to lay off the gum!

Chewing gum to help memory
lists to help improve memory

Do you make a shopping list? If you don’t, you should! Trying to remember exactly what you need can be difficult when you are surrounded by hundreds of different products in a shop. That’s why shopping lists are so generally accepted as normal memory cues.

If you have a lot of different house chores to do as well, you will probably resort to writing them out rather than risk forgetting them. The truth is that writing things out can really make a difference to how your brain stores information.

Sometimes simply the act of writing out a word, without even looking at it, is enough to keep it in your mind. Studies have found that the act of writing is sufficient for you to remember what you need or what you are doing. But if you are already reaching for your phone or tablet, you better hold back!

Typing things is not nearly as effective as writing them out in long hand. So grab a pen and a piece of paper, and write it out in full.

Become a doodlebug

Are you the type of person who can’t help but doodle when you’re on the phone? It’s a common habit!

You may have been a doodler in school, when boredom during class gave you the inspiration to scribble and draw all over your text book. You may even do it at work! Being scolded when doodling can put you off the habit, but you may actually be right to scribble away!

Doodling can keep your mind active when there are pauses, preventing it from tuning out completely. The truth is, most doodlers are paying more attention than those who are doing nothing but daydreaming! And you doodlers are even supported by scientific studies! One study found that people who scribbled on paper whilst listening to a dull phone message remembered almost 30 per cent more than non-doodlers!

Clench to remember

Another weird trick to boost your cognitive function is to clench your hand into a fist. Seems like a strange idea, doesn’t it? This one was found out purely thanks to scientific studies. Some research found that specifically clenching your right hand into a tight fist could enhance your ability to remember details such as names, phone numbers, or lists of items. To be fully effective, you simply need to clench your left fist when trying to remember the information. Crazy huh?

The explanation for this is still not fully known, but scientists are suggesting that the different movements help to activate different regions of the brain responsible for storage and retrieval of memories and information. Try it for yourself sometime, and see if it works for you!

Some people like to have a bit of music on in the background whilst they are working or studying. Although most of the time it is just for pleasure, some people like to claim that it helps them to do their work. So how much truth is there in this idea?

According to scientific studies it only helps if you listen to it before working! Listening to some music before you start reading or doing something can help you to remember it better for the future. However, if you keep the music playing whilst working, then don’t expect for it to stay in your memory! In fact, researchers have suggested that any noise, let alone music, can distract your brain and prevent proper memory formation, storage, and recall.

Even if you are not paying attention to the music, it still has the same effect as lots of deafening noise distracting your brain. So next time you are studying, or reading something you need to remember, turn off the music! Total silence is the best option for you if you want to ensure proper memory recall.

music to help improve memory

B r e a k i t u p

how to improve memory by breaking up the problem

You may be familiar with this technique, even if you have never realised you were using it!

The ‘chunking’ technique involves breaking down big pieces of information into smaller parts. It’s a common technique used when dealing with long numbers, particularly telephone numbers. Instead of trying to remember the whole thing, try chopping it up into smaller segments. So if you had to memorise the number 457864512, you could break it down into segments of 3. So try to remember 457, 864, and 512. This should be much easier.

Try it out in future when you have lots of information to process. You should remember it more quickly and for longer!

Get more sleep!

Everyone knows how important sleep is. If you’ve ever gone without proper sleep for a while, you will know how much it affects your ability to think straight! A lack of sleep can make you irritable, moody, easily confused, slower, and most importantly forgetful. After a night of not enough sleep, the next day you will probably find yourself forgetting all sorts of things. Over time, not getting enough sleep can affect your memory and cognitive skills in the long term. People, who suffer from Insomnia often think much slower than the average person, constantly make mistakes when performing tasks, and are much less able to store and retrieve memories when needed. So clearly getting a good night’s sleep can make a huge difference to your cognitive function!

Sleep is important, because it is the time when your body and mind rests and recovers. Without this time of rest, your body and mind won’t have enough energy to keep up with the next day’s task. And this can build up! A ‘sleep debt’ is when you have not had enough sleep over a long period of time. You will have experienced this if you’ve ever travelled to a different time zone. Most people come back from holidays or trips abroad to find that they need either a little or a lot of sleep. This is because your body clock is out of sync, and needs to re-establish a proper sleeping pattern. Try to make sure your sleeping pattern is regular and that you get deep, restorative sleep. This way your brain will be able to store and use information much better when you wake up!

If you ever feel tempted to stay up all night for whatever reason, don’t do it! Some people who have to study for a test, or get extra work done, feel tempted to skip sleep in order to finish their tasks. You may have done this yourself! But this can actually make things worse. Even if you study all night, the next day your brain will be too tired to retrieve the information that you spent all night trying to remember! In fact, studies have found that sleeping helps your brain to remember things more easily. Before a big day, always try to ensure a good night’s sleep. Take a relaxing bath with lavender oil in the evening, or tire yourself out with exercise. Whatever you decide to do, getting enough sleep means that you will be able to function at your best!

Improve your memory by getting more sleep

Exercise

If you don’t think that exercising boosts brain power as well as physical power, then think again!

You could actually be supporting your cognitive health when you exercise and keep fit. Scores of studies have made the connection between physical activity and brain power. Aerobic exercise in particular is known to be excellent for enhancing your ability to make and recall memories. It can also help you to concentrate properly, as well as think quickly. So if you want to keep fit physically and mentally, don’t overlook the importance of exercise! There are many reasons why exercise is so effective for encouraging good cognitive health. One of these reasons is that your oxygen uptake increases, so that your brain receives a boosted supply of O2. 

It can even lead to an increase in the rate of cell growth in your brain. In particular, it can increase cell growth in areas associated with memory!

One study focusing on exercise and memory found some positive results. Female participants in the study were asked to perform light exercises for a period of time. After the exercise, they had to recall a list of things. When they had just exercised, their recall was much better than normal. Another study found that regular fitness could boost memory in the long term. Women involved in the study exercised regularly for 6 months. At the end of the study, it was found that their verbal and spatial memory was significantly improved. So now you have little excuse not to exercise!

If the thought of physical activity isn’t all that appealing to you, then you need to find a form of exercise that suits your taste. Whether you’re a gym bunny or a team sports fan, there are all sorts of different types of sports and fitness activities. Look around and do your research and find one that suits you. Be sure to keep it up if you want to boost your brain health for life!

Food for thought

Here’s some food for thought: according to a scientific survey, dairy could help you to improve your learning abilities.

People who regularly consume dairy products have been found to have excellent concentration skills, and can store and recall memories efficiently. In the study, almost 1000 participants were asked to fill in a detailed survey about their diets. They then had to perform several rigorous cognitive skills tests. At the end of the study, the scientists looked at the dietary surveys alongside the test results. This was so they could make connections between food intake and cognitive function. The most significant connection they found was that those who consumed dairy products 5 to 6 times a week performed well in memory tests.

Those who did not regularly consume dairy did not fare so well in the results!

Boost your memory by drinking milk
Help boost your memory with Green Tea

Green tea has enjoyed a wave of popularity in recent years. It is now widely considered to be one of the healthiest teas around, and it certainly lives up to this reputation.

Scores of studies and medical trials have found just how powerful this healthy tea might be. Packed full of anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory substances, it may help the body to fight off disease and sickness. All this whilst hydrating and cleansing you! Now, the power of green tea to enhance the mind is being researched. In China, scientists have found that this super drink may actually help to prevent and delay Alzheimer’s disease. This is thanks to one of green teas main ingredients, EGCG. EGCG stands for epigallocatechin-3 gallate. A rather long and scientific name! But this super substance is an anti-oxidant that may help your brain to fight off the development of age related degenerative diseases.

Fruits and vegetables are excellent at supporting all sorts of aspects of health. There is a reason you need to eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day!

These colourful plant foods are packed full of vitamins and minerals that support a healthy mind and body. If you want a brain healthy diet, then you need to eat a good variety of nutritious fruits and vegetables. There are some particular fruits and vegetables, however, which can boost your brain power effectively. Blackcurrants are rich in Vitamin C, an essential ingredient to a well functioning mind. Vitamin C is known to support good mental health. It is thought that this immunity boosting vitamin can help to improve the speed and efficiency of your mind. Citrus fruits like Oranges and grapefruits also contain an abundance of this essential vitamin. Another berry, the blueberry, has shown promising signs that may delay the onset of dementia. In fact, blueberries are considered one of the best natural tools to combat short term memory loss.

This small berry packs a powerful health punch, and according to research could help you to keep your memory in good shape.

How can fruit and veg help to improve your memory
Can tomatoes help to boost cognitive skill

Tomatoes are rich in a powerful anti-oxidant known as lycopene. This anti-oxidant is thought to help fight Cancer, as well as protect cardiovascular health.

Lycopene may combat Free Radicals, dangerous molecules that can cause disease and illness. Free Radicals have been linked to the development of dementia, in particular Alzheimer’s disease. Eating tomatoes regularly could be a good way to protect yourself from mental deterioration as you age.

Broccoli is one of the most commonly consumed vegetables in the UK, broccoli could help to improve your ability to learn and think fast. This is mainly due to its high Vitamin K content. Whilst all these fruits and vegetables are particularly good for boosting brain power, be sure to eat a variety of these healthy plant foods.

This will ensure your brain receives all the nutrients it needs to function properly.

Chocolate fans rejoice! Your favourite sweet treat may do some good to your health after all!

Chocolate has garnered a bad reputation for being fattening and high in sugar, but dark chocolate with no added sugar can actually do you some good. Although you may want to be careful of how much of it you eat! According to studies conducted in England, high cocoa content chocolate can be rich in flavonols, which can improve your ability to do mental arithmetic. In one study involving over 2000 participants, it was found that eating chocolate could help to boost your memory. However, it did depend on the type of chocolate eaten. Cheap milk or white chocolate are very low in flavonols and anti-oxidants, and high in sugar and fat. Avoid these types.

Chocolate that has over 60 per cent cocoa, like most dark chocolate, is the type you should tuck into!

Chocolate can help to improve your memory
Iron Supplements to help with memory problems

Are you getting enough Iron?

This mineral is lacking in most people’s diets, particularly for women. If you are at risk of Iron deficiency, you could also be at risk of poor memory and cognitive function. The mineral and your brain power are closely linked. According to some recent studies, taking Iron supplements could help you to enhance your memory recall and cognitive skills. In particular, young women can benefit their mind by supplementing with Iron. In one study, women between the ages of 18 and 35 performed better on mental performance tests when they had been taking Iron supplements for a few months beforehand. The benefit was seen in an array of different women with different Iron levels. Even those with very mild Iron deficiency saw significant improvements to their cognitive function. The reason for this benefit is that Iron supports healthy blood and proper circulation. In particular, it plays a vital role in oxygen transport. Your brain requires a good uptake of oxygen through healthy blood circulation; otherwise it is unable to function at its best. Iron is essential to this process, which is why a deficiency is thought to cause cognitive decline.

If you are a woman, you could benefit in particular from Iron supplements.

One of the nutrients you absolutely must get in your healthy diet is Omega-3.

Most ‘brain foods’ contain a high dose of this healthy fat, and you should certainly stock up on them! Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that your body needs in order to function properly. This fat is thought to help protect joints, and is used to treat Arthritis pain. It may also help to lower high cholesterol, whilst controlling blood pressure. It also might nourish the skin and support proper eye health. All this, and it could even help your brain!

This fatty acid can perform several important functions for your brain. It can help to support fatty membrane and neurotransmitter. It might delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and could lower your risk of dementia. It could help treat Depression and other mental illnesses. It could also help behavioural problems in children. Alongside all of this, it can enhance your ability to learn and memorise things. Pretty impressive, huh?

Aside from Omega-3 supplements; you can get this brain enhancing fat from oily fish. Try eating fish twice a week to ensure that you get a regular intake of Omega-3. Other food options for Omega-3 include nuts and seeds. Eating them raw is always best, but the oils and butters made from nuts and seeds can also count! Most people get far too little Omega-3 fat in their diet. By avoiding Omega-3 deficiency, you are working towards avoiding cognitive and mental decline.

You may find that meeting your Omega-3 needs helps improve your memory substantially.

Buy Fish Oil

Foods to avoid

Avoid saturated fat if you have a bad memory

Whilst getting healthy fats like Omega-3 in your diet can enhance cognitive function, some fats have the opposite effect.

Unhealthy fats, like saturate, hydrogenated or trans fats can be extremely bad for your health when consumed in excess. In fact, they have been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Studies which analyse the fat content of people’s diets frequently find that bad fats result in poor cognitive function. If you regularly eat a significant amount of these unhealthy fats, your memory and cognitive skills will suffer.

This is partly related to the fact that being significantly overweight or obese can affect your cognitive health. Although in most cases this is not true, having too much bad fat in your body can increase your risk of developing a condition known as Mild Cognitive Impairment. This is a condition characterised by chronically poor memory, slower thinking, difficulty in solving problems mentally, and other indications of cognitive decline.

Make sure to cut unhealthy fats from your diet. Avoid processed or junk foods that are high in trans, hydrogenated or saturated fats.

Try to opt for low fat versions where possible. Make sure to only consume lean dairy products, like low fat yoghurt, cottage cheese, and semi skimmed milk. Dairy products can be high in saturated fats. Avoid full fat dairy when possible. With meat, trim off any excess fats, or choose lean options. Chicken breast or fish are good lean alternative to sausages or steak. Make sure that your body weight is not a problem to your health as well.

If you find yourself breathless frequently, or have developed health problems caused by being overweight, then trying to slim down to a healthy size can help you to protect your brain from dementia later in life.

Cut out junk food to help improve your memory
How alcohol affects memory

When looking at foods and drinks to avoid, alcohol is top of the list.

You may have experienced yourself that drinking impairs your cognitive function! No one expects alcohol to help them remember anything. But did you know that alcohol can actually damage your ability to remember things in the long term? In fact, excessive alcohol consumption can cause direct damage to your brain cells. If you find that your cognitive function isn’t what it used to be, alcohol may be to blame.

Make sure you never drink more than the daily recommended guidelines. For women this is 2 to 3 units a day. For men, it is 3 to 4 units daily. As a guide, a small glass of strong wine is about 2 to 3 units, whilst a pint of strong lager or beer counts as 4 units. According to the London Sleep Centre, it is best to avoid drinking a nightcap. Even if it helps you fall asleep, it could impair the restfulness of your night’s sleep. This means that, even if you don’t notice it, the next day your brain will be a little tired. This can affect your memory and cognitive function in the long term.

Instead, find other ways to encourage sleep. Chamomile tea is a good option, as it is healthy and restorative, yet aids a sense of calmness which is useful for sleep. Otherwise, a glass of warm milk is an old favourite night time drink.

The value of looking after your memory and cognitive skills.

Whilst being able to remember things more easily is great, there are so many more long term benefits to looking after your cognitive skills.

With rates of dementia conditions like Alzheimer’s disease increasing, keeping your mind healthy is more important than ever. The popularity of ‘mind training’ games is a testament for a huge desire to prevent cognitive decline later in life. Keeping your memory sharp, and keeping your cognitive skills in use, is important throughout your life. But for many people they forget how to look after their mental agility after they leave education.

Boosting your learning skills and memory is most of the time considered a pursuit of teenagers and young adults who are studying. But if you let your mind get too used to being inactive, it will become weaker and less efficient over time. However, you can lower your risk of cognitive impairment or dementia by keeping your brain active. Making sure that you look after your mind throughout life is a great way to keep your brain youthful and fit.

With some simple techniques, and a few dietary changes, you could find forgetfulness is a thing of the past! or to put it another way… Forget about forgetfulness 🙂