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The human brai­n is like a library that stock­s memories instead of books. In some ways, that makes the hippocampus, the part of the brain most involved in memory, the brain’s librarian. The hippocampus has the most responsibility in this cranial library, juggling the new releases of short-term memory while cataloging materials for the permanent collection of long-term memory. It’s not the only part at work, however, in storing these chapters of our lives. Different kinds of memory are stored in different areas of the brain. With such a large system, the brain needs a system of encoding and retrieving memories, something a bit more complex than the local library’s Dewey Decimal System.

The brain has to be able to pull information at the drop of a hat, whether it’s a fact on hold (such as a telephone number) or a dusty memory that’s been sitting in storage for years (the memory of your first kiss). No one likes a library that loses books or shelves them in the wrong place. Yet sometimes we find ourselves with a very poor librarian on our hands, one that doesn’t allow us to retrieve memories when we need them. Sometimes it’s trivial, like when we tear apart our homes looking for glasses perched innocuously atop our heads, and sometimes these lapses in memories are more embarrassing, such as when we call a colleague “sport” because we simply can’t remember his name.

Whether you’re a college student studying for an important test or an aging baby boomer concerned about forgetting a recent doctor’s appointment, there are a few things everyone can do to optimize the storage and checkouts in our private libraries of memories.

10. Drink in Moderation

Too much drinking handicaps the memory, as anyone who’s ever woken after a binge with a fuzzy recollection of the night before can attest. And one component of a DUI test shows how overconsumption of alcohol can immediately affect the brain: Even simple mental tasks like counting backward and reciting the alphabet can become tricky under the influence. Alcohol abuse will have a negative effect on the cells of the brain related to memory.

9. Seek Treatment for Depression

Anything that causes major stress in life, including anxiety or anger, will eventually eat away at the parts of the brain that are responsible for memory. Chief among these stressors is major depression. Depression is often misidentified as a memory problem since one of the main symptoms of the condition is an inability to concentrate. If you can’t concentrate on schoolwork or the information needed to complete a task on the job, then you may feel as if you’re constantly forgetting things. As it is, you’re not even able to concentrate long enough to learn them in the first place.

8. Get Moving

If you’ve ever taken a break from work or studying to take a quick walk around the block, you may understand the rationale for this next tip. Exercise not only exercises the body, it exercises the brain as well. Obesity is a risk factor for many diseases and conditions that eventually wreak havoc on the brain, including stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. Without regular exercise, plaque builds up in the arteries and blood vessels lose the ability to pump blood effectively. While you may know how plaque buildup leads to heart attacks, you may not think about the way your brain is gasping for breath as well.

7. Visualization and Association

A picture’s worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, so turning a list of random words into images may help you remember the words better. Explaining this method works best by example, so let’s say that you need to remember that a parent-teacher conference is taking place at three in the afternoon. Take a moment and think of a visual image for three — let’s say that you and your son just love reading the story of the “Three Little Pigs.” Visualize those three little pigs. To remember what exactly you have to do at three, picture your son’s teacher cavorting with the pigs out in a meadow. Sometimes, the more unique the image, the easier it will be to remember. Here’s another example: say you place your eyeglasses on the kitchen table. When you do so, imagine your eyeglasses eating all the food on the table. Later, when you’re wondering where your glasses are, your brain has this image in the bank.

6. Pay Attention

Eight seconds is more than just a length of time that bull riders try to stay atop a bucking bronco, it’s the amount of time you need to completely focus your attention upon something to effectively transfer it from short- to long-term memory [source: Crook]. No matter how wonderfully you can conjure up entertaining and useful visualizations for incoming information, the skill will be useless if you’re not paying attention to what you need to remember in the first place.

5. The Name Game

This memory tip builds upon many of the tips we’ve learned so far. When you meet a new person, it’s important to pay attention to the name and the face. As soon as you learn the name, repeat it back to the person by saying, “Nice to meet you, so-and-so.” It’s not a cheap trick; researchers have found that people have a 30 percent better chance of remembering a name when they repeat it as soon as they learn it.

4. Chunking

Maybe you have no problems remembering your grocery list or names and faces but you repeatedly stumble over your PIN number, Social Security Number or license plate number. Chunking may be just the memory method for you. You’ve used chunking if you’ve ever read off a phone number as three sets of numbers as opposed to one long 10-digit number. Chunking puts a large amount of information into more manageable chunks so that you have less to remember.

3. Method of Loci

The earliest recorded mnemonic device comes from Ancient Greece. One night, a poet named Simonides was called upon to recite a poem at a banquet. By some stroke of luck, Simonides briefly left the banquet hall, right when the entire building collapsed. Because the bodies of those that remained inside were so badly mangled, Simonides identified the dead for their families by recalling where people were sitting at the time of the accident. This memory device of associating things with a place or location became known as the method of loci, and it was all the rage for teaching in Ancient Greece. If you’ve ever said, “in the first place” or “in the second place” when rattling off a list, then you’re using a modern derivative of the method of loci.

2. Use Your Environment

Tying a string around your finger to remember something has become a bit of punchline, but the reasoning for it makes sense. By putting something in your environment slightly askew, you create a visual reminder for yourself. The key, as with other methods, is to take the time to create a strong visualization for why there’s a string around your finger before you mindlessly tie it on. ou can use other things in your environment as well. If you don’t want to invest in string just yet, you could switch a ring, bracelet or watch from one hand to the other as needed to remember things. For example, if you needed to remember a doctor’s appointment, you could visualize a large wristwatch wrapped around your doctor. If it bothers you too much to switch hands, try just turning the watch upside down or switching a ring so the stone points downward.

1. Practice Makes Perfect

Maybe you’re thinking that some of the tips in this article sound a bit too easy. And that’s the beauty of them — but to get the full benefit, you’re going to have to practice. Not everyone immediately begins creating helpful visualizations or using the method of loci to remember things, but when your brain becomes trained to think that way, it will become easier.