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Flex Your Memory

Flex Your Memory

Have you ever driven to the store, only to forget to buy one or more of the items you needed? You could make a list ahead of time, or you could use a handy mnemonic technique to sharpen your memory and remember everything in one stop.

The mnemonic technique relies on the fact that your brain uses information from all your senses -- touch, sight, smell, hearing, and taste -- to form your memories.

For example, have you ever noticed how a certain smell can remind you of someone or something from your past? Information from your nose is processed partly by the limbic system, a part of the brain involved in memory and emotion that stores memories.

The more senses engaged while experiencing an event, the more likely you'll be to remember it. For the following brain game, use your imagination to create associations based on your five senses to help you remember something practical, such as that list of grocery items.

Memory-Making Mnemonic
Suppose you're preparing for a picnic, and you want to remember a list of items to take: napkins, plastic cups, paper plates, chairs, soda, and a potato salad.

First, choose a favorite and familiar place, such as a bedroom, backyard, or neighborhood park, and create a mental map of that place. Imagine the surroundings in as much detail as you can, noticing colors, sounds, smells, and feelings associated with the setting. Can you visualize 5 to 10 objects in this space? These objects are the foundation for your mnemonic -- your memory device; once you fix them in your mind, you can use them to help you remember almost anything.

Let's say your favorite place is your backyard, and you easily visualize a rose bush, a tree, a cobblestone path, a doghouse, a garden hose, and a patio table.

Create an association between each item on your picnic list and one of the objects in the backyard.

For example, you might imagine napkins covering your rose bush, with the thorns sticking through the paper. See plastic cup ornaments hanging from the tree and paper plates lining the cobblestone path. Visualize a stack of chairs sitting on top of the doghouse, soda streaming from the garden hose, and a potato salad spread all over the patio table. The crazier and sillier your associations, the better the memory device will work.

When it's time to get your picnic items together, close your eyes and take a mental walk around your decorated backyard. You'll be sure to remember everything!

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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