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3 Nearly Effortless Ways to Improve Your Memory and Recall, Backed by Neuroscience

You have an idea. A great idea. A brilliant idea. A potentially business- or life-changing idea. But then, by the time you get the chance to write it down… you’ve forgotten it. 

Even though the odds are low that something you can’t remember for more than a few hours is that important is unlikely, still: We’ve all had things we wanted to remember, but couldn’t.

And that’s a problem, because where success is concerned, what you know, and what you actually do with that knowledge, can make all the difference.

So what can you do if you need remember something important? Most memory-improvement techniques — like mnemonics, chunking, building memory palaces — involve a fair amount of effort. 

Science to the rescue: Check out these simple ways to increase your short-term memory and recall.

Predict whether you will actually remember what you want to remember.

Sounds odd, I know. But this 2011 study published in Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology shows the simple act of asking yourself whether you will remember something significantly improves the odds that you will remember, in some cases by as much as 50 percent.

That’s especially true for remembering things you want to do, like prospective memories.

Prospective memories are a form of memory that involve remembering to perform a planned action, or recall a planned intention, at some point in the future. Like remembering to praise an employee, email a customer, or implement a schedule change.

Why it works is somewhat unclear. Maybe the act of predicting is a little like testing yourself; research shows that quizzing yourself is an extremely effective way to speed up the learning process. What is clear is that the act helps your hippocampus better form and index those episodic memories for later access.

So if you want to remember to do something in the future, take a second and predict whether you will remember.

Science says that act alone will make it more likely that you will.

Say it out loud.

We’ve all been around people who repeat things they’re learning out loud. Or just mouth the words. They look a little odd: Smart people just file knowledge away. They don’t have to talk to themselves. 

Actually, smart people do talk to themselves.

A 2010 study published in the aforementioned Journal of Experimental Psychology found that saying words out loud — or just mouthing them — makes them more distinctive. Separates them from all the other words you’re thinking. Makes them different.

All of which makes them more memorable. 

So go ahead. When you need to remember something, say it aloud. Or mouth it to yourself. Your cerebral cortex will thank you for it.

Rehearse for 40 seconds.

Memory consolidation is the process where temporary memories are transformed into more stable, long-lasting memories. Even though the process of memory consolidation can be sped up, still: Storing a memory in a more lasting way takes time.

One way to increase the odds is to rehearse whatever you want to remember for 40 seconds. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that a brief period of rehearsal — like replaying an events in your mind, going over what someone said in a meeting, or mentally mapping out a series of steps — makes it significantly more likely that you will remember what you rehearsed .

As the researchers write, that “brief period of rehearsal has a huge effect on our ability to remember complex, lifelike events over periods of one to two weeks. We have also linked this rehearsal effect to processing in a particular part of the brain — the posterior cingulate.”

Which should be long enough for you to actually do something with whatever you hope to remember.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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