Experiencing forgetfulness is a normal part of getting older — memory can begin declining as early as your 30s — but that doesn’t mean it’s any less frustrating when we find ourselves in the middle of a room with absolutely no idea why we entered it. 

Experts on the topic emphasize that we shouldn’t waste too much time worrying about the things we can’t remember, because in actuality, we aren’t supposed to remember everything. 

“Contrary to popular belief, the neural mechanisms of memory were not cobbled together to remember the name of the guy we met at that thing,” neuroscientist Charan Ranganath, director of the memory and plasticity program at the University of California, Davis, told Fast Company. “Memory is the process by which our brains extract what’s important — that is, information that helps us make sense of an uncertain and ever-changing world.”

When it comes to strengthening that process — as with most aspects of physical or mental health — you’ll want to first address your sleep and exercise habits, stress levels, and diet. But aside from nurturing your mind-body connection, there are helpful tips and techniques you can put into practice to improve your recall. Scroll down for five of them.


Pay Attention 

We promise we’re not starting off intentionally glib here. The above advice might seem like it goes without saying, but a huge element of “forgetting” information involves not really paying attention to it in the first place. With all that’s going on around and within us at any given moment, it can take a little extra effort to truly focus on what’s in front of us. 

Additionally, when we’re talking to someone new, or in an important meeting, our internal monologues are often going at full force: We’re thinking about what we’re going to say next or whether what we just said made any sense.

“​​Focus your mind,” psychiatrist Gary Small, author of The Memory Bible, previously told CNBC

“Take the time to pay attention — if you’re distracted, the information you want to recall later will never get into your brain’s memory storage file cabinets.” 

In fact, we often believe that we’ve forgotten something when we actually never created the memory to begin with — an act that requires “the neural input of attention,” neuroscientist Lisa Genova explained to Good Housekeeping

… And Say It Out Loud

Another way to ensure you’re encoding that memory is by stating what you’re doing aloud. 


“Try to be mindful and give things a moment’s attention — even say it out loud, because then you’re giving your auditory cortex a chance to have more input: ‘I’m putting my glasses on the kitchen counter’ before you walk away,” Genova told the outlet. “Then you’re actually creating a memory.”

This tip doesn’t just apply to placing items around the house or learning someone’s name. A 2017 study out of the University of Waterloo determined that reading materials aloud to yourself helps you retain that information in the long-term. Researchers dubbed this the “production effect.”

“This study confirms that learning and memory benefit from active involvement,” co-author Colin M. MacLeod said in a news release at the time. “When we add an active measure or a production element to a word, that word becomes more distinct in long-term memory, and hence more memorable.”

Challenge Yourself Daily

If you think of memory like a muscle, it makes sense that exercising that muscle would strengthen it. To that end, neurologist Richard Restak recommends creating daily challenges for yourself. Restak has written more than 20 books on the mind, including The Complete Guide to Memory: The Science of Strengthening Your Mind. 


He told The New York Times a great way to do this is by assigning yourself things to memorize, like grocery lists. When you get to the store to pick up everything you need for dinner, first try to remember all the goods you wrote down. “Try to see the items in your mind,” he said, noting that you should only consult the list at the end, before you leave (we wouldn’t want you to forget that crucial ingredient!).


Restak also suggests trying to navigate around town without turning on your GPS, as many of us do even when going a short distance we may once upon a time have relied on our own memory to handle. Another, perhaps less stressful, option to challenge yourself is playing games like bridge, chess, or Restak’s “favorite working memory game”: 20 Questions. 

Create Associations

The Baker/baker paradox is a phenomenon first highlighted in a 1987 paper called “Putting names to faces.” Study participants were asked to recall the names and occupations of 16 unfamiliar faces. The results showed that recalling occupations is easier than recalling names, even when the occupation and name are the same. For example: It’s more likely for a person to forget that someone’s surname is Baker than it is to forget that the person is a baker. 

That’s because while names are somewhat arbitrary, occupations come with far more context — the idea of a baker conjures up images of doughnuts and bread, or that little hole-in-the-wall bakery you used to go to with an old beau, perhaps. 

To put these findings to use, consider creating associations that imbue names, dates, or other tidbits of information with more context than they’d otherwise have. Try connecting them to songs, movies, or mental pictures — like imagining a person named Leo wearing leopard print. 


Elaborate and Rehearse

recep-bg/ iStock

Practice makes perfect — but not just any kind of practice, per se. According to Verywell Health, a process called “elaborative rehearsal” is one of the most effective means of encoding information into your long-term memory. 

There are several strategies you can use to elaborate and rehearse, and they involve adding linking information you’ve just learned to information you already know. In this way, it’s different from rote memorization (simply repeating something over and over) and similar to creating associations.  

One specific method involves rephrasing material into your own words. This works well when you’re reading or learning about topics that come with scientific or esoteric vocabularies. 

“For example, suppose you read that atherosclerosis is the deposit of fatty plaques on artery walls (but plaques is a new term for you),” the outlet explains. “You might reword this to: Atherosclerosis is when fat and cholesterol harden inside arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart.”

You can take an extra step toward cementing the knowledge in your mind by explaining it in your own words to someone else. 

Learn more about elaborative rehearsal strategies here.