How to Improve Your Memory Quickly

When I was in my teens I might go to a social or party and meet a dozen new people.  And at the end of the night I may remember one or two names – if I was lucky.  My memory was terrible, or at least that’s what I thought.

Memory is not something you don’t have; it has little to do with genetics or environment.  For most people, it’s a just a muscle that is underused and underdeveloped.

It’s turns out that having a good memory has more to do with your strategy than it does with your mental hardware.  The people that have great memories follow a strategic process

I learned how to improve my memory very quickly after studying the spelling strategy in NLP.

Improve Your Memory With The Spelling Strategy

There are an infinite number of ways to learn how to spell.  Most of the average to poor spellers learn phonetically.  That means learning to spell based on the sounds of the letters and words – an auditory strategy.

It turns out that this strategy is not the most effective way to become a great speller.  The real trail-blazers, the people who consistently produce top scores learn how to spell visually – a visual strategy.

Here’s an excerpt from a study completed in 1981 by NLP co-founders John Grinder and Richard Bandler:

The following experiment supports this notion, and it’s application to memorising the spelling of words. F. Loiselle at the University of Moncton in New Brunswick, Canada (1985) selected 44 average spellers, as determined by their pretest on memorizing nonsense words. Instructions in the experiment, where the 44 were required to memorize another set of nonsense words, were given on a computer screen. The 44 were divided into four subgroups for the experiment.

Group One were told to visualize each word in the test, while looking up to the left.
Group Two were told to visualize each word while looking down to the right.
Group Three were told to visualize each word (no reference to eye position).
Group Four were simply told to study the word in order to learn it.

The results on testing immediately after were that Group One (who did actually look up left more than the others, but took the same amount of time) increased their success in spelling by 25%, Group Two worsened their spelling by 15%, Group Three increased their success by 10%, and Group Four scored the same as previously. This strongly suggests that looking up left (Visual Recall in NLP terms) enhances spelling, and is twice as effective as simply teaching students to picture the words. Furthermore, looking down right (Kinesthetic in NLP terms) damages the ability to visualize the words. Interestingly, in a final test some time later (testing retention), the scores of Group One remained constant, while the scores of the control group, Group Four, plummeted a further 15%, a drop which was consistent with standard learning studies. The resultant difference in memory of the words for these two groups was 61%.


How to Improve Your Memory in Practice

The spelling strategy is just one example of how visual properties help improve memory.  If you want to improve your memory, start using a visual strategy.  You do that by accessing the visually memorable part of your brain by looking up and to the left.

You see when you look up and to the left you access your visual memory.  These are the pictures, images and movies that have flashed on your mind from the past.

You can do this deliberately right now.

Have you lost your keys or misplaced your wallet?

You can find these items in your mind.  Outer world images are stored inside.  Just move your eyes by looking up and to the left and look for your wallet in your mind.  Where did you see it last?

The problem has never been that we have “faulty” equipment; that our brains are broken or don’t work.  The problem has always been awareness.  We haven’t been taught how to properly use our brains.

How to Improve Your Memory in Conversation

Another way to use this approach is in conversation.  The next time you speak with someone, be sure to play with the visual strategy.

When someone is speaking to you, start to create pictures and images in your mind.  Listen to people as if they were telling you a story.  And as they tell you their story, build a motion picture in your mind.  Add visual images and pictures to the story.  The richer the pictures, the easier it will be to remember.

I’ve used this strategy when I used to work in the corporate world to avoid taking meeting minutes.  All I did was add pictures to the story I was hearing.  A picture says a thousand words. Some people were amazed at how good my memory was, but there’s no trick to it – just a strategy.  Use it or lose it.

This becomes very easy for a visually-oriented person; they do this all the time.  It’s natural for them to make images in their mind.

For someone who is primarily auditory or kinesthetic it takes more practice, but it’s so much fun.

Memory and Physiology

Practice changing your physiology.  Make sure to speak to someone by keeping your head up and shoulders back.  Stand up straight when possible.  This makes it so much easier to look up and make pictures.

Practice seeing the world differently.  Use the muscle between your ears.  You’ve got one of the most precious gifts the world has ever known; your marvelous mind.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy: How to Stay Focused When You Feel Like Giving Up


  • Steve, when I was a teenager (30+ years ago), I bought a book called “The Memory Book” by Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas. It taught the visual story association method and it worked brilliantly. I could memorize easily, including whole decks of cards in order with a single-scan. I don’t use it generally anymore but whenever I want to remember something I tend to fall back on some of those old tricks. Now that my natural memory is failing I have to do it more often :-)

  • Steve

    Reply Reply March 16, 2009

    Hi Stephen –

    Well, I’ve got to admit that I really thought I was out to lunch when I was a kid because I always forgot things; lost my wallet a half dozen times, forgot phone numbers, peoples names, places – I really thought I was going senile.

    When I discovered the whole visual world to memorizing, it was really exciting – because it was so much more easier to memorize and because I thought I was the first one to discover it ;) But like you said there have been others teaching this stuff for years – thanks for the mention.

  • Drezz

    Reply Reply March 18, 2009

    Don’t feel bad Steve – I forget stuff ALL the time. Its part of the reason why my wife often gets upset with me.

    My long term memory is great, but my short-term absolutely stinks. I think I’m going to try out some of these techniques for my own benefit.

  • Steve

    Reply Reply March 18, 2009

    Awesome Drezz – have fun with them :)

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