Using All Your Senses

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Having trouble remembering? Try using your whole brain next time.

Think about this: different parts of your brain remember different sense impressions. For example, images are stored in one area of your brain, sounds in another, tactile (touch) sensations in another. What you want to do is plug new information into your brain using as many different senses as possible. Doing so gives you multiple ways of remembering the details later.

To use more of your senses, attempt as many of the following steps as possible with any new material you want to remember:

See it!

This is the easy one most of the time. When you are reading, you are seeing the information. For non-written material or physical items, really try to concentrate. Look carefully and slowly at the shape, color, texture of the object, the material its made of.

Say it!

Read new material out loud. Find a secluded place, perhaps at home, so you don't distract others. Reading out loud causes memory pathways to form not only through the visual sense (you see the words on the paper), but also through hearing the words. You now have two ways to recall the information.

Write it!

Write down critical concepts. This is also known as note-taking. The act of writing is a physical action that stimulates specific pathways in the brain.

Do it!

If it's a procedure you need to remember, do it. Do it several times. The act of "doing" is a separate mental pathway that you create. Just reading about something (or just hearing someone else explain how to do it) is not good enough.

Draw it!

Can the information be associated with one or more images? Draw them, even if you are not an artist. Just the act of sketching on paper, even silly images, will engage your visual and creative memory - giving you yet another path for remembering the material.

Imagine it!

Imagine (visualize) the material you want to remember. Studying chemistry or atomic theory? Try to see in your mind's eye the electrons spinning around the atomic nuclei, try to visualize the molecules you are studying about. Learning history? Try to imagine what the battle must have been like, the location, the combattants, what they were wearing, their weapons. Make it real to you. Bring it out of the abstract.

Research it!

Pull even more brain pathways into the situation. Go on the Internet and research examples. Find more detail than your book or your instructor or that article your read about explained. The more interconnections you can make in your brain by linking information together, the better you will remember.

Emotionalize it!

Find some way to become "connected" with the material. Look for ways to relate emotionally. Anything emotional will be a lot easier to remember. It can make you sad or happy or excited or intrigued. It doesn't matter, but you must find some way to care about the material.

Convert it!

Trying to memorize dry facts, like dates, numbers, formulas? Find patterns in the information and convert these to something meaningful. For example, try to create rhymes, try to match up the details with facts you already know, patterns can even be found in the shapes of numbers and formulas if you study them closely. When you have time, read the memory systems pages on this site to learn ways of making this technique even more effective.

Question it!

Don't be a passive and take everything dished out to you. Question the validity of new material. Ask yourself how this or that fact is known, what is the evidence? Is it believable? What does it imply, and how does it relate to what you already know? By questioning material you make it your own and you make it much more memorable. When reading a chapter in a book, scan the headings and turn each backwards into a question. Then when you read the chapter, look for the answers.

I think you see now where this is going. The idea is that you can build multiple memory pathways to the information. For example, if you fail to remember the material through your visual memory, then your audio pathway may allow you to access it.

The more sensory pathways you engage, the more likely you will later be able to jog your memory and recall the information.

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