Feeling Forgetful or Distracted? 3 Strategies to Boost Your Memory and Increase Your Focus
Did you ever see a film back in 1995 called Johnny Mnemonic? Keanu Reeves playing the part of Johnny who was able to store huge amounts of information in his memory using a computer chip.
In reality our memories are nothing like computers, however back in the early 90’s the idea of having a super powered memory was something that instantly grabbed my attention for a number of reasons:
- For years I had a reputation for having an extremely bad memory
- I made a decision to work hard on not only improving my memory but taking it to a whole new level, so in that same year (1995), I competed in the World Memory Championships and was ranked as one of the first ever Grand Masters of Memory in the World (crazy title, I know!)
- Also, in 1995 I created a Game show called Monkhouse’s Memory Masters for the BBC that aired to 8 million people.
Off the back of the TV show I fell into working with real people with real challenges and got hooked.
So, what does it take to go from having no confidence in your memory to knowing you can learn and remember anything you put your mind to?
It’s an over simplification, however if I had to, I’d break it down into 3 steps
- Memory Mindset
- Tiny Habits®
- Creative Memorization
Get the Right Memory Mindset
If someone asked you, “Would you like to improve your memory by 500%?” what would you say? My guess is, for most people, they would jump at the chance. I’ve personally heard people respond with a phrase like, “Yeh, I could really do with that!” However, the real impact of having a good memory is rarely thought about.
So what if we were to be more specific? What if someone said you could learn a new way of thinking that would deliver:
- Confidence in your ability to remember anything
- Focus to overcome mind wandering and procrastination
- Skills to save time, filter and remember what was important
- Talents to help you step up in your career
- Beliefs to start your own business
- Potential to grow your current business
- Freedom to do what you love and become an expert in your field
If someone said that you could achieve all of this, how would you respond? What different choices would you make going forward? What impact would it have in your life? What would be the best part of having a set of strategies that allowed you to do each one of these things?
I’ve been lucky enough to work with people from all walks of life at different stages, from students to professionals or CEOs and even actors. The first coaching session is always the most interesting as people are buzzed up to start learning memory techniques and tips, however that is never where I start and here’s why… most people don’t know why they want to improve their memory AND they have beliefs that don’t support them. So we always start with the mindset and get absolute clarity on:
- How a better memory will change their life
- Uncovering hidden challenges and beliefs that could slow them down, hold them back or stop them in their tracks
- 5 to 10 options they are absolutely committed to trying in the next 7 days
There is a catch to all of this though; there are no quick fixes, magic pills or microchips (at least not yet) that instantly transform your ability to remember. It takes energy and commitment; this is where Tiny Habits® come in…
Tiny Habits® for Memory
When I first heard about Tiny Habits I got pretty psyched. My initial driver to try them out was to create some better health habits. Since starting Tiny Habits I’ve gone from an erratic (every now and then) 20 minute morning workout to a 2 hour ritual that gets my mind and body in peak state for the day.
During my first conversation with BJ Fogg, he suggested I could use this method with my clients, so I decided to give it a go and trained as a coach. Shortly after I began introducing Tiny Habits for Memory and Focus to my clients and they loved them. They found it a simple way to introduce new techniques into their lives and it also helped create momentum when they hit a learning curve.
It was as if by creating these Tiny Habits they were not only planting the seeds for each of the strategies I shared, these seeds were taking root so it was easier for them to grow the larger behaviors they could actually use in real life situations.
Here is a simple example of a Tiny Habits for Memory
After I wake up in the morning
I will memorize 3 items
Then you celebrate to help the habit take root
Here’s the key though, you don’t just memorize by picking 3 items and repeating them over and over again in your mind, you get creative! For example let’s imagine your 3 items are a chair, plant and mobile phone.
You might imagine:
You give a chair to a plant that needs to make an urgent phone call.
This is called a Chain Story and you can create something like this in about 10 seconds. The interesting thing is, it’s very hard to forget.
Let’s ramp it up, look at these 9 items and try to remember them:
I created this using Rory’s Story Cubes
Now Imagine this: you are playing with the abacus and a key falls out, you use it to get inside the plane, which is caught by a giant hand that gives you the padlock. You shrink and jump inside and fall all the way through to a tree, you fall asleep and are woken up by lightning. You see the masks!
By doing the Tiny Habit above (with just 3 items) you start conditioning your brain to use this strategy more automatically.
Once you master this technique, its application goes way further than just simple items; you can use it to remember key points in a presentation, facts from a meeting, details about people, conversations and combined with a few other strategies even whole books!
Tiny Habits® for Focus
An essential ingredient to having greater memory retention and recall is the skill to instantly be in the moment. As someone who was a professional actor for many years this was intrinsic in being able to learn large scripts, let go of anxiety and remain confident. A large part of what I share with people is this skill of really getting into that state of flow. Here’s a very simple Tiny Habit to set you on the right path. I call these primer questions:
Example of Tiny Habits for Focus
After I finish my breakfast
I will ask myself, “what is the one thing I will give my focus to today?”
The purpose of this primer question is to turn on your internal radar to pay attention to the thing that is most important for you ‘today’. It is all too easy to be distracted by technologies and other peoples agenda, so by explicitly asking yourself a question along these lines every morning can bring real focus to your day.
By creating Tiny Habits for each of the Memory and Focus strategies you can incorporate them into your life so much easier.
So we’ve talked about facilitating the right mindset and creating Tiny Habits that will build real momentum. There is a primary ingredient that we still need to achieve some of the outcomes we went through at the beginning of this post. You have already had a taster of this when memorizing those 9 items earlier; I call this Creative Memorization.
The idea behind Creative Memorization isn’t just about remembering. It is about experiencing a deep level of learning. To truly learn, you have to create; with creation and use comes understanding. You move from a place of knowing something intellectually to having something in your body – this is what creative memorization feels like.
Creative memorization is not a passive form of remembering but a way of thinking that is results-focused and draws on each of your memory types (episodic, semantic, procedural, emotional, priming, conditioned response), looking for creative ways to make anything more memorable so you can put it into practice.
Before you jump into the complex stuff, with any new skill you need to master the basics. Try this well known strategy called the Chain Method. Here’s an example I usually start with to get people going. There are 15 main items in this story. Read the story 2-3 times and each time imagine it more vividly in your mind than the time before…
Big Ben is wearing a fur coat and bouncing up and down on a springboard. He dives into a large pot of honey, and out of the honey comes a dinosaur wearing a red baseball cap and swinging a baseball bat. It starts smashing up a Ferrari with the baseball bat. Driving the Ferrari is Tom Cruise, who is smoking a huge cigar. Tom looks over to his right and stubs out the cigar on the head of a bald man. The bald man is eating a big sticky Mars bar, and wrapped around the Mars bar is a slimy snake, playing the drums and drinking a bottle of Budweiser.
Drop a comment below letting me know how well you got on!
Where to start?
Over the last 5 years I’ve written a number of books to help people build their skills in this area. For some people a book is enough and for others they are looking for something more, that could be some personal 1-1 coaching or online video training they can complete at their own pace to step up in their career, make the leap to start a business or just feel like they have the freedom to do the thing they love.
There’s a whole bunch of resources and courses you can find here. If you really want to take things to the next level then check out: Tiny Habits for Focus and Productivity
Feel free to ping your questions to me!
While Johnny Mnemonic is still science fiction, the potential of having an outstanding memory is absolutely a reality. All it takes is the right mindset, tiny habits, and some killer strategies.
Ready to celebrate your success? Get our killer list of 102 Ways to Celebrate here!
The Contributor: Mark Channon