11 Ways to Make Your Brain Stronger

Our brains can be exercised and can improve through the right methods. We can change how we think, and we can improve our capacity to remember.  And there are definite techniques that can help. There are secrets you can learn that really do work (and I am not selling anything!).

Are you skeptical? Don’t believe me? Well, you may not be alone in your skepticism, but new tools, old tools and new studies all point to one wonderful reality: We can train our brain. We can work it out as in the fitness center, and come away with more strength.

I want to list for you tools and methods that I have used and trust. Think of this as a tool-box for your brain. Each item is designed to help your brain grow, remember or learn.

1.) Software that learns your particular brain functioning and patterns of learning. Wired Magazine — a technology magazine that has mainstream appeal — recently published an article on Super Memo. I paid the $45 and got to work using it to master Greek Phrases. Now Hebrew. I enter in my Hebrew grammar, and the software is learning how I learn. Based on that, quizzes me with information based on its understanding of how I retain data. I know this sounds pseudo-scientific, but I am pleased with the results. Scratch that, I am extremely delighted with the results!

2.) The easiest of the tools is Scott Hagwood’s book on Memory Power. Get this: I learned how to memorize a shuffled deck of 52 cards. Yes, I shuffled the deck, then took around 20 minutes and memorized it in the shuffled order. I successfully used Roman-Room methods and other techniques he explains. All of us have brains built to do this. He asks and answers: how can we best internalize and use information, and how can we map new data to how our brain stores information? Scott unravels part of the problem and presents us with proven results. Please, don’t assume you can’t do this. You CAN! Scott will step you through it.

3.) Drawing your data with memory maps. This technique was taught to me by Don Whitney — a great professor of some renown. I was able use this technique to record lectures and memorize them in real-time. After a lecture, I had actually memorized an outline and major arguments in order of their presentation. It requires concentration to generate a memory map in real time, so first learn to do it with books and articles.

4.) Minimally, your brain needs the survival-kit tool of memory association. When I was in college, I had a friend show me how to associate the numbers 1 through 20 with objects. This has served me well for many years. In a pinch, when I need to memorize small lists, I use these twenty objects and make the real items interact with the pictures I have stored for each number. I even use this to memorize pages in magazines (a great party trick) by mapping images on the magazine page to the corresponding number-picture pairs I have stored. As a more advanced technique, I once extended my 20 linear elements by constructing a mental matrix that was 20 x 20 (thus creating 400 memory locations for mental access).

5.) The always handy Link System. I associate items to be memorized with exaggerated pictures that I construct in my imagination, and then I connect a list of these items by connecting their corresponding pictures — I also imagine a narrative along the way. I memorized an outline of all three of the New Testament Gospels using this technique (combined with #4 above). I did this back in the 1990s, and to this day, I have a lot of Matthew, Mark and John in my head such that when a verse is mentioned, I can usually figure out which chapter it is in one of the gospels.

6.) Map numbers to letters. When I need to memorize numbers, I have a system for turning each numerical value into a corresponding letter — texting on cell phones may come to mind. Here is how it works: First, I convert the numbers I need to learn to letters. Next, I insert vowels between letters and make words, or I use the converted letter as the first letter of a word. That’s it. I remember phrases not numbers. To recall the number, I reverse the process. This works when I need to memorize phone numbers — I don’t use this technique near so often. I found it less useful then the other techniques I talk about in this post.

7.) Coffee. In the January 2002 issue of Psychological Science by the American Psychological Society researches suggested that caffeine may help boost memory.

For most older adults, memory performance depends on the time of day, with performance being optimal early in the morning and declining during the late afternoon hours. In the present study, we asked whether this decline could be ameliorated by a simple stimulant, caffeine. Adults over the age of 65 who considered themselves “morning types” were tested twice over an interval of 5 to 11 days, once in the morning and once in the late afternoon. Participants ingested either coffee with caffeine or decaffeinated coffee at both sessions. Participants who ingested decaffeinated coffee showed a significant decline in memory performance from morning to afternoon. In contrast, those who ingested caffeine showed no decline in performance from morning to afternoon. The results suggest that time-of-day effects may be mediated by nonspecific changes in level of arousal.

Scientific American published a similar article in 2003 on the Ginkgo supplement. I don’t know how useful these studies are for the subject of memorization; I direct you to them to suggest possibilities.

8.) Memorize Names by Association. Associate any new name you hear with a character you know already (with the same name). When you hear a new name, you must say it back RIGHT AWAY or you will likely forget it. We have to concentrate on new names. I once memorized 20 names in a group when I was introduced to each person in the group (they went in a circle and told about themselves). In those introductions, I was trying hard to quickly associate something with each person. It was work, but when they were done I was able to talk to each one and name them by name. And more than a few people came to me after the meeting and thanked me for remembering their name. We work hard at this to honor people. But it is work. It means that when you are first meeting people, you have to think of them first.

9.) Do the obvious mind-exercises (old-fashioned hard work items):

  • Read factual information and work at remembering it. That is, read as much as you can.
  • Work at speed reading and making yourself read faster. Need help? Check out these instruction to improve by 5% in 30 minutes (don’t pay attention to his promises of 300% improvement, but any improvement is worthwhile!). Next, download this PDF document and read it to learn how to digest whole books more quickly.
  • Play mind-based games. For example, if you play enough chess, you find that you can memorize games so that you can replay them after the game is over. No tricks, just concentrate and feel the importance of the game. When you replay the game, you will recall the emotion or struggle you were having at each move. If each move matters, it will impress itself upon your memory. That is, work at concentrating.

10. Build your vocabulary with this amazing series of books. Each new word is presented as a cartoon picture. The word “lassitude” has a picture of a “lazy dude” in a row boat listless while others work. Turning one word into a picture is work, and this book series has done the hard part for you. Consider using it. Also consider rotating your email password with different words from books of this sort.

Force yourself to learn new words (and spell them correctly), but use cartoon drawing techniques.
Along the same line, subscribe to Word of the Day or even Theological Word of the Day (if you want to build your theological brain).

11. Most of the above techniques are applied to Hebrew in this book

Crazy Herb’s Hebrew Words is an e-book available on the Internet. Last I checked, it was around $20. The student is given tools to master basic Hebrew vocabulary and grammar.

Using method #4 above (where a pre-memorized numbered list is associated with pictures), the reader is shown how to easily memorize the months of the Jewish calendar. Using #10 (cartoon word-pictures), scores of vocabulary words are presented. The names of the books of the Bible in Hebrew are also presented. A great resource!

I hope I have shown you some accessible and useful ways to make your brain stronger. You can do it.

Steve Rives
Louisburg, Kansas

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