Want to improve your memory? Use your imagination


By Mark Channon & Sarah McGee

In order for our bodies to remain healthy, we have to exercise; so why don't people apply the same criteria to the brain? In order to improve our memory, we have to train our brains but this doesn't have to be as strenuous and time-consuming as a work out at the gym. Psychologists and memory champions alike agree that the key to improving memory is visualisation and the more absurd the images we conjure, the better.

Be unusual

Mnemonics are memory techniques that make it easier to remember complicated information. The best mnemonics are often the most unusual ones, as the strange aspects of life tend to be more memorable than the mundane. Tunku Badli et al found that research participants remembered more information when it was humorous, so when you need to memorise some information conjure up a rhyme that will make you laugh at the absurdity of the picture in your brain.

Ayisha Qureshi et al conducted a study that found the method of loci to be an effective tool for retaining information. Those in the study who used the memory tool scored better on an assessment than those who didn't. Method of loci is a mnemonic with great potential to use the craziest parts of the imagination. To master it yourself, visualise a location you're familiar with (like your home) and place the information in your environment. For greatest recall, let your imagination run wild.


It helps to fully immerse yourself in your imagination in order to improve memory recall. Research from the University of Arizona has found that participants were better able to remember a word if they were asked to think about how well it described them. When visualising information, imagine yourself interacting with the object or place. Engage your senses to gather what it would feel, smell or taste like.

Not everyone is born with an excellent memory, but anyone can use their imagination to train their brain to recall more information. Recent research by Martin Dresler and Boris Konrad found that mnemonic brain training can be used by anyone to improve their memory, not just memory champions; all it takes is imagination and visualisation.

Mark's Takeaway

Thanks Sarah, great insights!

If imagination can have such a significant impact on memory, imagine what would happen if we made improving our imagination a daily habit?

Improving Visualisation and Imagination

Try this simple activity, it takes less than 3 minutes and is a great way of exercising your ability to visualise and cut loose with your imagination.

  • Choose any object: let's imagine it's a mobile phone
  • Close your eyes: take 10 seconds or so to describe the phone
  • Open your eyes: take another look and see if you can spot any more details
  • Close your eyes: again, describe what you remember
  • Open your eyes: choose a second object (let's imagine it's your laptop)
  • Engage your Imagination: imagine the mobile phone interacting with your laptop (go crazy!). Perhaps the phone now has arms, eyes and starts typing furiously on your laptop.
  • Close your eyes: describe this short story in detail, bring it to life in your mind. The more funny and bizzare the better.

This exercise is a great way to not only improve your ability to visualise but give your imagination a great workout. By seeing objects in your mind AND describing how they interact you are creating a memorable association that is hard to forget.

Why not turn this simple exercise into a daily habit using Tiny Habits®? If you're new to tiny habits then jump onto my free 5-day course.

The Tiny Habit Recipe for Imagination

With tiny habits, start by doing the smallest thing possible. Rather than trying this whole exercise every day (leading to a quick burn-out), to begin with just take the first step. In less than 5 days this habit will become automatic, only once this happens should you turn your attention to growing it. Here's an example:

After I... [Choose your Anchor, e.g. brush my teeth]
I will... pick an object, close my eyes and describe it
Celebrate [give yourself a big high five!]

Give it a try and let me know how you get on!


Useful links

Check out this great article by Katie Greene

>> Brain Games for the Elderly: Benefits & What to Play


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