How to Improve Your Recall by Reconnecting Memories

How to Improve Recall

You have endless mental storage capacity. Reconnect facts that have gone astray so they’ll be available next time.

You know how you keep getting messages that your devices, your iPhones, your laptops, want to install updates? Well, from time to time the hard drive in your memory bank needs updating, too.

You forget the name of the grade school you attended for about six months when your family was living with Grandma. Fortunately, your brother remembered. It was Lowell School. You can thank him and let it go at that, or here is a better idea. Reclaim the memory. Place it back into your head. Update your mind. To improve your recall reconnect facts that have gone astray so they’ll be available next time.

Information Gone Missing

It’s on the tip of your tongue. You knew it a minute ago. Such frustrations aren’t partial to the aging brain. Everyone experiences “senior moments,” even teenagers. Think back to school days. It was time for the big test. You’d studied hard, felt ready, but no, you simply were unable to recall the name of the country, city, historical figure, scientific theory …  the answer to an important question. Ridiculous. You’d gone over the material just the night before. You turned in your paper and walked out the door. Ten seconds later, the “missing” answer gushed from your memory banks like water cascading down Niagara Falls.

How Your Memory Works

Memories are connected to one another. That is why hearing a song from the past can set off a train of recollections. You are transported to a particular location, perhaps where you first heard the tune. You recall a boyfriend or girlfriend—the two of you dancing as the song plays. Remember shopping at the record store. A favorite disc jockey. Your transistor radio. Suddenly you’re taking a nostalgic tour of your teen highlights. It’s like surfing the Internet without paying for Wi-Fi.

When a fact or thought gets planted into long term memory, it forms connections or links with older, established memory files. Most of these associations are sequential. Logical. Shoe-sock-foot chains of detail. Each bit of information has multiple storage locations. Your brain backs up everything. For example:

The new dog is named Winston. This fact is passed around in your mind. Think of memory as a room filled with file cabinets. Winston details have ended up in many folders. One contains everything you know about dogs. Another is exclusively about the dogs you’ve owned. There’s one about pet names. Also a file containing dog stories. Famous dogs (think Lassie Come Home.) Boy, your filing system is bulging.

Finding Missing Information

Having difficult recalling the name of someone you knew when you were a child? Make a list of the mental files where it might show up. Begin your search. Where did you first meet? Consider the places the two of you used to hang out, the things you used to do together. What was his house like? Recall his parents, his siblings. Your mutual friends. Zero in on consequential memories. A celebration, a disappointment, an argument involving the two of you. Exploring these recollections gives you an opportunity to find links to the name you are seeking. It’s like hearing a song that launched numerous recollections. One memory opens up the door to many others.

No immediate results? Sleep on it. You’ve stirred the memory pot. Overnight, the process might float the desired information into consciousness.

Detective Work

If details refuse to surface, they may be available from the more obvious sources—friends, family members, libraries, and of course, Google. Once hunted down, stick your findings back into your head. You have endless mental storage capacity. Whenever you come across “lost” data, memorize it anew, but this time, place the information into more accessible files.


Your conscious effort to implant a memory mimics the natural procedure. However, it does nature one better. There is nothing random about your effort. You decide where the data should reside. Intentional memorization enhances your ability to retrieve the material. Let’s go through the process.

An example: You forgot the name of a book. We’ll use Catcher In The Rye. Somehow, you forget the name of the book. Fortunately, your sister provides the missing title, and you want to make sure you’ll never forget it again. Here is what you do:

Building Stories

Rule: Create vignettes, mini-narratives that contain the fact for information you wish to plant in your head. It is easier to remember a story filled with visual images than one lone detail.

Imagine J.D. Salinger seated in a field of rye typing his manuscript. Visualize a catcher’s mitt on Holden Caulfield’s hand. He’s standing behind Salinger, looking over the author’s shoulder. You’re in this scene, attired in a catcher’s mask. Did you know the novel sold more than 65 million copies? You finish reading the copy you’ve been holding and toss the book out of the window into a field of rye filled with 65 million copies of Catcher In The Rye. By mistake, your flying tome hits the author in the head. You make eye contact with Holden and the two of you share a laugh. Make your stories interesting, preposterous, funny, exciting—memorable.

Next time you want to call up the name of Salinger’s book, tell yourself:

I was having difficulty remembering the title, phoned my sister, and she provided the missing information. I decided to reenter the name into my memory.

I saw myself wearing a catcher’s mask. Holden had the mitt. Salinger was out there in the field typing away. Field of what? Oh yeah, Rye. Catcher In The Rye. Envision the book flying through the air and bopping J.D. on the head.

Catcher In The Rye has been reentered into your mental filing cabinet. It has been imbedded in a set of episodic story elements, links, associations that will make it easy to recall the next time you’re interested in discussing literature.

Based in Seattle, Charles E. Kraus is a writer, entertainer and memory improvement teacher. His most recent book, You’ll Never Work Again In Teaneck, NJ (a memoir) is available in local libraries and on Amazon.

Read more on improving your memory:

Good Intentions, Better Memory—There are numerous easily mastered association tricks you can use to keep track of your daily schedule, your shopping list, the names of movies you want to see—of any information you want to access once it’s been placed in your memory. Learn more.

Forgetful Need Not Lead to Fretful— Age-related memory changes are common and expected, in the same way our physical abilities are expected to change as we get older. Most 80-year-olds can’t run as fast as someone in their 40s! Read more.

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