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4 Tips for a Better Memory — and a Better Life

Joshua Foer's new book supplies memorable advice

3. Conquering the OK plateau
The "OK Plateau" is that place we all get to where we just stop getting better at something. Take typing, for example. You might type and type and type all day long, but once you reach a certain level, you just don’t get appreciably faster. That’s because it’s become automatic. You’ve moved it to the back of your mind’s filing cabinet.

If you want to become a faster typist, it’s possible, of course, but you’ve got to bring the task back under your conscious control. You’ve got to push yourself past your comfort zone.

In the same vein, when you're trying to improve your memory, it's also important not to get stuck. For example, if you go to a lot of parties, you may have set yourself the goal of remembering the names of three or four new people you meet. How about doubling that number at each party, or adding the names of their children, or where they were born? Maybe your goal can be to remember all this new information a week later.

This seems like simple advice, but you would be surprised how often people practice only what they are good at. Conquering the OK Plateau is how I improved my memory.

4. Pay attention

Once upon a time, people invested in their memories. They cultivated them. Today, of course, we’ve got digital cameras, and computers, and smartphones to hold our memories for us. We’ve outsourced our memories to digital devices, and the result is that we no longer trust our memories. We see every small forgotten thing as evidence that they're failing us.

We've forgotten how to remember, and just as importantly, we've forgotten how to pay attention.  So, instead of using your smartphone to jot down crucial notes, or googling an elusive fact, use every opportunity to practice your memory skills. Memory is a muscle, to be exercised and improved.

From the book Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. Reprinted by arrangement of Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2011 by Joshua Foer.

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