Seven Tricks to Stop Forgetfulness

I used to be horrible at remembering things. Little details like tasks, appointments and ideas often slipped my mind. And I can remember joking that I could only remember two dates, my birthdate and Christmas. It took me a lot of work and research to find ways to overcome my forgetfulness.

My ability to remember things has improved greatly so that I’m able to deliver speeches without notes, store ideas for blog entries and almost never miss tasks or commitments. Through a lot of research and experiments, I’ve found some valuable tricks to stop forgetfulness. Here are a few of the best techniques I’ve found to improve your memory:

1) Capture

Dave Allen fans will be familiar with this one. The best way to remember things is to not use your brain. I carry around a small paper booklet where I can write down tasks, ideas and commitments to be sorted later. Writing things down is probably the best tip I can provide for people struggling to keep track of everything.

Despite what some GTD cultists might say, I don’t think that a capture device is enough. Maybe it is just me, but I’ve found many situations where you will need to use your brain and times when you will be without your notepad. Carrying around a book will definitely help, but these other tricks can be useful when it isn’t enough.

2) Link

A memory trick I learned over a year ago is the link technique. This works incredibly well whenever you need to remember a sequence of information. I’ve used this technique to memorize presentations I’ve had to give and as a backup if for some reason I can’t use my notepad.

The link technique works by associating two concepts together through a mental image. By linking together mental images you can store long sequences of information together flawlessly after just a minute or two of rehearsal. As a simplified example, let’s say you wanted to memorize this short grocery list:

  • Baked Beans
  • Milk
  • Squash
  • Toilet Paper

You would start by linking beans to milk. To do this you would visualize a completely exaggerated scene involving the two. A mental picture of a eating a giant bowl of baked beans with milk pouring in it would be an example. The image has to be incredibly unrealistic and exaggerated to stick in your memory. An image of a can of beans next to a carton of milk probably wouldn’t stick.

After you visualize that mental picture strongly for a few seconds, make another link. This time you would link milk and squash. You could imagine a scene where there is a field of squash vines growing, but instead of gourds, you only see large cartons of milk. Something that ridiculous will form a good link.

Keep going through the list until you have linked up all of the images. With practice you can do this in about 3-5 minutes even for a list as long as 20-30 items. After you have done this it should be easy to move from one link to the next. The beans/milk image will remind you of the milk/squash image.

This technique works great for presentations when you don’t want to use notes.

3) Peg

The link technique is fine for concepts, but what about remembering phone numbers or things out of sequence?

The peg technique is an advanced form of the link technique so that you don’t have to refer to items in order. The actual peg technique makes use of a phonetics system for the digits 0-9 so you can remember up to hundreds of numbers in sequence. I’m not interested in these party tricks, so I’ve come up with a simpler, more practical system that takes less time to learn.

With this system you can “peg” up to ten items to ten numbers in your head, or remember a string of digits. To do it, I just came up with rhyming mechanism to provide an image for each of the ten digits:

  • Zero – Hero
  • One – Gun
  • Two – Shoe
  • Three – Tree
  • Four – Door
  • Five – Hive
  • Six – Sticks
  • Seven – Heaven
  • Eight – Grate
  • Nine – Wine

Now in order to remember a phone number, you would just form links between each of the numbers in sequence. 791 might start with some cherubs carting huge bottles of wine in the clouds (heaven + wine) and then have an image of a bottle of Merlot shooting someone (wine + gun). Then when you get the images played back you can remember what they rhyme with to decode the number.

You can memorize items without using a list by linking up to ten ideas to each of the number concepts. This can be useful when you don’t need to remember things in a particular order and don’t want to forget one from a broken link.

4) Trigger

Another way to help boost your memory is to place strategic triggers when you need them. I find this useful if I need to remember something in an hour or two, but I’m worried I might not check my capture device by the time I need to remember.

If I’m doing laundry and want to remember to put in another load, I might put a laundry basket near my door to remind me to check. This works well when you don’t want to distracted with timers. I also use this method if I want to remember something when leaving the gym by placing something on or in my bag.

If you have Post-It notes, these can work great to trigger your memory specifically when you need it.

5) Names

The best advice I have for remembering names is to use them immediately after you hear them. If you are talking to someone new at a gathering and they introduce themselves, don’t just make a mental note of their name, use it. Verbalizing a name makes it far easier to remember later. I try to use a name at least once or twice in the first few minutes after hearing it to make it stick.

Another method I’ve found helpful in remembering names is to associate the name. Unless it is a particularly unusual name, you probably already know someone with the same name. Making a mental note that the new person you just met, Jonathan has the basically the same name as your friend, John, will make it easier to recall the name later.

6) Helpers

If you need to remember something, ask someone you are with to remind you. As in, “Can you remind me to buy the tickets before we leave the mall?” Relying on the other person isn’t why this usually works. Usually the other person will forget unless it is something important to them as well or they have an excellent memory.

Instead, I’ve found asking someone to remember something for you makes your memory stronger. I’m three or four times more likely to remember if I verbalize the need to someone I’m with. Something about requesting someone to remind you makes the memory stronger to avoid looking forgetful.

7) Organize

Absent-mindedness can make you forgetful, but usually most memory troubles are due to a lack of organization. Take the time to get a calendar, to-do list and filing system so you don’t have to burden your memory. I’ve been able to remember far more ever since I made organizing a habit.

Why These Work

Memory works by association. A trigger reminds you of something else. The link and peg techniques work well because you the associations are so exaggerated your brain deems them important. Your brain deems that a vivid image of a giraffe holding an umbrella while it rains frogs as more unique then just everyday images.

Other physical tricks automatically trigger your associations and bring up what you need to remember.

Here’s a question for you guys: what are your memory solutions? I’d love to hear what tips and tricks you use to remember those tricky things that often slip out of your mind.

If you liked this article, why not help give it a Digg or a tag?

Image courtesy of flickr

  • Will

    I have the same kind of broblemsproblems you used to incounter. I have it because I’m dyslexic, have you ever had a dyslexia test? Just out of interest?

  • Will

    that was a typo in the last comment, not dyslexia.

  • Georg Muntingh

    For long term memory storage I use the Leitner method, an algorithm that separates things that are easy to remember from things that are hard to remember, and makes you rehearse in increasing time intervals. A great free vocabulary trainer that implements the Leitner method is Granule. It helped me to learn 5000 Norwegian words by studying for three months one hour a day.

  • Ravi

    My memory trick is actually the one of not remembering!

    You see, I find that when I try to take in too much information, I end up remember very little. Multitasking, frequently switching from one task to another, trying to consumer more than your output….all of these things really hurt my ablity to remember anything.

    When I am more discerning about what I focus on…I can recall and memorize much better.

    That said, I do use mneumonics (pegs) quite a lot as well.

    Awesome post.

  • Scott Young


    I’ve never taken a test for dyslexia but I would doubt that I have it. I started reading at an early age, I can read fast (even before I started speed reading) and I’ve never had problems with spelling.


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  • Jeremy

    Great tips! Thanks 😉

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  • Surfer mom

    Great advice! I would like to contribute some of my own.
    Don’t try to remember everything. The memory gets blurry when I tried to squeeze every little details of my life. For household chores, I use technology at hand: Mobile grocery shopping list, mini-recorder. In a way, it is an echo to your memory trick no. 7
    For the telephone number, I usually make a tune with it. It is easy, and anyone who has little knowledge of music notation can do it. ex. 1 = Do, 2 = Re, etc…

  • Rod

    My favourite trick with phone numbers is to do math with the numbers. Can I see a pattern? Do certain number combos add to the next number? Again, it is not the actual result the you get it is just playing with the numbers that helps.


  • listr


    there is this page i found which tracks all the top blogs about personal development in just a single page
    you are on it too

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  • Lana

    This seems really strange to me, my problem of forgetfulness. While I don’t have any advice for remembering things I think you’ll find this interesting. I have a terrible memory. Many people close to me complain heavily and many suggest that I smoke too much pot. (I look like the type but do not ever smoke it. I’ve tried it and I hate it)
    I am a waitress and am incredibly good at it. I can serve 12 tables on a busy friday night, which is seating for about 35 people, about the largest section you’ll ever find 1 server working alone, and not miss a single beat, but in every day life I have a terrible forgetfulness problem…bad enough that I am thinking that it may be more serious than i ever thought.
    I don’t know, maybe only someone in the food industry would understand the gravity of what i’m saying.

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comment, Lana. Good luck.

  • ben


    I believe your 7 points are very helpfull for short term, but have no effect at all at the long term, because these tricks take away the effort of your memory and move them elsewhere. Both my short- as long-term memory aren’t superb, so i’m glad for reading your oppinion, but do you also have tricks for training the long term memory ?

    I also got a reaction for Lana:

    I think at work you are concentrating very deeply, which – in your case – makes your short-term memory very effective. Is your forgetfulness problem maybe caused because you’re a daydreamer ?

    Thx in advance

  • Scott Young


    The human brain has three forms of memory – long term, short term and sensory. Sensory memory is not worth mentioning and short term memory has a storage capacity of about 5-9 items at a time. As for remembering what you ate for breakfast or what you ate three years ago it’s all long-term memory. Same neural system, just a different time frame. Technically all these points address long-term memory. Articles for short-term memory would be like, how to remember a string of fifteen numbers to recall thirty seconds later.

    If your looking for solutions that don’t use tricks, I don’t think they will be as effective. But eating a proper diet, exercise and regularly exercising your mind are a good start. Sleep is said to have an impact on memory formation, so don’t cut down your z’s.

  • hashim

    Actually forget is useful too though maybe people don’t realize it.
    Example if you are able to remember things from childhood period till now(every second of it) maybe our brain gonna explode.

  • McVinnie

    Hey Scott.

    I’m also having trouble. I kept on forgetting what I was about to say to my friends. Maybe at some other times, I have the chance to do so. But then the same thing happens when I tried. I’m not so sure if these seven tips could possibly help me. Or maybe should I note down the things that I tried to say to my friends? Thanks.

    – McVinnie.

  • Martin

    I suffer from a mild OCD regarding locking doors in my house, after we were robbed, whilst asleep when I was 5. I had to constantly get up in the night just to check that the doors / windows were locked. My doctor recommended reinforcing the act of locking the windows, by making a funny noise when doing so, maybe a ‘moo’ or a ‘cluck cluck’ or a ‘meow’, it has really helped me get over this OCD as I remember each and every door is locked as I make a different noise in my head for each one. Sounds simple, but it works.

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  • prashant

    i am very much forgetfull .That has affected my daily life very that my confidence has lost.I always forget my keys.please help.

  • Ven

    i’ve got forgetful problem too, sometimes in the middle of a conversation, i forget what is the topic that i’m talking about..
    i can’t continue speaking, because i’m completely at loss about what i try to say or describe before…
    and it happened pretty often too…
    what can i do to fix it?

  • Jesse

    My problem is that I not only have a terrible memory, but am also unobservant. This gets me in trouble a lot. I can leave triggers all over the house and never notice them, so that’s out. I also forget to use the tricks for improving my memory; forgetting to use/check my capture device, forgetting to practice using memory tricks, and forgetting what the memory tricks were. It seems that no matter what I try, nothing works, as I forget to use what I’ve learned. Any tips on this? It’s starting to impact my relationship, and has cost me a lot job and career wise.

  • dammy

    I have the same problem as jesse and it has really gotten me in trouble a lot of times and its also affecting my education. I really need help. Right now, I can’t remember the tricks I jst read here. I’m jst 17!

  • Adam

    Great post :) Sounds like I’m in a similar boat with everyone. I’ve been doing a lot of these, but sometimes you just get those days where you break the habit(s) and start forgetting things. The movie Memento touches on some of these too (and is an awesome piece of cinema).

    I use the triggers a lot too. When at my friends’ apartment, I will leave my shoe propped up against the door (strange..) to remind me to grab something (wallet, pocket Bible, left-over food, etc…). It works great and my friends end up helping me remember things because they find humor in the strangeness of the habit. Whatever, it helps :)

  • http://n/a ryan rolluqui

    my problem is i keep forgetting things where i placed them.. and also when i have to get something, then ill go to that place or storage,if im already there, i forget what im supposed to get or to do…if im doing fdlashback analysis on the problem(e.g. where i placed thaa thing),i get stressed a lot.what seems to be my problem and a solution?

  • Allen

    hello everyone, can anyone suggest something else as i tend to forget things which i have studied last night and the next morning i am blank

  • Guadalupe Hinojosa

    Hello, I am 30 yrs old and feel at times as if I have alzheimers.. I am a competant individual who somehow lacks memory storage. Once I understand something it sticks and I become incredibly good. For some reason physical sequence works best for me. Whether its a minor medical technique or a basic visual string of events, those are what works best for me.. I do not yet understand as to why but a little more work and I will better understand my mental ailments.. good luck to everyone here my only suggestion is since you know yourself better than anyone conduct the research as we are all on this site now.

  • Guadalupe Hinojosa

    Lol, it was not insulting I am doing research due to my extreme form of forgetfullness.. this is no time for being overtly sensitive for stating facts.

  • hans mason

    Hi scott…I am 26 yrs old and I have a memory to say like its only for the moment. It stays perfectly for like a few hours before it disintegrates and I am left with but refer the information once again…can your techniques u outlined help my condition?

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  • Darren

    There is definitely one missing here. Getting in to a routine of asking yourself the question “is there something I need to remember today?” is probably the most important habit I have gotten in to. I am certainly still not perfect but when combined with diary making, and note taking it really works. My major problem is that I am just too laid back to worry about remembering things. People who are good at organising in my experience are people who are natural worriers. I can go for days without worrying about my doctors appointment, to the point where the doctors appointment was 10 days ago – not that I actually can’t remember the date of the appointment. It is a good idea to chose a point in your house (like your front door) and whenever you go past that point you should stop and think “do I have my keys, wallet, phone, and do I need to do anything important today”. Really stop and have a good think. Check your diary at that time. If you do it in the morning then you won’t forget anything during that day. Repeat the process at Lunch time!! Once you are in the habit you will find that it is impossible to stop which is what you want. These types of habits are learned from our parents. My mother was absolutely terrible at remembering things purely for the reason that she had no techniques – not because of any brain dysfunction.

  • Darren

    Ha, after writing the above comment, I went out without my keys and locked myself out. Not quite there yet then. :(

  • E M Harris

    In response to Lana: I have the exact same problem. I worked in the food service industry in multiple capacities over the years and I never messed up there but now in my day to day life I can’t remember anything. I think that that environment provides so much stimulation and non-stop action that it is just easier to stay engaged. That’s my current theory anyway.

    To the person that said to put phone numbers to a tune. I tried it and it worked like a charm.

  • Emmanuel Seworh

    whenever i feel like i’m gonna forget something, i go like, ”hey, i know u’re gonna forget this stuff ” and then i allow another ‘me’ to challenge those words and say ”surely not!! I’m gonna remember every bit of that stuff!”. In my quest to prove those words wrong, i find it hard to forget the thing..after i’ve done the stuff, i feel victorious and go like ”who’s the man?!”. Try it. It helps a lot…or whatsapp me on +233574200952

  • smangelr

    Hi.i have a serious problem also which i think it need a seriouse attention.iam 40 of age.iam currently i try so hard when i have to prepare for my exams to study enough.but only to find that when i have to write down all what i have learn most of dissapears,very devastating.please help!

  • ankita

    see i m 17 year girl n i have a good record in terms of brain .. till i was 16 i had a excellent IQ n a nice memory all used to appreciate me for that but …… now a really mad i forget almost everything
    since starting of year some problems were at my home and i went to a great emotional trauma….. before some months my father and mom got separated and from that time although being such small have to do all work what my parents should do for home,myself n my brother……… and being from such a typical society i have to face comments made by our society that my mom is cheap woman which she isn’t almost every week i get such beatings in home that i get much injured
    but then also ignoring these things i want to come back and complete my studies n get good grades
    how can i do so ???????

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  • Gediz Gürsu

    The best way to memorize things is to dissolve them in relationship with each other. If there is no relationship you let your mind dream on them to build a story using these items. A story has living things, gadgets, places , timeline , personalities. Its a very strong encapsulation. The techniques you mention are weak because they are unnatural. If you cannot dream on items. It means you are mind-stuck ! usually to a repressed emotion – memory or fantasy. Same root cause…

  • ope

    for Allen. whenever u study at night before you go to bed place the book on your chest.and make sure the book stays on your chest or beside.
    then you are rest assured that the first thing you remember, that is if you read at all is what you reade last night
    please don’t dispise word

  • ope

    lastl read to understand

  • ope

    ryan your problem is you dont concentrate your mind where you keep things ok
    be determine make up your mind that you will never again forget where you keep your things,never again will it happen to you again.

    New problems are face by new people facing it.

  • Destiny

    Hi i got a problem when my brother says mean stuff to me amd i tell my parents they say what did he say and i can never rember and when im talking to people i say something but i cant rember once i say it help me. people havent been on for a month

  • Shamin Khanna

    Thanks for sharing these tips. Now Memory improvement courses are also playing an amazing role to increase memory power. Now students can remember every concepts which is related to their study. They can remember phone number, name etc. Midbrain activation academy in India offering Memory Enhancement courses, brain exercise, brain training etc.

  • Juvie

    Being forgetful is one of my big problem now when it comes to my job.I am a 33 years old and my job as a domestic helper really needs me to have a good memory.I hope your article will help me improve myself to lessen my being forgetfulness.Thank you scotth!

  • Sanan Zahid

    Wat about studies… I have friends who just need to read something once and they r good to go….. I want to be like that too. It wud save a lot of time.