Scott Hagwood had an average memory growing up. Then, at age 36, the chemical engineer learned that he had cancer and that the radiation treatments he needed often cause forgetful.

Determined to ward off memory loss, Hagwood performed mental exercises for several hours a day. He would do such things as remember the exact order of cards in a shuffled deck and all the names of the doctors and nurses on his hospital floor.

Hagwood became so proficient that he entered the US National Memory Championships in 2001 and won. He is now one of 50 Grand Masters of Memory in the world. Here are his solutions to common memory problems...

Problem: You call directory assistance for a phone number, but you don't have a pen to write it down.

Solution: After you hang up, repeat the number out loud. There's something about hearing yourself say what you want to remember that resonates in the brain and enhances recall.

Speak slowly. The faster you go, the less you remember. It's much more effective to say the phone number once or twice in a deliberate rhythm than to repeat it over and over in a hurried manner.

Problem: You can't remember the name of a coworker's spouse even though it is on the tip of your tongue.

Solution: Your forgetfulness is caused by stress. The more you try to recall something, the more frustrated and agitated you will get. First, take a few deep breaths. Then jog your memory by sorting through related information in your head. Visualize the coworker's name, the last time you saw him with his wife, their car, their home, etc.

If, after a minute, this doesn't work, distract and calm yourself by thinking about another topic. For instance, I like golf, so I'll focus on my favorite course-the sand traps, the greens. While I'm doing this, the information I need often bubbles up in my mind.

Problem: You spend hours memorizing a presentation or studying for a test, then you can't remember key information the next day.

Solution: Last-minute memorizing isn't effective. You need to give your brain time to digest information. Don't spend more than 50 minutes al a time trying to learn anything. Take a 10-minute break and then review your notes.

I practice the "Rule of 1s"-I review material after one hour, one day, one week, one month, etc., to log it into my long-term memory.

Problem: You need to remember a specific errand to do later in the day.

Scientists refer to this as "prospective memory" because you are trying to recall a specific time in the future, not in the past. Even people who have excellent memories find this difficult without a small, external reminder.

Solution: If I need to remember that I have clothes in the dryer i'll leave the light on in the laundry room. If I have to return books to the library, I'll leave my library card sticking out of my wallet or my books on the front seat of the car.

Problem: You misplaced your keys or the TV remote.

Solution: You sometimes can jog your memory by recalling where you last saw the missing object and retracing your steps-but an object is usually misplaced because you weren't paying attention, so you are unlikely to recall where you left it. create a forget-me-not spot-for example, a hook for your keys or on top of the TV for the remote-and get in the habit of using that spot.

Problem: You forget a particular set of numbers, such as your bank ATM code.

Solution: Your brain isn't built to remember abstract information such as numbers or names. What it remembers best are vivid images. The more you can associate information with pictures in your mind that are meaningful to you, the more powerful your memory.

Example: If you're trying to remember your bank code-6052-associate each two-digit sequence with a person, place or action. I might connect "60" with Babe Ruth hitting 60 home runs in a single season. ..and "52" with the pop group, the B-52s, singing their hit song, "Love Shack." So my ATM code is an unforgettable visual image-Babe Ruth trotting around the bases as the B-52s sing.

Problem: You're at a business convention and want to remember the names of a dozen people you have met.

Solution: I use a powerful technique called the "Roman Room Method." You associate bits of information with images in your house. So if I'm trying to remember the names of a dozen acquaintances, I might visualize my office, going around the room, assigning each name to an easily retrievable mental hook.

Example: Let's say I want to remember a woman whose last name is Penny. My hook for her might be the closet door in my office and her emerging from the closet. This often is enough to trigger the name. If I find that association is not strong enough, I add one element to the mental picture. It may be a particular characteristic-her hair color nose, the way she gestures. In this case, I see her coming out of the closet with her pockets overflowing with pennies. I might "hook" another person to my computer, another to the bookcase, a third to a painting.

You can link different rooms with different categories of information. For instance, I might use triggers in my office to remember business contacts and triggers in the kids' playroom to remember people with whom I discuss parenting.

Helpful: Once you use a particular room, don't use it again for a few days or weeks. Otherwise, previous associations can interfere with new ones.

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