4 Ways to Improve Your Memory According to St. Thomas

By pintswaquinas July 20, 2022

Are you always forgetting where you placed your keys, when your next meeting is, even (on occasion) your kids’ names?

Many of us suffer from a bad memory. And it seems to be getting worse. (Remember back in the day when we memorized dozens of phone numbers? Yeah, those days are long gone.)

The good news is that there are techniques you can practice right now to boost your memory and construct an amazing mind palace!

They’re not new, but go back hundreds of years. St. Thomas Aquinas identified and used four of these ancient practices. Given how brilliant the man was, they must have worked.

Why not give these four memory techniques a try yourself?

1. Form Images in Your Mind
This applies even to memorizing spiritual things. All of our knowledge originates in sense knowledge, even our knowledge of spiritual things. As creatures with both a physical body and a spiritual soul, we need to use images to strengthen our memory.

St. Thomas suggests making these memories strange, or even funny (in a holy way, of course), because the startling strangeness further impresses the concept into your mind.

2. Arrange Your Memories Into a Particular Order
That way one memory easily leads to another. Choose your own fun way to arrange the memories. For example, you can picture your mind as a house or even a palace.

A house comes with many parts, such as a front door, kitchen sink, patio, etc. Use these parts of the house and place your strange images on top of them. Once you associate a memory with the front door, you’ll more easily recall what’s associated with the front door mat.

Again, use an ordering mechanism that works for you, whether it’s a garden, city, or castle… the possibilities are endless!

3. Learn to Focus Your Mind
St. Thomas emphasizes the need to concentrate on what we’re trying to memorize. Plenty of tests confirm this and demonstrate that many people who have memory problems suddenly improve when they actually focus on what they’re learning.

Of course, there are many distractions in the modern world: smartphones, social media, limitless streaming services, etc. While St. Thomas didn’t know about the technologies to come, he’d probably tell you to silence that phone and close those internet tabs while you’re memorizing! If possible, find a quiet setting to concentrate better, or turn on some appropriate background music.

4. Repeat, Repeat, REPEAT
Unless you have a photographic memory, you’ll rarely understand a concept fully on first hearing or reading. You have to drill yourself.

How does this help? St. Thomas points out that multiple causes fortify effects. Every time you repeat an action, you’re setting up a cause (the act of memorization) to produce an effect (memory).

There’s a parallel to athletes’ physical training. Batters can’t just pick up a bat any old day and give a perfect swing. They have to practice by repeating the action of swinging over and over again.

Repetitive learning may be countercultural in our age of instant gratification, but it’s a discipline that will pay off many times in your life. If you find it difficult to go over things in your head while sitting, try it on a solitary walk or hike. There’s something about thinking while walking that gets our minds churning.

These four techniques will help your memory improve by leaps and bounds. But you have to put in the effort! So turn off those phone notifications, find a quiet location and start practicing now.

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