Alumna Dr Lynne Kelly AM is an academic and science writer. She is also known as The Memory Whisperer.
Dr Kelly conducted her PhD research at La Trobe University into systems of memorisation used by ancient Indigenous societies and cultures. She discovered these cultures encoded information about plants, animals and creation stories into the songlines – navigation and teaching tools that linked important places.
An Australian Senior Memory Champion, teacher, and author of The Memory Code and Memory Craft, Dr Kelly reveals to us three of the best memory techniques to use in our everyday lives.
1. Tell stories
Many cultures use storytelling as a method of remembering their vast encyclopedias of knowledge. Dr Kelly explains that we can adapt this for use in our day-to-day life, as well, by creating characters to tell our stories.
‘All indigenous stories use characters. They might be ancestors; they might be animal totems.’
Making up stories, Dr Kelly shares, that are preferably slightly vulgar and funny, will help you recall information that you’re trying to remember.
‘I use two bears for French vocabulary – a boy bear and a girl bear. When I want to remember if something in French is feminine or masculine, I associate one of the bears with it. When I get dressed in the morning, all the feminine items go with the girl bear, and the masculine items go with the boy bear.'
She goes on to explain that this method is particularly useful at remembering parts of language that are more complex.
'The bra must then go with the boy bear, right? Soutien-gorge is masculine. Now you're never going to forget now that bra is masculine in French.’
2. Sing and dance
We use singing to help young children learn the alphabet and basic information, but once we get older, we stop. Dr Kelly explains that music has been an important part of storing knowledge for thousands of years.
‘Indigenous cultures will sing all of their knowledge. Everything is stored in song and performance.’
Dr Kelly recommends singing the things you want to remember in meaningful ways rather than sitting and staring at a page.
‘If you want to remember things, act it out, do something silly. Sing it, dance it, anything.’
3. Write notes by hand
Handwritten notes are a powerful encryption tool in the science of memory, and in turn support the brain's capacity for retrieval of information.
For this reason, Dr Kelly’s final tip to improve your memory is to write notes by hand. Writing and drawing activates areas of the brain that typing doesn’t. She explains that typing notes can’t help you recall information because they will all look the same.
‘If you look at medieval manuscripts, they were written with doodles around the words and fancy lettering. Every page looked different and was therefore much more memorable.’
If you’re trying to remember these memory tips, consider making up a story about them, singing a song, and writing any notes down!
More about our expert:
Dr Lynne Kelly holds a PhD in Humanities and Social Sciences (2013) from La Trobe University.
Dr Kelly is the author of 19 books, all with a focus on science and rational thinking. She is an Adjunct Research Fellow at La Trobe University. In the 2022 Australia Day Honours, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for ‘significant achievement in science education through writing and research’.
Now, Dr Kelly is collaborating with international researchers to find out how her research shows that humans are genetically empowered to use music, art and our connection to place to grant people the abilities to adapt to every habitat on earth unlike any other species.