Brain Games: The Truth You Need To Know For Memory Improvement

Image expressing a person's head loaded with brain games that are flooding his ability to focus, concentrate and rememberBefore you dump another moment of your life into searching for brain games that improve your memory, please realize one thing:


Your Brain Exercises Need To Be About Something …


Here’s the deal:

A lot of memory games and other brain-enhancing apps try to help improve your memory by giving you abstract or arbitrary memory tasks.

For example, you might be asked to remember the locations of a detective’s cap, magnifying glass and a detection kit behind a set of tiles.

The Sherlock Holmes theme is certainly clever, but exactly what kind of memory skills does this exercise train? The answer is easy:

General memory skills.

That’s it and nothing more. Or …

… maybe even less.

After all, general brain games help you get good at remembering the location of imaginary objects hidden behind squares on a tiny computer screen. And you have to ask yourself …


Does That Sound Like A Useful Skill To You?

Image of young child dressed as Sherlock Holmes to express the problem with using brain games

Is there anything wrong with this kind general of brain exercise?

Not necessarily. This Scientific American article finds no harm in playing them (few demonstrable benefits either).

But if you want to get better at remembering the information that matters …


Play Games With Information That Matters!


Seriously. If you want to harness the power of neuroplasticity, give your neurons toys that are congruent with your end goal.

Yes, a basketball player completes some training drills that don’t involve a basketball for general fitness.

But when it comes to developing skills and having the REAL fun basketball offers as a game, you need the ball itself in your hands. You need to practice navigating it around the court and sinking it through the hoop.


The Benefits Of Brain Games Do Not Last


First off, have you looked into any of the studies to which many of these software companies refer? Chances are you won’t even find any because they often don’t exist.  This was the finding of one major FTC case that led to a $2 million lawsuit again sellers of a popular brain training program.


No one is saying that these games don’t have some effect.

But exactly how they provide measurable benefits is far from clear. Nor can it be clear. The skills one develops in the games, apart from concentration, rarely, if ever, appear in real life.

This lack of necessity for the “skills” supposedly developed by brain games again brings us to one important fact. To get long lasting effects, we need more than games. We need to link the brain games we play with the information we want to get better at handling.


Which Of These Information Types
Do You Tend To Forget Most?


  • Foreign language vocabulary
  • Names and faces
  • Facts
  • Numbers
  • Equations
  • Lyrics
  • Dates
  • Recipes

If you want to get good in any of these areas, the best thing is to play brain games that involve these kinds of information. That way, you associate the information with fun while you get better at learning, memorizing and using it in practical situations.

If you’re finding you still struggle, please consider understanding the most important difference between memory loss and forgetfulness.

Plus, you’ll get long-lasting effects because the more you know about a particular topic, the more you can know.

For example, if you’re studying history, knowing that the important memory artist Giordano Bruno died in 1600 creates a hook upon which you can hang other pieces of information.

Would you like to know that Hamlet was (probably) written or being in written in 1600?

No problem. Just imagine Kenneth Branaugh or another actor you associate with the role of Hamlet strangling the Bruno statue in Rome.

Would you like to know that the Bruno statue in Rome is specifically located at Campo de’ Fiori?

Again, no problem:

Just add an image like a Ferrari digging ore from beneath the statue using a camping tent.

Giordano Bruno Mnemonist and Memory Palace Hero With Anthony Metivier

In this fascinating brain game, we’re compounding information by linking one thing with another. You can make a tower of knowledge using just that one location in Rome. There’s so much more you can add because knowing one thing enables you to know yet another.


Here’s How To Make Your Own Brain Games


I get it:

You look to software and apps so you can instantly download games to your device. You want to immediately start enjoying the benefits of memory improvement right away. You’re probably also looking to improve focus and concentration too.

But here’s the thing:

You’re just creating digital amnesia.


If the brain games on the market only improve your memory on a general level (if at all), then you’re only going to get general results.

And if the game doesn’t involve information that’s even remotely interesting to you, finding hats and magnifying glasses behind rotating tiles is going to get boring fast.

To create your own games, ones that will make an impact on specific areas where you’re weak, you may have to create your own.

Let’s say you’re learning a language and keep forgetting words and phrases. To make a game that will help you improve, you need only a goal, some rules and an antagonistic force.

Good News: The Enemy In Your Brain Games Comes Built In


Time. Everybody has too little, so when time deadlines appear in games, it’s a metaphor for real life.

But in this case, the real antagonist is forgetfulness. And that’s the beast we’re going to beat.

Here’s a game you can try. All it requires is one Memory Palace. If you’d like to learn how to make and use one, there are a number of full memory improvement training options in the Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass.

Using a Memory Palace, take 5-10 words you want to memorize.

Put on a timer and start memorizing using the tools of associative-imagery. Again, you can register for my The MMM Memory Improvement Kit if you don’t know how to create associative-imagery.

Some of the basics were demonstrated in the example with Hamlet and Bruno given above.

Very briefly, using Magnetic Imagery is part of the art of memory that involves taking something you don’t know and attaching it to something you do.

For example, if you want to memorize German vocabulary like “abartig,” you could see an image of Abraham Lincoln tossing a piece of art like the Mona Lisa into the washing machine where Tigger is doing something … abnormal. (It’s up to you what that weird thing is!)


Already Sounds Fun, Doesn’t It?


Associating the “Ab” in Abraham lets you remember the beginning of this word and the painting reminds you of “art” and the “Tig” in “Tigger” helps you recall the end of the word.

Ab + art + Tig = Abartig.

Mnemonic examples of memorizing the German word Abartig with the Magnetic Memory Method

Remember, Tigger is doing something abnormal in the washing machine and that’s why you know when you put the pieces of the puzzle together and say “abartig,” the word means “abnormal.”


Make Sure You Have The Right Tools


To play this brain game, have your Memory Journal open so you can see your Memory Palace as you play and write out the associative-imagery you create.

Just like you did with the first word, go as fast as you can. Create one tight and vibrant image for each word to leave at each station on your Memory Palace.

At this point, don’t worry about anything other than coming up with images for each of the words you’ve selected. You just want to see how long it takes you to create associative-imagery for 5-10 words. Once you have your baseline time established, you can start challenging yourself to break the record for new sets of words.


The Magic Happens During The Testing Round


Once you’ve made a pass over the information, make a two minute pause and then test how much you can remember.

Do this by going to each station in your Memory Palace and “decoding” the associative-imagery you’ve created and placed there.

Image of a young person illustrating how information is encoded and decoded using memory techniques

Don’t worry about total accuracy or stress yourself out. It’s just a game and you’re only competing with yourself. You’re going to get better quickly and soon be breaking your own records. All while increasing your episodic memory.

And because the information you’re using is drawn from something you want to learn, you reach goals in addition to memory improvement. And when you share the rules of this brain game with others, you become a better human too.


Play This Game With Any Information … 
So Long As It’s Info That Counts


I’ve given German vocabulary in this example, but you could use anything. Song lyrics present a different kind of challenge, for example, because they involve full phrases. Song lyrics in a foreign language offer even more of a stretch.

Either way, it feels so great when you walk away from playing games with your brain with the ability to create pleasure at any time by singing a song you’ve always wanted to learn.

You can play with information about geography, biology, literature, film studies and medical terminology. Or if you’ve always wanted to know the Kings of England and their historical dates, you can do that, along with the American Presidents and Canadian Prime Ministers.

Bottom line:

You can have fun learning, memorizing and recalling anything.


The Secret Sauce To Real Results
From Real Brain Games


As we’ve asked today, how does getting better at finding objects you’ve been shown behind tiles on a memory game help in real life?

Who knows? That’s hard to quantify.

But when you spend your time playing brain games with the information you need to succeed, everybody wins.

Here’s the real way to get massive results: Go for small and consistent improvements using information that matters. Make sure that you can measure what you’re doing so that you see the results in tangible ways.

To accomplish this, play your newly minted brain game on a schedule.

Believe it or not, it’s in human nature to establish daily routines and we respond well to doing the same things at the same time on a training schedule. Write down the nature of your game and the results using a dedicated Memory Journal. I recommend The Freedom Journal for language learners.

Involve your hands and colored pens and pencils to bring in more creative parts of your body and brain for best results. You might even get so much mental exercise you develop ambidextrousness.


How To Make Playing Mind-Nourishing Games A Priority


As I detailed in Mandarin Chinese Mnemonics And Morning Memory Secrets, the best way to get in regular learning and memory fitness is to spend time playing with information first thing before the computer goes on.

Seriously, why risk squeezing your memory improvement in when you can make it a cherished part of your day?


Works For Highly Committed Learners Too


Please don’t make the mistake that the game I’ve just shared with you is only for beginners or for those who struggle to fit regular learning and brain exercise into their schedules.

People already dedicated to using memory techniques benefit from playing self-made games for the mind too. Just take Magnetic Memory Method student Christian Fitzharris. On this episode of the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast he talks about how he created a whole new realm of fun by making his own personalized brain games to play.

In fact, this kind of activity can really help you avoid getting into learning ruts, so you can also think of them as a preemptive measure.


The Real Problem With Downloadable Brain Games


If you’re as excited as I am about getting real results from the time you spend training your brain, I invite you to make a public declaration below. Talk about the game you’re going to create for yourself and feel free to pop back often with updates on your results. I respond to every post.

Image of a woman expressing the importance of taking time to reflect in nature away from brain games

But after you commit with your comment below, turn the machine off for awhile. The real problem we face in today’s world is the encouragement to be wired all the time.

By taking a walk without your smartphone, you may already be giving your brain a massive advantage, even if you don’t play a memory game of the kind I’m suggesting.

Mental rest is just as important as mental training, so until we speak again, see if you can’t fit in less screen time, not more. You’ll feel Magnetic.

And if you have any questions about what puts the “Magnetic” in the mnemonic techniques taught here, here’s more about the Magnetic Memory Method.

Further Resources

I share an other brain game in this video “trailer” for the post you’ve just read:

Also check out:

3 Memory Games You Can Play With Your Childhood

3 Effective Brain Training Exercises For Mental Illness Sufferers

11 Empowering Things About Memory You Probably Do Not Know

4 Responses to " Brain Games: The Truth You Need To Know For Memory Improvement "

  1. Tom Allan says:

    To “play the game for what counts” is good advice that I will remember!

    Thanks for the insight,


  2. Jon-Kristian says:

    I believe training root function such as visual processing speed, n-back challenges and meditation do show positive results. There’s an app that targets root function over specific skills and this generalises across applications. What is clear in playing these games is that threshold training is important in order to stimulate the brain to change. I’ve also found Harry Kahne’s Multiple Mentality course (free online) to be beneficial since it appears to ramp up brain band width. It’s very tough though.

    So whilst I agree that games that focus on maths will not generalise, games that focus on spatial awareness, visual processing, facial recognition and sound recognition will. See the work of Dr Michael Merzenich. Many of the games on the market cite his studies yet don’t use the same training methodology to focus on root function.

    Very few skills improve function across domains. If you play chess, you get better at chess. I don’t believe there’s much non domain improvement and it doesn’t improve GF.

    Whilst I don’t believe mnemonics in of themselves have been shown to improve GF they certainly can improve the rate and speed at which we can remember data, which gives the appearance at least of greater intelligence.

    With respect to language learning specifically, it’s my understanding that once one non native language has been learned the brain adapts its algorithm to make subsequent language learning more efficient. Language learning is tough, which gives a dopamine spike, which is why people can become quite addicted to language learning. It’s also a useful skill to have.

    Thanks for this post. I found it interesting. I like your mnemonic and think history is particularly well suited to mnemonic devices. I generally find mnemonics make learning fun in any case.

    • Thanks for these great thoughts, Jon-Kristian!

      It’s interesting that you mention Harry Kahne. What I find fascinating is his first exercise, which requests that you write out the alphabet backwards fifty times.

      When I learned to do recite the alphabet backwards, it took precisely four minutes without writing down a single thing using keywords and a Memory Palace. I’ve never forgotten it and taught hundreds of people to do the same in similarly short periods of time.

      The “Alphabet Skipping” variations are a little bit more challenging and takes longer to learn, but great brain games to be sure. I’ll have to mention them on a follow up podcast.

      Thanks too for mentioning Michael Merzenich. I’m looking into his stuff now. Anything in particular you would suggest reading?

      About mnemonics improving general brain functions, I think this is a matter of how we test them. For example, if mnemonics led to a measurable boost in fluency, then that would potentially lead to more social interaction, which exercises more of the brain. To take another example, abilities in math could lead to an interest in and aptitude for physics, which could then lead to other brain enhancing activities. In this way, we can perhaps see mnemonics as a “gateway drug” to bigger and better things. And as I hope I’ve suggested in the article, it’s a positive addiction that feeds itself because the more you learn, the more you can learn because you have a larger pool of associations from which to draw.

      I’m glad you liked the post and mnemonics and I look forward to corresponding again soon! 🙂

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