5 Memory Improvement Exercises That Don’t Require Another Annoying App

| Podcast

Image of man frustrated by apps that don't provide good memory exerciseIt’s annoying when the memory improvement exercises on your smartphone don’t help, isn’t it?

Your smartphone is supposed to be smart after all.

But instead, it’s packed full of junk you never use or apps you never get results from.

And if you’re like most people, you’ve downloaded a few brain trainers, some of which include memory improvement exercises.

Enter frustration when they don’t actually provide any results.

Don’t worry. I’ve been there. And the good news is …

Real Memory Improvement Exercises Make Everything Better

It’s true. When you engage in memory exercises that actually produce results, you will be able to remember better.

And it’s not just about improving your memory. It’s also about bringing a higher level of fitness to your mind.

Who am I to make these claims?

I’m not the one making them. Many scientific studies have shown that apps for exercising your memory either don’t work, or at best provide near-transfer results.

This Harvard study asks an even better question: If device-based brain games work… why aren’t there studies showing their results?

Dr. Christine Till has asked a similar questions and when I interviewed her about some of the claims made by the creators of memory exercise apps, her answer made sense. The studies that do exist show results that do not favor the technologies that have emerged so far.

Far from it.

Worse, companies have even been punished for some of the claims they make about the memory improvement an app can make possible.

Stop wasting your time on memory improvement apps.

Mind you …

I have discovered one that I think is worth your time and I might be talking about it more if I continue to experience benefits from it. I’m talking about using chatGPT to help with language learning. So far, I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised by how it helps.

But for now, I still claim that you never need memory improvement apps in order to enjoy substantial memory boosts. You just need to complete the best memory improvement exercises in the world.

Let’s dive in to my Top 5 faves.

1. The Gary Small Memory Improvement Exercise

It’s been awhile since I interviewed Dr. Gary Small, author of  the excellent book, 2 Weeks To A Younger Brain.

My favorite exercise from the book involves a simple exercise that will amaze you. You not only feel your memory improving over time, but you get a clarity boost too.

All you have to do is pay attention to people in the world.

Pick one of them.

Notice four details.

Then, later in the day, recall that person and the four details you noticed.

For example, the other day I chose a man I saw on the way to the gym. He wore a red scarf, black jacket, held his key in his hands and had scuffed brown shoes.

Don’t Try To Memorize!

This is important: I didn’t try to memorize these details.

Instead, I just noticed them and asked my brain to pay attention. This is Dr. Small’s recommendation in order for the passive memory exercise to take place.

So how are you supposed to recall the details?

You just do the best you can and it doesn’t matter if you’re accurate or not. It’s the testing of your memory that matters, a principle scientists call active recall.

That’s why on my way home from the gym and once again later in the day, I recalled the four details I noticed.

It’s such a simple exercise and more than enough to challenge memory in a positive way. Better than all the memory improvement vitamins in the world.

And it feels so good.

I’ve played a lot of memory improvement games and not a single one of them created nearly as much pleasure.

Best part:

You don’t have to stop with just one person. You can do this memory exercise all day long and really stretch yourself.

For example, when I got to the gym, I made it a point to notice another four things about the woman at the desk who took my card and gave me my wristband.

I noticed the grooming of her eyebrows and the colors of her sweater, jogging pants and shoes.

Paying attention to these details not only exercised my working memory. It also made me more present.

Something we all need to be practicing. We know that meditation is good for the brain, and this exercise, although not a form of meditation, relates to the practice because of how it keeps you aware of your surroundings. Instead of being lost in thought, you’re actively paying attention to the world and the things you encounter in it.

2. Memorize Information From A Book

But not just any information.

Information that matters. Information that enhances the experience or even helps you make the world a better place.

For example, some of us are sloppy readers. Because character names are repeated so often, we never bother to memorize them. That, or the authors focus our attention on the meaning of names in order to ensure that we instantly remember them.

But what if we made it our goal to actively practice our memory by making some memory improvement exercises from the characters?

For example, you can modify the Gary Small memory improvement game. Even if the author doesn’t provide visual details for you to practice remembering …

You Can Simply Make Them Up!

I do this all the time when reading. For example, the novel I’m reading now has a character named Stone Luckman. For obvious reasons, that name is instantly memorizable, especially since you can see the character getting stones thrown at him.

(Congrats to the novelist Matt Eaton of Blank for building an amazing mnemonic into this character’s name!)

But I add details. Like that he’s bald, has a scar on his cheek, wears a vest and knee-high military boots.

Disrespectful to the author?

Perhaps, but as Stephen King points out in On Writing, he tends to scrimp on physical details in his writing because he knows readers go ahead and paint their own portraits of the characters anyway.

The only question is …

Do Readers Remember Those Details?

Probably most don’t. But you most certainly can.

To let this exercise show you how to improve concentration and memory, give yourself a simple test with the next character you encounter in the novel you’re reading.

You are reading a novel, aren’t you? If not, no worries – the same exercise applies to non-fiction as well.

For example, I just finished reading No Limit: The Rise And Fall Of Bob Stupak And Las Vegas’ Stratosphere by John L. Smith. (Nothing like a book about buildings that can be used as Memory Palaces, right? 😉 )

In this case, I looked up pictures of the people mentioned in the book and commanded my mind to remember details about them. Then, I ask my mind later in the day to recall those details.

This is one of those memory improvement exercises that simply can’t be beat.

And You Can Do It Too!

You improve your imagination and knowledge of the world through reading and by adding one simple feature, improve your memory too.

Oh, and discipline helps too. Here’s how to get some:

If you want to take things to the next level, you can also check out How To Memorize A Textbook. Go ahead and download that episode of the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast and the infographic. I know you want to!

3. Create More Than One Memory Palace On A Single Day

If you’ve been following the Magnetic Memory Method for any length of time now, you now the phrase:

“One is the most dangerous number in memory improvement.”

People want just one book.

Just one memory technique.

Just one memory improvement guru.

Just one Memory Palace.

And no fantasies, like the belief that binaural beats can improve your memory.

Sure, some people can get away with that. Memory competition history holds some legendary tales about people who scanned through a single book and went on to win in a short period of time.

Anyhow, creating a Memory Palace is great brain exercise – better than any app can ever hope to offer.

But Those Cases Are Rare!

And the truth is that one is never enough, especially when it comes to the power and the glory of the Memory Palace.

If you have only created and used one Memory Palace, that’s like enjoying pizza at just one restaurant.

Sure, you’ve had pizza. But do you really know what pizza’s all about?

Didn’t think so.

The reality is that the full experience of pizza is always yet to come. You can always learn more about what defines a truly great pizza by eating another one.

(Pizza’s a really bad example, by the way, but like the Memory Palace, it has stronger ties to Ancient Greece. Even then, that’s still not the beginning of the story. Eat these foods that improve memory instead.)

Creating a Memory Palace the right way is really simple. Make sure you have the Magnetic Memory Method Worksheets and free video series so that you’re good to go.

And then make it one of your favorite memory improvement exercises to simply sit down and create at least one new Memory Palace each week. It’s easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy.

4. Use A Memory Palace Every Day

You knew this one was coming, right?

Well, the truth is that I’ve gotten a lot of people to make Memory Palaces. I’ve got folders on my computer full of pics and scans from people all around the world. Here are some Memory Palace examples to look at, including some of my own.

And making them is great memory exercise. It’s great memory activity for kids and one of the most powerful memory exercises for seniors.

But there’s a difference between creating a Memory Palace and using one.

And you can certainly benefit by creating Memory Palaces and not using them. I do this all the time.

But the real magic and the real way to blast far and beyond what the memory improvement apps can do for you is to actually use them.

What Are Memory Palaces Good For?

They’re good for encoding and decoding information you want to memorize. That’s a fancy way of saying that we use a Memory Palace to place information into long term memory so you can remember it any time you want.

Information like:

  • The vocabulary of any language
  • Professional Terminology From Any Field
  • Poetry, jokes, quotes, long speeches
  • Any string of numbers or equations
  • The most important information from textbooks
  • Names and faces
  • Concepts
  • Oaths
  • Computer commands
  • Streets on a map
  • Facts from history, geography, science and all disciplines
  • Important points from lectures
  • Things said during conversations
  • … and much, much more, all with near or total accuracy!

I suggest that you pick whichever of these categories interest you the most and get good at just that area. You can learn more on the Magnetic Memory Method Masterclass product page if this training might suit you the best.

Then add another.

Before you know it, you’ll have skills that enable you to use a Memory Palace to learn and remember anything you want!

The point is that we should always use memory improvement exercises that involve Memory Palaces to remember information that improves our lives.

Which leads to …

5. Remember And Recall Information
About The Ones You Love


You wanna know why families fall apart?

The following is a bit of speculation on my part, but I honestly think it’s true.

And I’ll bet a recent experience proves it.

Let me set the scene:

I got married recently. It was awesome. April and I went all over the map on our honeymoon.

And yes, I can tell you the name of the judge who married us.


How Memory Improvement Exercises
Can Create The True Ties That Bind

I don’t say that to brag, but I see stuff like that as a kind of cement that binds two people together.

And when April and I finally got our butts to Beijing for the family party …

I went out of my way to ask for and memorize the name of every single person I met.


Because the old cliche is true (and I don’t care if people send hate mail after reading this):

A happy wife = a happy life.

And what could make a person happier than a spouse who cares?

A spouse who can talk about different family members by name?

Heck, a spouse who can actually look someone in the eye while shaking their hand and say, “Hey, Steve, thanks for coming. We appreciate it.”

And then do that again and again and again.

Now in my case, there really was a Steve at my wedding party. And because he’s Chinese, I had to do double-duty in some cases.

In others, I just went with one name.

The Curious Reason Memory Improvement Exercises
Are The Most Powerful Investment You’ll Ever Make

But the point is that I was not just practicing my memory.

I was investing in my wife.

And my challenge to you is that you learn to be a good partner to your loved one too.

Even if you’re single, equip yourself with this skill.

I’m not just saying this because Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.

I’m saying it because it’s true:

Love = Happiness

At least … most of the time.

And one of the best ways to express love is to actually care about the names of the people in your family.

And what about your partner’s friends?

Their childhood pets?

And all the other names we all throw around in our day to day lives?

Why let that information pass you by when you can capture it all, pop it into a simple-to-create Memory Palace and remember it forever? Use it to help improve your episodic memory?

I’ll tell you why.

I’ll tell you the major objection.

Stop Leaving Your Success In Life To Chance

It’s because people leave their lives to chance.

They prefer it that way.

Rather than lifting a finger to make life awesome now and prepare for a great future, they open themselves up for that divorce request that comes out of the blue a years down the road.

Except that request ain’t out of the blue.

It was set into the wall of the life you’re building right now.

Because whether you like it or not, you are building your life.

And if you want to know what real love is all about, you’re going to want to make sure that memory improvement exercises are a part of your life.

It Really Is That Simple

So what do you say?

Are you ready to get out there and do some simple memory improvement exercises?

If the answer is yes, then you already have more than you need to get started here on the Magnetic Memory Method blog and podcast.

Have fun! 🙂

12 Responses to " 5 Memory Improvement Exercises That Don’t Require Another Annoying App "

  1. Bill says:

    Dear Anthony,
    I enjoy listening to your pod casts. However you are not the only one I listen to, I follow you, Ron White, Gregor Staub in German and Luis Angel. I am always looking for different ways to do things in regards to Memory.

    I do enjoy the Mailbag, I would hope you would take a few minutes out of every podcast even if it is one or two questions.

    I have been a student of Memory for sometime and find it fascinating. Pick up something from everyone. Not only from one person. It is challenging that way to me. See all the options I have.

    Just a note to you if you do not have a name from a person, not me, why not make up a name, as you spoke about, use your resources as you spoke about in this podcast: Make up a name, too bad if they do not give you their name, so you create one heck if they do not want to be known that is on them. But why don’t you make up a name that is gender friendly (either Male or Female). It is too bad if they do not like it. use cartoon names for them (i.e. Spider Man, Batman what have you Tweety Bird, Sylvester, Road Runner, Coyote, etc.) Why should that stop you. Maybe that way people will start putting their names in. Or just do not use their correspondence at all. The ball is in your court Anthony.

    A wise man once told me to use my memory everyday. 🙂

    Until we speak again Take care and safe travels my friend.

    • Glad that you’re listening to other memory trainers, Bill. That’s a great policy and will serve you will.

      Interesting idea about making up names too if you don’t have them. The coolest thing about this idea is that whatever you come up with can help aid your memory of what their real name is when you do get around to learning it.

      Thanks for the travel wishes – I’m now officially typing this response from Brisbane. Great place and that a fantastic Memory Palace I find myself in for this first post-response. I’m glad it was in response to you and look forward to your next post! 🙂

  2. Chetan says:

    Dear Anthony,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Very relevant and useful.

    Ever since I started my journey with memory improvement, I have dabbled with more than one memory improvement apps and still have them on my ”smart” phone. Over time, I have noticed that my app usage time is only 1-2 hours per week and not more than that.

    However, When I compare with the strategies outlined in this post, these are the exact strategies that can be applied in real time for learning and I tend to at least a few if not everything.

    My personal favorites are:

    1. Pay Attention or Be present – The idea of NOT MEMORIZING is wicked cool. I have noticed that I remember aspects of people or books which I don’t want to memorize but my brain recalls that information.
    2. Learning Vocabulary
    3. Memorizing a Text Book

    Memory improvement apps helps to train to have sharp eyes and a brain. or to develop reflexes. The above strategies help to apply the training to solve memory problems in real time and the best thing is these strategies will ‘work’ even if it does not ‘work’.

    Use apps to learn multiple skills to develop a sharp memory.
    Use strategies to apply your skills in real time to solve memory problems.

    For me they are complementary.

    If I have to pick one between the app and the strategies, my choice is obvious: It will be strategies.

    I don’t need a “smart” phone to apply the strategy and I can’t use the app to solve my real world memory problem.

    Let the journey continue.

    • Thanks for this great rundown of your approach, Chetan. It’s awesome that you have compiled a complimentary approach because the two certainly don’t need to be mutually exclusive. It’s just when the two interrupt each other that we need an intervention.

      Thanks for the great comment and insights. Look forward to your next contribution! 🙂


    Great post for mental exercises Anthony. Thanks

  4. Adib says:

    Had you ever heard of Minecraft? It is a great game for creating memory palace. And i want to hear your personal opinion about it if you had played it before. Thanks ?

  5. Did the first exercise you suggested on the bus today. Right now I’m remembering the bald guy with the grey mustache, the blue and grey striped scarf, the black leather jacket, the blue corduroy pants, and the shiny black loafers… that’s six details, but super easy and satisfying.

    • Yes, of all the exercises in the world, this one is strangely, mysteriously and deeply satisfying.

      My only struggle with it at the moment is that the people in Australia wear so few clothes …

      Nah, just kidding. The tattoos, facial characteristics and the where-sighted locations more than make up for enough accoutrements to latch onto. 😉

  6. Keri Vandongen says:

    Hi Anthony,

    Memory is one of those interesting skills -we want the result but not the work or practice.

    Now that I need to remember scripts for videos -I’ve been thinking about your memory strategies.
    Nothing other than tons of rehearsal is working so far.

    At least it prevents thinking on a video. Your eyes go crazy on camera. Reading via a tele prompt loses eye gaze and thus connection with an audience.

    I’ve thought about your memory palace idea. Not sure how to retrieve script info by recalling location details though.

    Perhaps there’s an App for lazy memorizers?:)

    • There has been an MMM “passive memory” app in development for awhile, Keri, but I’m not sure it will help with this issue.

      Have you gone through the video series (register for it above where it says “Start Here”) and created at least one Memory Palace? I don’t know how to say it without sounding blunt in print, but the only way to be sure how these techniques work is to dive in and use them. Thinking is a great activity, but in the world of memory improvement doesn’t lead to accomplishment because we learn by doing.

      Tell me more about the nature of the video work you’re doing. It might not be a bad thing to think on camera and I can suggest a training I’ve taken that convinced me not to memorize anything other than the main points for the camera. The rest is natural speech and breaking eye gaze is normal when talking to people.

      I got to study with him in person, but for the free YouTube version that will blow your socks off, check out James Lavers on Video Body Language.

      I can also tell you a horror story of shooting a promo trailer from memory and how it’s just as unnatural and stilted as reading from a teleprompter. Even as a memory expert, I tried to convince them to let us set up the teleprompter based on James’s advice about not reciting on video from memory, but it was a no go because they just hadn’t brought one. (I now carry one with me everywhere even though I rarely use it because I memorize key points instead of verbatim for video unless it’s a course.)

      Well, okay, The Habit Masterly Formula promo isn’t so bad, but what should have taken 10 minutes to shoot with a teleprompter wound up taking 3 days. Because ultimately, here’s the thing:

      Shooting from memory and seeming natural is called acting.

      But teaching on video is conveying information in an engaging way that gets people to take action. That involves editing in title-cards frequently to highlight key points. It means making sure your script is engaging and insuring that the line length you’re using on the teleprompter is not so long that your eyes are bouncing all over the place.

      Plus, you can place the teleprompter and camera far enough away to eliminate these problems and you can learn about different gazes for different purposes from James if you wind up taking one of his programs. It’s really powerful stuff and I’ve done much better for having studied it. But I did have to give up memorizing scripts because, at least for me with very little training in acting, it just doesn’t make sense. What can be done is not always what should be done.

      That said, I had the crazy idea yesterday of taking acting lessons now that I live across the street from the QUT Creative Industries program in Brisbane. I thought … I should make a documentary about a guy who learns to act so he can finally answer all those questions actors send in about how to memorize entire roles in Shakespeare plays, etc.

      Thus far, I’ve memorized long quotes, but I’ve never had a compelling reason to memorize an entire play.

      But since I am generally interested in acting and would LOVE to be a student again … well, if my wife April can get a full scholarship … maybe I can too. 😉

      Circling back to you: It does seem that you have a compelling reason to at least learn how to memorize one entire video script and give it a try from memory. I would not lay dogma on anything and if it is aligned with something you truly want to do, it’s a perfect opportunity to learn the art of memory with purpose.

      Hope this helps and can’t wait to hear more about what you decide to do! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept the Privacy Policy