At this very moment, you may be struggling to remember someone’s name. Or that thing you learned from that podcast you listened to last week. Or something about an assignment due next week. Or was it due yesterday? 😬I’ve been there more times than I can remember. If you have ADHD and you feel like your memory sucks, this is for you. I’m gonna be sharing # weird (but effective!) hacks I use to remember stuff better.
First, I have some bad news. Maybe you suspected this, but having ADHD does make it harder to remember things. ADHD brains tend to have a deficient working memory, according to several studies including this meta analysis from the peer-reviewed journal Neuropsychology.
When you have a deficient working memory, information seems to slip out much easier, which is why you may have forgotten to change the laundry (again) and now it smells like wet dog. Or you forgot about a meeting. Or you lost your train of thought mid-sentence. Even though we’re at a disadvantage compared to our neurotypical peels, it doesn’t mean we’re doomed to a life of missed deadlines and broken promises. Memory is essentially a muscle, and with the right tools, it’s one that can get stronger, even as you age.
I wanted to write this post to share not the obvious, typical ways I remember things (set alarms, reminders, write stuff down, etc.), but the weird, uncommon things I do. I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of them and even incorporate one or two in your memory arsenal!
Here are 5 weird hacks I use when I want to remember something:
Weird Memory Hack #1: I make myself laugh
You know how you always remember those dumb inside jokes you had with your BFFs – even if they were from 10 years ago? That’s because they’re funny! But there’s a science behind it – research shows humor activates the brain’s dopamine reward system, stimulating long-term memory and even goal-oriented motivation.
I’ll never forget who Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are and that they ruled England during the Industrial Revolution (plus lots of other random facts about England) because my friend had a prettyyyy embarrassing (and hilarious) incident during our spring break trip to London our junior year of college.
Aside from remembering inside jokes and random facts about Europe, I often use humor to remember people’s names which is incredibly useful if you’re going to see them again. In fact, if it’s someone like your new boss, it would probably serve you to remember their name next time you see them.
So here’s what I do: when I meet someone new, I try to pick out a distinctive feature about them or something they said. For example, their hair color or the fact that they own a coffee shop or where I met them. I rarely tell people my made-up nicknames (I don’t think someone would appreciate being called Bowl Cut Brian or Slow Handshake Sam), it’s just for me.
I play a little name game on this Instagram video. See if you can come up with some funny nicknames on the spot. I promise you’ll never forget these people again 😂
Weird Memory Hack #2: I make it personal
Your most meaningful memories all have one thing in common: they relate to you personally. Your birthday. Where you were when Princess Diana died or when 9/11 happened. The smell of your grandma’s kitchen. The reason we remember these things so easily is because of a funny phenomenon called autobiographical memory.
Call it ego, call it self-centered, but our brains are wired to remember things that are personally relevant to us. Why? Because it elicits emotion and emotion sticks better in your mind than just straight unrelated facts. Sometimes when I want to remember something important, I try to connect it to something in my own life or past history.
Weird Memory Hack #3: I tie the information to something gross or embarrassing
I learned this hack from the book Remember from NYT bestseller Lisa Genova. Genova is a writer and neuroscientist who specializes in memory and I hiiiighly recommend her book to get to the nitty gritty of all things memory-related.
She writes that when you want to remember something, it helps to tie it to something weird, gross, or embarrassing and create a mental picture in your head. For example, let’s say you want to remember to pick up milk on your way home from work. Sure, you could set a reminder, but you could also exercise and strengthen your memory muscle by creating a visual in your head. This example comes from her book: Picture Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson milking a cow in your living room while Tina Fey lies beneath the udder with her mouth open. Now try to get that image out of your head 🤣
Weird Memory Hack #4: I make up a song
It’s not uncommon to hear me singing random things in an opera voice as I walk around my house. Usually it’s something like “change the laundry” or “milk, cheese, eggs, and bread.” The silliness of singing in opera is usually enough to help me remember something.
A really good example of this is this song from the Holderness Family to the tune of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” He sings “Glasses, Wallet, Keys, and Phone” to remember everything he needs before leaving the house. You can change the words to make it work for you!
Weird Memory Hack #5: I use an acronym
Remember PEMDAS (the order of operations) from middle school? It stands for P- Parentheses, E- Exponents, M- Multiplication, D- Division, A- Addition, and S- Subtraction and helped us remember how to do math equations. The reason it worked is because it condensed the information into short form.
I don’t use this super frequently, because it does take some upfront brain power and I don’t really find myself needing to remember specific formulas, but I do use it to remember a social media checklist before posting.
CaMHaCS stands for Caption, Music, Hashtags, Cover Photo, SEO.
The Priority Planner for Memory
In my bestselling planner designed specifically for ADHD brains, I have an entire section dedicated to improving memory. I’m really passionate about teaching people how to live with ADHD in a way that is achievable, unique and fun, and that’s what this planner gets at.
In the Memory section, I included the following templates to assist you in remembering the things that matter.
For more not-typical ADHD strategies, check out these posts: Time Blindness: How To Stop Being So Busy And Start Living Your Life and Best Way to Beat Procrastination: The Warren Buffett Strategy.