Guide to memory: How to use imagination to boost memory

Boy at a desk in school with a stack of books
Remember the past and imagine the future

Remembering is not just accessing information; it can also involve vivid use of the imagination. In fact, the more you imagine, the more you'll remember. 

Use mental imagery

For remembering verbal information, mental imagery works effectively for adults. This is a form of active elaboration, and you can tie the word into your experience.

As you think about where you'll use the word "elaborate", also use your imagination to create a mental image of yourself doing it. 

For instance, let's take the common word "kill" and consider the positive meaning, as in, "You're killing it", meaning you are doing something extremely well. First, learn the usage. In this case, it's used as an idiom, so kill has to be used with it. So you can say, "You killed it in that presentation!" 

Now, use mental imagery. Who killed it in a presentation? Was it your colleague, yourself, or a TED speaker? Take a moment and really imagine it. 

Mental imagery helps associate new information with a context, with sights and sounds that would go with this language. 

Project into the future

Mental imagery does not have to mean remembering the past. You can also imagine the future. 

Imagining the future and remembering the past both involve useful mental processes, but unfortunately, many people who study only focus on the past. 

Studies have shown that imagining the future has a powerful organizational effect on the self. In other words, you become the person you imagine yourself to be. If you take time and imagine yourself in the future, it is likely that you'll become that person. So, imagine yourself using new language. 

In a past blog post, we discussed the word "elaborate" and the question, "Can you elaborate on that?" 

Imagine an English teacher speaking, and think of yourself asking, "Can you elaborate on that?" Or try coming up with a situation yourself. Take time; focus on it. How will you be feeling? What might the situation look like? The more you imagine yourself with the new language, the more you will use it. 

Check out our post about why repeating new information is a bad idea.