Where You Parked Your Car
Step one: Pay attention. If you don't pause for a moment to acknowledge where you're parked, there's less chance of recalling it later. To give your brain a head start, always try to park in the same general location, such as the end of the row straight out from the store entrance. "In a garage, I always try to park near a pillar," says Barry Gordon, MD, PhD, founder of the Memory Clinic at Johns Hopkins Medical Institution and coauthor of Intelligent Memory. Not possible to park in your default zone? Say the location out loud ("row C, third spot from the end"); when you reach the door of your destination, say it again. If there's no sign, look for something else to latch on to—maybe you parked in line with a bike rack or a store sign.
"Consciously noting where you are and repeating it helps lock in the memory," says Charles Bernick, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic's Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Speaking the words activates areas of the brain that process speech and control the facial muscles you need for speaking—and the more parts of the brain you engage, the more likely it is that they'll work together to remember.
Finally, turn around as you walk away from your car to plant a stronger visual memory in your mind. "The brain is exceptionally good at remembering sights," says Mark Wheeler, PhD, associate professor of psychology in the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh. If you still feel you can't rely on your brain, use your cell phone to take a picture that includes details like a sign showing your row number or your car's position relative to a building.
Think of a phrase or song that's easy to remember, and use the first letters of each word to create a basic password. For example, the words "You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss," become YMRTAKIJAK. If the website requires a number, add one that's meaningful—1942, for example, the year that lyric appeared in Casablanca. Extra letters can tag the password to specific sites, such as "FB" for Facebook or "NF" for Netflix.
Still can't keep them straight? Web-based services like RoboForm (; free–$29.95 per year) and Password Safe (; free) can store all your passwords in one place. Or try a low-tech option: Write down all your passwords and store them in a locked journal or tape the list to the bottom of your dresser drawer.
Names of People
On your way to a gathering, think ahead to who might be there. "You'll have a better chance of remembering names if you rehearse them and 'preactivate' connections in your mind," Dr. Gordon says. If you bump into someone you weren't expecting to see, start a conversation to ferret out information that could jog your memory, like what she does or whom she's married to—anything that might turn on a lightbulb in your head.
When you first meet someone, try to lock in the new name by asking questions to build associations. "Some people find that silly or odd connections are easiest to recall," Dr. Gordon says. "If you were meeting me, you might say, 'Good to meet you, Dr. Gordon, are you related to the Gordon's gin people?' and make a joke to help the name sink in. Politicians use this technique all the time." Or try to link the name with a visual idea your brain can latch on to. When meeting a Smith, for example, you could think of a blacksmith. If nothing that clever comes to mind, simply try repeating the name a few times during the conversation or asking the person to clarify the spelling ("Is that K-A-R-E-N or C-A-R-Y-N?") to reinforce it.
Why You Went Upstairs
Convince your brain that your task is important before you head up the stairs to do it. "Just thinking to yourself I will remember engages brain mechanisms that will, in fact, help you remember," Dr. Gordon says. Mentally talk through why it's important: Focusing on the logic behind an action helps your brain realize that this is a thought worth prioritizing. For example, instead of just saying to yourself, "I need to grab a sweater," tell yourself, "I need to grab a sweater before I leave in case it's chilly tonight."
If that's not enough, scrawl a pertinent word on a scrap of paper. "The act of writing reinforces memory," Dr. Gordon says. Even if you don't bring the paper with you, writing by hand taps motor systems in the brain that can make information easier to retrieve. Or carry a reminder in your hand—a charger cord, for example, to remember you're going for your phone.
What to Buy at the Grocery Store
For those times when you think of a few items you need on your way home (and want to make sure you actually leave the store with them), mentally group them in categories. Instead of just thinking "I need apples, broccoli, ice cream and frozen waffles," think "I need produce: apples and broccoli; and freezer items: ice cream and waffles." Also visualize yourself walking through the different departments, smelling and touching the items you need, and slipping them into crinkly bags. Engaging all of your senses helps activate different areas of your brain to help you better remember details.
Your Wedding Anniversary
Go ahead and make a reservation for a celebratory dinner. Research suggests that you're more likely to remember a combination of an event and an activity when you double the number of things associated with the event—and remembering one will make you think of the other. But relying solely on your memory here is often a recipe for failure (and an angry spouse), so be sure to jot a note on your calendar.
Free smartphone apps like reQall for the iPhone will sync an important date with your digital calendar, then send you timely reminders. Free online services like provide handy e-cards along with reminders of important dates.