Five ways to improve your memory without memorization

A picture of puzzle pieces.

One of the problems with the modern age is that we all have too much information at our fingertips. We are inundated with so much information every day, it makes it challenging to improve your memory.

Right at this moment you could be learning how to hula hoop, speak Greek, or build a bookshelf. Heck, you could learn all three at the same time. Such is the power of the internet.

Searching isn’t remembering

Strangely enough, having knowledge accessible to us doesn’t result in more knowledge. The human brain is incredibly efficient: if you teach your brain that you can quickly search for any knowledge that it desires, then it won’t worry about remembering any of it. You can always search again, right?

But searching and forgetting is a bad habit, and one that we should all break. If it becomes chronic, searching and forgetting becomes digital dementia, which none of us want.

Strengthening your memory is not only good for your health, it’s good for every aspect of your life. Improve your memory and your life will improve.

How do we strengthen our brains? It’s not as hard as you think. One way is to use Obsidian to intentionally remember the things you learn, rather than letting ideas go in one ear and out the other.

Idea 1: Improve your memory by writing down ideas in your own words

This is one of the simplest ways to retain the things you learn: simply write down ideas you discover in your own words.

The important thing here is to do it in your own words, no copy/pasting or reusing something you found on the internet.

This not only gives your memory a boost, but it also ensures that you understand the concept that you’re writing about. If there are any gaps in your knowledge, writing about it will help you discover that.

What do you do with these notes after you write them?

You could throw them away, because the act of writing has already done its job. You already remember and understand the idea better than you did before writing about it.

However, there’s something else you can do that will give your brain an even bigger boost. Let’s talk about that next.

Incidentally, this works for your life too. If you want to remember more about your life, try journaling in Obsidian.

Idea 2: Improve your memory by linking ideas together

This is where Obsidian comes in. Obsidian is all about linking notes. Conveniently enough, the Obsidian help docs mention that linking notes is partially meant to help improve your memory:

A screenshot of the Obsidian help docs, where it says "You can improve your ability to remember {ideas} and to form deeper insights".

This is straight from the Obsidian help docs.

This is true. If you take two related ideas and “link” them together in your vault, you will innately remember both ideas better.

But what if you don’t have a related idea in your vault, or nothing comes to mind?

That is where Maps of Content come in. If you’re not sure where to link a note, then create another “topic” note that includes a link to this note.

Here are a few examples of how that might look:

  • Create a note about apples. Link it to a “Food MOC”.
  • Create a note about the guitar. Link to a “Music MOC”
  • Create a note about linking notes. Link to a “Obsidian MOC”

Hopefully you get the idea. MOCs give you a way to rediscover topics organically, and another benefit is that they improve your ability to remember things. Learn more about Maps of Content.

Idea 3: Revisit and “grow” notes over time

Some people call their notes a “digital garden”. The idea here is that each note is like a seedling: if you give it the care and attention it deserves, it can grow into a whole forest of plants! If, on the other hand, you neglect it, it will whither on the vine.

The nice thing about this analogy is that it takes the pressure out of note making: notes don’t have to be perfect when you first create them. If you consistently revisit and improve your notes over time, then it doesn’t matter if they start out crude.

How do you do this in practice? There are numerous systems you can build to do the job. For example:

And as I’m sure you can guess, not only does weeding and growing your notes improve your note-taking, it also improves your memory. As you revisit a note again and again, it will naturally make that idea more memorable to you.

Idea 4: Search your vault before searching the internet

If you consistently take notes on the things you’re interested in, after a while you will start to forget all of the things you’ve taken notes on.

Now wait a minute. Is this a contradiction? Isn’t this an article about remembering notes, not forgetting them?

Well yes. But speaking from experience, I have over 5000 notes in my vault currently, and there’s no way I could remember all of them. It’s too much. I remember more of the topics in my notes than I would without the notes, but I still use the notes to assist my memory from time to time.

And a great way to do that is by searching your notes first when you’re looking for an idea. With any luck, you’ve taken a note about this topic already, and forgotten about it. If that’s the case, you’ll be shocked and delighted, and you won’t be likely to forget that info again anytime soon.

If you don’t find the idea in your notes, then go ahead and search the web, but remember to come back and make a note when you’ve found what you’re looking for!

Idea 5: Spaced repetition

Last and least, we have spaced repetition. This is my least favorite way to improve memories, because it requires the most work. But if you’re studying for an exam or something similarly high-stakes, then you may need the powers of spaced repetition.

Spaced repetition is a system for reviewing notes for perfect recall. If you’ve ever used flashcards to memorize something, then you’re familiar with the concept: you basically review a stack of flashcards at certain intervals to improve your recall. If done correctly, spaced repetition is one of the quickest ways to achieve perfect recall.

There are many articles out there about spaced repetition, so I won’t bore you with another. If you’re interested in a primer, I recommend Matuschak and Nielson.

But remember, spaced repetition should be a last-resort, because it’s a high-cost method of retaining information. Using spaced repetition to improve your memory isn’t necessary most of the time.


Taking smart notes is one of the easiest ways to naturally improve your memory. It comes with many other benefits too, but memory is a big one.

Whether or not you’re a note-taker, if you want to improve your memory, this is one of the easiest ways to do it. If you want help getting started, see our article on getting started with Obsidian.

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