Your Nose and Your Memory

Your senses are the trigger to your ability to remember. What you take in through your senses — smell, sight, tough, taste and hearing, is processed in your brain and then sent to the short-term memory where it is held for a brief time before it is either shipped off to long-term memory or sent to the trash bin.

Your memory is a collection of all your senses. For example: what you see is stored in one area of your brain; sound in another; and touch in still another. You use all your senses all day long, and one is just as important as another. Often we use more than one, so you want to use as many different senses as you can. Doing so gives you multiple ways of remembering the details later.

Some scientists believe our sense of smell is our best memory. Once you have taken in a smell you usually don’t ever forget it. It is the most underestimated of the senses, yet it is the one we use the most.

As an experiment, write down five of your favorite smells, then five of the smells you dislike the most. Next to each smell write down words you associate with that smell. As you are writing, recapture the scent each of these fragrances give off. This will stimulate areas of your brain involved with odors and emotion.

People who lose one sense have to rely on the others to get them through. Take someone who has lost his or her sight, for example. Their other senses need to take up the slack, so they are on a heightened sense of awareness. The person still has visual images the brain recognizes as sight, but the eyes are not actually seeing the images through the retinas any more.

When other senses are needed to replace the one lost, it is important for those around them to recognize the language terms for the items so the one in need of help can associate correctly. For example: one person may smell a flower and say it smells “pungent” while another says it “gives off a strong fragrance.” The sight-impaired person will then visualize the description.

Visualization is a way to strengthen your memory. Try this simple exercise. Visualize the following and then describe what you feel, in more than one way. It helps us to sensitize you to what it is you smell, and is a good exercise in bringing together our sense of smell with the words we use — thus stimulating two different parts of the brain. Visualize the following:

  • The smell of rain
  • The smell of burning leaves
  • The smell of an apple pie baking
  • The smell of gingerbread cookies
  • The smell of fog
  • The smell of gasoline
  • The smell of a rose
  • The smell of stinky feet
  • The smell of manure on a farm
  • The smell of cabbage cooking
  • The smell of a skunk
  • The smell of a wet dog
  • A pot of mint (a natural brain stimulant)

My name is Ron White, memory keynote speaker. I think exercises like this strengthen your memory and help with word association, making your brain work in different areas at the same time.

Memory Training


Mental Fitness Cards, by Marge Engleman (97-100)

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