The Mystery Bush Solved: A Technique for Improving Your Memory

“Do you remember? Do you remember the mystery bush?”

This was a question posed to me at a dinner party by a four-year-old I’d never met. She didn’t speak much English, since her parents had recently immigrated to the United States. However, she had watched Dora the Explorer, Barney, and Blue’s Clues. With this knowledge, she chatted easily about things like mystery bushes, birthday parties, and the tree with green grass all around, all around.

Since then, I do remember the imaginary mystery bush, but why? And why could my little friend remember that bizarre object in English, when I had to teach her the word for milk?

It has to do with repeated investment. When we are personally engaged with a concept repeatedly, the concept tends to stick.  My little friend was of deep interest to me, since I loved her, and we repeated our limited conversations every few minutes.

She had been taught the concepts she discussed by educational children’s television, which knows from scientific studies that repeated investment helps kids learn. In Dora the Explorer, a map sings his name fifteen times in thirty seconds. If you’ve seen or heard this catchy song, you probably remember it. After all, who could forget a nasally-voiced, animated map with cute, huge eyes?

Next time you need to remember something, try to make it stand out. When you think of it, think of why you love it or why you can’t stand it. Is it unusual? Does it tie to a memory you have or something you’ve already learned?

Then, with that new-found investment, repeatedly engage with the material, keeping in mind why it stands out each time. The more connections you make the more it will stand out. The more frequently you engage the better.

Now, do you remember the mystery bush?

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