Yesterday I was readying myself to sit down and write this column, and I completely forgot what subject I had planned. I laughed out loud when I found my notes and saw the title. Perhaps I couldn't remember because I have been extra busy this week, or maybe I am just getting old and my brain is full (I am close to 50). In either case, I was glad to do a little research about some surefire ways to strip cobwebs from the mind while tuning up the old memory muscle.
Regardless of age, you are being inundated daily with thousands of facts and opinions from many sources. You get plenty to think about each week from my three columns alone, not to mention everything else you encounter. It's hard to retain the important stuff when so much is going on.
No need to stress. Here are 10 great tips for making things stick in your brain.
1. Establish Routine
I rarely lose my keys or sunglasses because I put them in the same place every time. On the rare occasions I don't put them in their proper place, I can drive myself crazy trying to find them. The same applies to important information. If you establish specific e-mail and desktop folders for critical documents, you'll know right where to go first.
2. Go Against Habit
If you really want to remember something critical, intentionally break the routine surrounding it. Suppose you keep forgetting to back up your computer at night. And let's say you always keep your keys in your right-hand pocket. Put them in your left pocket in the morning so when you are ready to leave you have to break your pattern. The odd feeling acts like a string around your finger, making you aware that something needs to be done.
3. Eat More Brain Food
Lots of foods improve your memory because they are filled with special antioxidants and vitamins. Try adding more green tea, blueberries, salmon, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, dark chocolate and turmeric to your daily intake. Experts say a glass of red wine every so often can help as well. Of course, too much of that and you probably won't remember what happened the night before.
4. Get More Sleep
Your brain needs downtime to stay sharp. If you don't get enough sleep, you'll tax your memory and start forgetting things. Stay rested so you can keep your mind alert.
5. Have a Mental Workout
I am all for zoning out on mindless videos and light fiction, but actually challenging my brain makes me sharper and more effective at remembering. Mental challenges like studying complex concepts make simple tasks like remembering names at a party seem like a piece of cake.
6. Create Stories in Your Mind
Names and numbers by themselves can be easily forgotten if there is little or no context involved. As you are being introduced to new information, be aware of the surroundings and any possible details you can associate with the specific information. Recognize the order of events and then you can replay them in your mind to retrieve the answer.
7. Write Things Down
The keyboard on your smartphone or tablet can help you take notes and keep records. But it is not necessarily your best friend if you want to remember some of those important nuggets off the top of your head. The pen is mightier than the board when it comes to encoding the brain. The actual act of physically writing something down helps to register text in your mind where you can recover it later.
8. Get Creative
I constantly make up poems, songs and other mnemonics to lock important facts in my memory. They can be very powerful tools. I still use the 30 days has September poem from childhood to figure out the number of days in each month.
9. Pay Attention
Ultimately you want to shift important facts from your short-term memory to your long-term memory. Science dictates that this process takes about 8 seconds of focused attention on a specific item. So next time you need to encode something important, focus on it while counting to 8 alligators and lock it in.
A healthy body provides for a healthy mind. Not only does exercise make the brain work better, getting the blood pumping actually makes it work harder. I recently came up with 18 column ideas on a 10K run and--with a little work--was able to remember all 18 by the end. Not bad for an old guy.
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