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Improve your memory and concentration with this unexpected tip

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The brain is an extraordinary organ, with many wonderful qualities, including the ability to forget – which can actually be a good thing. “If we remembered everything we’ve experienced, our brains would be hoarders, clogged with all sorts of useless crap that gets in the way of what we really need,” says Charan Ranganath, professor of psychology and director of the Dynamic Memory Laboratory at the University of California Davis.

In today’s always-on, always-on world, people are faced with a barrage of information — emails, news, pointless meetings, traffic updates, family chat — far more than anyone can process, explains Ranganath . “Instead, evolution has favored quality over quantity,” he says. “We get good quality memories for the things we’re paying attention to, and it’s usually the important things. But if we’re not paying attention to something, we’ll never have a good memory of it to begin with.”

These memory problems often arise at the least convenient times: when you’re in a hurry and can’t find your keys, when you walk into a room and don’t know what you’re looking for, when you’re talking to an acquaintance whose name escapes you, when a friend refers to a good time you shared and you don’t remember. That kind of forgetfulness is completely normal, says Ranganath, but it’s still frustrating. (Other, more serious conditions can cause memory loss and disruptions in memory recall, such as trauma, Alzheimer’s, and ADHD. Strategies for dealing with these disorders can include therapy and medication, which are more intensive than the tips outlined here.)

Generally though, hope is not lost if your memory is a little rusty. Memory is an active process, not a passive one, says clinical neuropsychologist Michelle Braun. “Which debunks a long-held myth that brain health is just a product of genetics and there’s really nothing we can do about it,” she says. Paying a little more attention and savoring special events can help you remember life’s moments, big and small.

Start paying full attention to important events and interactions

Modern life’s responsibilities mean there are more priorities than ever competing for your attention. How many times have you left a conversation with no idea what was discussed because you were distracted by your phone? “You may get impoverished memories of past events because you were never really there in the first place,” says Ranganath.

Distractibility is one of memory researcher Daniel Schacter’s “seven sins of memory,” common weaknesses in memory that everyone experiences. It’s when you don’t pay attention to where you put your keys or you get so scatterbrained that you miss an important doctor’s appointment. “If we are, for example, multitasking, we may never actually encode the information about where I left my keys or glasses,” says Schacter, a professor of psychology at Harvard University.

Another method to help you pay more attention to the tasks at hand is what Braun calls the PLR ​​technique: pause, link, and rehearse. This can help you remember someone’s name and why you entered a room. If you’re hiding a birthday present for your child but are afraid you won’t remember where you put it, stop for five seconds and focus on where you’re putting the present instead of just putting it down and looking away. look. and doing something else,” says Braun. Then look around — this is the “binding” step — and contextualize where you hid the gift with the environment: in your closet, next to a shoebox. The final step is to rehearse the gift retrieval process. Look away from the hiding place and visualize in your mind where the gift is.

Use technology to your advantage, Ranganath and Schacter agree: Put meetings on your phone’s calendar (be detailed about who you’re meeting, where and why) and make sure alerts are turned on, set reminders and take photos of events to bookmark for later. “Go back to those pictures,” says Ranganath. Don’t just snap a photo and let it languish in your camera roll forever. “Anything you can do to revisit unique moments will bring back all sorts of other things.” (Schacter isn’t convinced that technology is harmful to our memory, as some experts suggest. “I don’t think there’s a lot of strong evidence on this point,” he says.)

Make even everyday moments memorable

Events that occur during intense emotional states – fear, joy, anxiety, excitement, sadness – are more memorable. That’s why you remember your wedding day and maybe not your 10th date. To remember more mundane things — where are you keeping dress shoes you wear once a year, a name, an item you have to buy at the store — make those things extraordinary, says the five-time U.S. Memory Champion and memory coach Nelson Dellis. “I made my life more memorable,” he says. After her grandmother died of Alzheimer’s in 2009, Dellis began exploring ways to improve her own memory. Two years later, he won his first USA Memory Championship – a competitive event consisting of memory challenges – thanks to memory-strengthening exercises.

Dellis assigns vivid images to whatever it’s trying to remember, whether it’s a number or an address. Perhaps, if you don’t want to forget to pick up cheese from the supermarket, imagine a giant, incredibly smelly piece of cheese. Dellis sometimes pinches herself or says a unique mantra when dropping her keys to remind herself of the bizarre thing she did in the moment. Or let’s say you meet someone named Steve at a party and he’s wearing a shirt with monkeys on it. You can imagine him dressed in a full monkey costume. “Anything you can make over the top,” says Dellis, “like if it smells weird, maybe you can imagine it smells even worse, or if it’s a normal-sized thing, imagine it huge.”

Spend time at the end of each day reflecting on what you want to remember.

Another of Schacter’s seven sins of memory is transience, which refers to forgetting over time. For example, the more time passes after watching a movie, the more details you’ll forget. But if you study or reflect on the things you want to remember, those memories are more likely to be strengthened, says Schacter. Again, looking at pictures or videos you’ve taken of a particularly nice dinner with friends is a way to better memorize those events. Or, instead of taking pictures, commit the scene to memory by keeping a journal.

Dellis recommends spending five minutes before bed reminiscing about what happened that day. Did you see a beautiful sunset? Did your child have a funny answer to a simple question? Did you eat something delicious? Repeat small but lovely occurrences that you would like to savor. “The more you do this, over time you find that you will be able to remember more details of your life,” says Dellis.

Be proactive and prevent forgetting from occurring

It can be difficult to predict what you will forget in the future. But having a sense of what your memory deficiencies are can help protect those important items in your memory. If you’ve signed up for a free trial and you know you’re prone to forgetting to cancel it before being billed for the rest of the year, setting a reminder on your phone notifying you to cancel isn’t so tech-savvy, it’s knowing your blind spots. That’s what Schacter calls having good metacognition, “good insight into how your memory works,” he says. “Being aware of the fact that your memory may fail in the future, even if at the moment it seems clear that you should be able to remember this, but you know that a year from now, projecting forward, you might not.”

Perhaps remembering names is one of your memory weaknesses – a “sin” that Schacter calls blocking (where the information you want is at the tip of your tongue, but you can’t access it). Before heading to a wedding or your child’s basketball game, try reciting the names of people who regularly attend these events, says Schacter. This exercise doesn’t need to be more than a few minutes of refresher time – perhaps jumping from one Instagram social connection to another. “With lockdown,” he says, “you really have to get ahead of yourself because by the time it’s happening, it’s too late.”

Even if you consider yourself a forgetful person, memory is a skill that can be practiced and strengthened, says Dellis. Before participating in memory competitions, Dellis never considered himself a person with an extraordinary memory. Test yourself, he says, by assigning vivid, unique imagery to grocery items and try shopping without a list. Tell yourself that you will remember 10 new names at a social event.

“It’s very easy to think, ‘I’m just a person with a bad memory,’” says Dellis. “Once you start shifting that narrative and you start to realize that our memories are actually more incredible than most people think… it just snowballs and makes your memory even more powerful.”

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