It’s strange. Often the more important it is to remember something the harder it can be to recall it. Our brains are weird. And we still have so much to learn about how memory works.
Being busy, feeling stressed or even joyous and positive emotions can sometimes get in the way of memory.
And, of course, as we age many of us start to experience what folks often call senior moments. Those stomach churning seconds when you can’t recall something important and you fear you may be developing serious memory loss.
And with over 5.5 million folks suffering from some form of dementia, that fear is understandable.
But luckily, for most of us it’s not the case. The numbers are still in your favor. And it’s FAR more likely that you’re simply distracted and could use some techniques for boosting your memory.
Put these 3 weird memory tricks to work for YOU
So today, we’re going to dive into three weird, but effective, memory tricks.
1. Gaze into the green:
Experts have no idea why it works. But researchers found that gazing at a “green roof”—one with plants on it—for 40 seconds improved volunteer’s ability to focus.1 (I know. Weird, right?)
And that can translate into far better recall since being distracted is one of the biggest barriers to a good memory.
So next time you find yourself struggling to commit a speech, shopping list or phone number to memory stop trying. Look around the room, or out the window, and find a bit of nature to focus on.
And then simply stare at it and relax for 40 seconds. Then try again. Chances are you’ll find it much easier to cement the information in your memory.
I keep a green plant on my desk which is perfect for this weird memory trick. But for the study, participants weren’t even looking at the real thing. The researchers had them look at pictures instead. So if you can’t find a tree or plant to gaze at try a quick search online for landscape pictures instead.
2. Balance for a boost:
Research has shown that doing some kind of physical exercise improves our cognitive function over time. But in a recent study, scientists took this fact one step further. They found we could significantly improve our working memory simply by making some of those physical tasks ones that require us to engage both our memory and our balance.
We already had a clue that activities that require us to balance regularly are good for our brains, of course. In fact, earlier studies have found the beefing up balance skills has a number of positive impacts on brains. For example, it helps new neurons survive and leads to meatier brains too.
But a pilot study revealed just how much impact movements that require us to engage both our brain and our body can have.2 For example, something like climbing a tree.
For the experiment, researchers divided volunteers into three groups…
- a control classroom group which sat through lectures
- a yoga group
- a balance and movement awareness group
The researchers asked the balance and movement folks to do a number of different exercises. Each made the participants pay attention to posture or focus on specific body movements while maintaining their balance. For example walking on a balance beam or carrying awkward weights while moving through an obstacle course.
Ongoing standardized memory tests revealed that after 12 weeks the balance and movement folks had improved their working memory by an astounding 50 percent. But the other two groups didn’t have any dramatic jumps in their working memory.
It’s not likely you have an obstacle course set up in your back yard. And your tree climbing days might be behind you. But you can still use this weird memory trick to your advantage.
Set aside some time every day to do some simple balance exercises. For example, you can try walking heel to toe across the floor. Or walking backwards for several feet. Need some extra inspiration? Try these Four Moves For Better Balance.
3. Blocks for better memory:
If you find it tough to remember random strings of information like, say, a long distance phone number relax. It’s very normal, most of us do.
In fact, a classic study from the 1950s with the charming name “The magical number seven, plus or minus two” settled on five to nine being the number of things our working memory can hold on to at any one time.3 Some experts say the number should even be a bit lower.
But knowing this limitation, you can use it to your benefit by chunking the information you need to remember into blocks. So for example if you had to remember a phone number which reads 1793752468.
For most folks that would be tough to hold onto for very long. But if you use break it into blocks, you should have an easier time. For example, you might do one hundred seventy nine, thirty seven, five hundred twenty four and sixty eight.
You can do the same thing with other information such as grocery list by creating a mental picture of two or more of the objects together. And don’t worry the sillier the pairing the more likely you will be to remember it.
For example if you need to remember to pick up milk, eggs, coffee, steak, hamburger buns, fish, shoelaces, apples and bagels you might try picturing a fish drinking a cup of coffee and bagels strung up on shoestrings.
If your memory could use a boost, don’t panic. Try these three weird memory tricks to help you remember anything you want instead.
1. “40-second green roof views sustain attention: The role of micro-breaks in attention restoration,” Journal of Environmental Psychology, Volume 42, June 2015, Pages 182-189
2. “The Working Memory Benefits of Proprioceptively Demanding Training: A Pilot Study,” Perceptual and Motor Skills, Vol 120, Issue 3, pp. 766 – 775, First Published June 1, 2015
3. “The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information,” Psychological Review, 63(2), 81-97
She is an advocate of self-education and is passionate about the power of group knowledge sharing, like the kind found right here on HealthierTalk.com. Alice loves to share her views on holistic and natural healing as well as her, sometimes contentious, thoughts on the profit-driven inner workings of traditional medicine.
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