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Published on September 26, 2018

25 Brain Exercises for Memory That Actually Help You Remember More

25 Brain Exercises for Memory That Actually Help You Remember More

The brain is often thought of as similar to a computer. When the brain is powerful and working properly, it will enable you to perform all your cognitive and bodily functions smoothly and efficiently, and the reverse is also true.

Unfortunately, our brainpower tends to decline as we grow older. And as you might have seen in media reports, loss of memory and dementia is a growing concern for people today. Brain wellness is now right up there with heart health.

If you are finding yourself forgetting things more than usual, it can be a little alarming. But you need to know you are not helpless when it comes to keeping your brain healthy and powerful. There are simple brain exercises for memory improvement you can do to boost your brainpower so you remember more.

Benefits of improving your brainpower

According to a 2015 study published in the journal Neurology, older adults who engage in regular physical exercise like jogging and cycling are less likely to be affected by age-related brain illnesses that can limit memory and mobility.[1] And those people who perform regular, targeted brain exercises keep their brains sharp and healthy, which reduces cognitive decline and memory impairment.

When you exercise your brain, you will also improve your creative abilities, which will give you a competitive advantage in your job.

Moreover, brain exercises strengthen your ability to think on your feet and give witty responses, meaning you won’t be lost for words at critical moments in conversations.

Goodbye to awkward silences!

Simple exercises to sharpen the brain

While you can enroll in a number of online brain training programs, experts generally recommend sticking to brain training exercises that involve real-world activities.

According to David Eagleman, PhD, neuroscientist and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, exercises to strengthen brain function should offer novelty and challenge:

“Almost any silly suggestion can work.”

Here’re 25 simple real-world exercises you can do starting today to sharpen your brain and improve memory.

1. Drive a new route home

As simple as this exercise may sound, taking a different route home stimulates the brain. You are forced to involve more senses to find your way around, which keeps your brain alert instead of mindlessly driving home or to work on familiar routes.

Avoiding ruts and boredom is critical to keeping your brain sharp, says Eagleman.

2. Repeat it out loud

In order to remember anything you have just read, heard or done, repeat it out loud.

For example, repeat out loud the name of someone new you’ve just met and you will nail the name down in your mind.

3. Listen while you read

A study conducted at the University of Puerto Rico found that out of 137 Spanish-speaking students quizzed about an English book they were given to read, those students who read the book while simultaneously listening to an English audio version outscored the group that only read on eight different quizzes about the book.[2]

Listen to audio of something while simultaneously reading or watching it. You’ll engage more of your senses and help your mind remember more.

4. Play crossword puzzles

Simple crossword puzzles and other word games like scrabble, where you rearrange letters and make as many words as you can, stimulate the brain and improve memory.

5. Play chess

Don’t forget to play other brain-boosting, strategy games like chess and checkers. Logic-based numbers games like Sudoku can also keep your brain fit.

6. Learn a musical instrument

Start playing a musical instrument. Studies show that learning something new and complex over a longer period of time is beneficial for the aging mind.[3]

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7. Play a new sport

Start playing a new sport that utilizes both mind and body, such as tennis, golf, or even yoga. Athletic exercise like these will not only improve your physical fitness, but also your mental fitness.

8. Learn a foreign language

Enroll in a foreign language course online or at your local education center. It will help to sharpen and rejuvenate your brain.

9. Draw a map from memory

When you return home from visiting a new place, draw a map of the area from memory. Expand this brain exercise by drawing maps of your commute, neighborhood and other areas to enhance memory.

10. Cook a new cuisine

Take a cooking class. Learn how to cook new cuisines. Cooking stimulates different parts of the brain and different senses including smell, sight, and taste.

11. Do chores with eyes closed

Try washing the dishes, sorting laundry or taking a shower with your eyes closed. This will force your brain to use other neural pathways to get the task done.

Obviously, don’t do anything with your eyes closed that would endanger others or yourself.

12. Eat a meal using chopsticks

Chopsticks will force your brain to pay attention and give your brain a good workout, especially if you have never used them before to eat.

13. Switch hands when doing stuff

If you are right-handed, try using your left hand to do things like brushing your teeth and eating.

For example, if you are already good at using chopsticks to eat, use your non-dominant hand instead to challenge your fine-motor skills that are controlled by the nervous system consisting of the brain.

14. Connect with new people

Every time you connect with other people, you expose yourself to new ideas and other ways of thinking and doing things. This stimulates your mind and widens your world view and thinking process.

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So, be open to traveling more and attending shows and events to meet and interact with new people. It’ll keep your mind in tip-top shape.

15. Savor different flavors in meals

Challenge your taste buds by deliberately savoring your meals. Try to identify the individual ingredients in food, including subtle spices and herbs for a tasteful burst of mental stimulation.

16. Do math in your head

Don’t always rush to use a pen and paper, or a calculator to figure out math problems. Try to do them in your head. Make things a little bit more interesting by working out math problems in your head while also walking.

17. Practice meditation

Training your mind to be quiet is not always easy, but it can be done through meditation.

Some of the benefits of practicing meditation include stress reduction, improved learning ability, increased focus and attention, enhanced memory and mood, and also reversal of brain atrophy.

18. Memorize phone numbers

By memorizing people’s names and phone numbers, you strengthen connections between your brain cells, which can make a big difference for your memory.

Divide 10-digit numbers into sections, such as 801 665 9378 to make it easier remember. It is arguably easier to remember 801 665 9378 than 8016659378.

19. Take up a craft hobby

Craft hobbies like knitting, drawing and painting are now getting more attention for their brain-boosting powers.[4]

Take up any craft hobby of your choice to strengthen your fine-motor skills and boost your brainpower.

20. Tell stories

Telling stories stimulates the brain through recalling and recounting important details. It also helps you remember events and associate emotion with memories.

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Storytelling is so good for memory it is used to improve the lives of people with in Alzheimer’s disease.[5]

21. Create new acronyms

Come up with your very own clever acronyms whenever you need to memorize something in a hurry.

Creating original acronyms or mnemonic phrases, where you use the first letters of words within a phrase to form a name, can sharpen your brain and assist in remembering more.

22. Visualize what you want to remember

Let’s say you want to remember to buy an item you need from the supermarket. Picture the items on your shopping list balancing on parts of your body.

For example, imagine balancing an egg on your nose, a bottle of milk on your head or a package of cheese on your shoulder. It’s fan and you won’t forget that image.

23. Vary aspects of your surroundings

Vary things like the music in the background, time of day and whether you sit or stand when doing something to increase recall.

The theory is that the brain associates words (or whatever you are doing) to the context or environment around you. The more contextual cues you provide your brain, the more it has to draw upon when trying to remember specific things.

24. Space out your learning sessions

Cramming is not always the best way to learn or remember things. Instead, review the information you want to learn or remember (statistics, foreign vocabulary, historical dates, scientific definitions, and so on) periodically over time. By spacing out your study sessions throughout the day, you learn more.

Psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered that he could learn a list of nonsense words if he repeated them 68 times in one day and seven more times before being tested the next day.

25. Sleep on it

Get enough shut eye each night. The brain needs six to eight hours of sleep, or at least two cycles of deep sleep each night to complete the necessary chemical changes needed to integrate new skills and information into long-term memory.

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Remember, your brain thrives on variety to keep those synapses firing. Exercising your brain with activities that are challenging, novel, and complex will help you to remember more and keep your brain fit.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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