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How to Improve Your Memory

How to Improve Your Memory

    Our memory is one of the integral parts of day-to-day human life. We’re using it every moment, consciously or not, as we perceive the world and interpret it based on our memories and experiences, or as we look for the car keys, trying to recall where, exactly, was the last place they were seen?

    It’s no small wonder that this part of our brain would fall prey to such inefficiency and failure, given the busy pace of Western life and the constant barrage of information that the hippocampus must somehow keep up with. At the same time, how can we fall complacent when such an essential thing as memory doesn’t work properly? Many lifehackistas and personal development fans spend hours, weeks, months and years dedicated to other areas of their lives while they completely ignore the memory.

    You should up your standards. Your memory should be a finely-tuned, working piece of equipment that you can depend on. So where do we start?

    Clear Your Mind

    Some of our memory inefficiency is no doubt caused by the clutter in our heads and the ceaseless stimulation of our senses and the barrage of information we so often complain about. The other part of poor recall is inefficiency in the way we store information—much like a hard drive, I suppose, where write speeds can be affected by how much the drive is trying to do at any one time, or completely halted when the drive is full, and can be slowed to a halt by inefficient methods of accessing that data.

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    Meditation

    Meditation is a scientifically proven way to clear your mind and relieve stress. If you find your mind too cluttered to recall important—or even not-so-important—facts throughout the day, adopt a regular meditation habit and reap the health benefits that come with it.

    Meditation goes something like this: find a quiet environment. Focus on your breathing. Quit thinking and forget about the world. Practice until you can actually forget about the world and focus on your breathing.

    GTD

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    As soon as I mentioned cluttered minds, you knew I was going to mention it. The Getting Things Done system is perfect for clearing your head because it eliminates the need to remember. When you’re not trying to hold on to and juggle so much data all day, and you release the stress of trying to retain so much information, that’s probably when you’ll find yourself able to remember everything easily!

    If you just use the info-dumping strategy of GTD, then you stand to gain a lot of mental RAM back. Simply sit down in the mornings—and in the evenings, especially if you have insomnia—and rattle out everything you need to do or consider onto a piece of paper, Word document, task manager, or whatever takes your fancy. The important thing is to remove it from your brain and free up attention for things that don’t need to be at the forefront of your brain.

    Fuel Your Brain

    A starving brain is just like a starving person: it won’t work well. Give your hippocampus the things it needs to operate smoothly.

    Exercise

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    One of the best things you can do for your memory is get exercise. I’ve put this under the Fuel Your Brain section because the reason exercise works so well is that it pumps oxygen to your head. Spend three hours a week walking, running, swimming or doing some form of aerobic exercises. If you already have an exercise regime that doesn’t involve aerobic exercise, you’ll need to add at least three hours per week to get the benefits of exercise on your memory.

    Diet

    The Virgina Woolfe quote is good advice: “One cannot think well, love well or sleep well if one has not dined well.” Of course, if you know anything of Woolfe’s life, you know she’s not an expert on mental health, but in this case, she was right.

    Just like if you failed to exercise, if you don’t eat well, your brain won’t work well. Quit snacking on chips and eat a variety of healthy foods. Avoid processed grains like bread and white rice. What you’re aiming for here is maximum nutrients so your neurons can fire and regenerate at will; fruits, vegetables, and “brain foods” (such as anything containing omega 3 fatty acids—sardines, for one) should comprise the bulk of any intellectual’s diet.

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    Herbs, supplements and drugs

    My pregnant wife is religious in her consumption of folic acid supplements every day, and apparently it’s a good idea for husbands to join in, especially if you’re the type who forgets to do the dishes. With all that folic acid she’s taking, she’s sure not forgetting.

    B vitamins are very important to healthy brain function. Not only will they give your memory a boost, but they’ll reduce stress too—our prime contributor to poor recall.

    As far as drugs go, I wouldn’t take any, but there is one you can boot. Smoking decreases blood flow to the brain, stopping oxygen from getting in there and hence making your prior attempts to rectify this problem useless

    Memory aids

    There is nothing wrong with aiding your memory with a shopping list or a mnemonic. If you need to remember that Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit to help you learn to read music notation, then you shouldn’t be ashamed if it makes your life easier—just be glad you’re not the other guy who’s trying to memorize by rote.

    There are plenty of systems and techniques that fall under the heading of memory aids. Some are as simple as writing a note on your hand or keeping a shopping list. Some aren’t—plenty of Tony Buzan-style techniques are all across the web.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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