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3 Ways to Improve Memory

3 Ways to Improve Memory

The human brain is one of the most mysterious and powerful tools in the modern world. This magical organ interprets reality through synapses and neurons, forming subjective thoughts, qualities, and memories, which form our identities. Using up to twenty percent of the energy we consume, our brain is always working and always changing. As we grow, the connections between regions of the brain reinforce each other, fortifying our memory, until a certain age at which, either naturally, through “disuse,” or through memory loss diseases such as Alzheimer’s, we begin to lose control of our memories. But we are not necessarily doomed to forget our brief passage through this life before our brain finally shuts down: here are three ways you can enhance your memory through lifestyle changes.

1. Self-Awareness

Understanding how your brain makes memories is crucial to improving memory function. As you experience the world, the sensory information received is encoded through your short-term memory—visually, acoustically, and semantically—and stored in various regions of your brain with your working memory. Through the long-term process of recollection, your brain reconstructs the memory from storage, meaning that the more times you access a memory, the more likely it is to change (the opposite is true of “commonplace” memories which you rarely revisit, such as this morning’s shower, yesterday’s commute, etc.).

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The act of recollecting is a helpful exercise in improving memory itself. What you notice in certain memories upon recalling them also affects their ability to be recalled. Becoming aware of what draws your attention to certain memories and choosing to focus on different points of view can force your brain to make new associations, thus strengthening your neural network and placing the memory in a context. Keeping a journal is possibly the best way to improve self-awareness, but literal self-awareness with mirrors, cameras, microphones, or audiences also improve the accuracy of memory.

Our memories fade with old age because our brain becomes less effective at encoding and retrieval as we discontinue learning. Learning and socialization arouse various parts of the brain—language, perception, problem-solving, motor coordination—all at once, and are undoubtedly the cornerstones of a bright, sharp, longitudinal memory.

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2. Stress Reduction

Stress has a significant detrimental effect on memory formation. If any strong emotion is present during an event, the neurons active during this event produce strong connections with each other. When the event is recalled, the neurons will more easily and speedily make the same connections (which can be disastrous for those suffering from PTSD or drug addiction withdrawal). These memories also tend to be warped or focused on extreme details rather than the greater context of the scene—another way self-awareness can promote healthy memories.

Get plenty of sleep! Neuroimaging studies have shown activation patterns in the sleeping brain which mirror those recorded during the learning of tasks from the previous day, suggesting that new memories may be solidified through such rehearsal. Coupled with a nightly recollection of the day prior, or even a dream journal, sleep can be a very powerful tool for managing memories.

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Meditation, a form of mental training to focus attention, also seems to increase the control over brain resource distribution, improving both attention and discipline. The changes are potentially long-lasting, as meditation may have the ability to strengthen neuronal circuits as selective attentional processes improve.

Playing music also improves various aspects of memory through abstract connections in the brain between acoustic, semantic, and language-processing regions. Research shows that children who participated in one year of instrumental musical training showed improved verbal memory, whereas no such improvement was shown in children who discontinued musical training.

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3. Diet and Exercise

Exercise has been shown to improve cognitive performance on encoding and retrieval of information, and has been found to regulate hippocampal neurogenesis, which promotes the survival of newborn neurons and helps form new memories. Physiological activity also provides the brain increased blood-flow and oxygen levels, which, along with the right diet, keep the brain healthy.

There are many “brain foods,” but only a certain group of fruits and vegetables provide direct benefits to the facilitation and maintenance of memory processes—flavonoids. Flavonoids are photochemicals found in plant-based foods and valued for their antioxidant properties,  and are found in onions, leeks, broccoli, parsley, celery, soybeans, citrus fruits, berry fruits, tomatoes, green teas, red wines, and cocoa. Glucose also plays an important role in improving memory, as it can pass from blood to the brain, providing energy and boosting neural metabolism.

Excess intake levels of fat and calories are harmful to memory function. Saturated fats and cholesterol are especially high-risk foods for the onset of Alzheimer’s, not to mention the myriad other health risks associated with these food groups.

Featured photo credit:  Businessman with confusing tangle of thoughts via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

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Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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