A better memory makes life easier

Often I can’t remember where I’ve left my car keys. I’ve even had to struggle to remember where I left the car on occasion. A little research assured me that a rubbish memory didn’t necessarily mean the first stages of Alzheimer’s, but still, I was fed up forgetting and thought a better memory would make life easier.

So I did some research and discovered that people like me – the multi-taskers (and that’s most of us these days) – are prone to memory lapses.

Multi-tasking makes us susceptible to stress, triggering the fight-or-flight response. This response actually sharpens our cognitive abilities. But not if we’re chronically stressed. If your mind is bustling ahead to deal with future problems, it’s concentrating on other things and you’re not noticing what’s going on around you. Not surprisingly, you can’t retrieve memories of what you did today because your mind is actually living in tomorrow.

When you are faced with some information that it would really be useful to remember then the answer is to get right back into the present and stop your brain whirring long enough to take note.

Make “stop, focus, repeat” your mantra. Then repeat. When learning anything new, repeating it to yourself and if possible saying it out loud three or four times strengthens your memory. Pausing and repeating it later, cements it in your brain.

Do you suffer from social misattribution, the fancy name for recalling an action but not being sure whether you did it on another occasion. Again the answer is to make a point of focusing on the action while you’re doing it and make a visual record. “I’m sending this important e-mail to my boss about the change of meeting and I notice my sleeve is green.” When you’re panicking on the way home whether you sent the e-mail or not, you can look down, see a green sleeve and relax. It takes about two weeks for it to become second nature to do this when undertaking those activities you usually do on automatic pilot.

By the way, the easiest way of not losing your keys (I’ve found) is to leave them in a pot by the front door every single time I come home. That “every single time” is the difficult bit.

Elisabeth Wilson is a counsellor and psychotherapist and the author of Slow down: Enjoy life and live longer (Infinite Ideas, £18.99)

This article appeared in the 3 April issue under the headline “A gentle reminder”

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