Do you remember?

In the good old days people had to rely on their memory and/or writing down things (making a shopping list for example), in order to remember dates, places, numbers, and so on.  Today we have a smartphone, laptop, tablet, and/or someone in our family or at work, that helps us to remember these things.  Not a bad thing; but the downside is we start to become lazy in a sense.  Instead of trying to remember a number, a birthday date, or a name, we, instead, turn to our phones or someone else.

When I was growing up, we all had to learn to do maths without a calculator.  It was only later, when I was older, that we started to use calculators in class.  How many of us can still do a simple mathematical sum without a calculator?  How many telephone numbers can you remember; how many birthdays, special dates, and so on, without having to reach for your phone or a diary?

Improving your memory is not as difficult as it sounds, nor does it take a lot of effort or work either.  According to Michael Abrahams (memory expert and mentalist), there is no such thing as a bad memory; you either have a trained memory, or an untrained memory.  The key is to unlock your brain’s potential to remember and to train (retrain) your brain.  When we go for a walk, to the gym, or for a jog, we are training our bodies and working on keeping in shape.  To train your brain – and memory – is not difficult at all.  Here are a few tricks that will help. 

Mnemonics:  the way in which you use different methods to recall information.  For example, a rainbow’s colours are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.  Using the first letter of each word, you remember ROY G BIV.  Using music can also help; not only can it help you to remember words, but music can also help you to remember maths equations, science cycles, and even the names of countries!

Association:  when you are using something that is familiar to use or to assist in recollecting something, you use association.  For example, you meet somebody new whose name is Gerald.  In order to remember his name, you think of your sister, Geraldine.

Pictures and stories:  one of the best ways to remember something is to make up a story by using pictures.  The mind stores pictures better than words; so next time you misplace your car keys, decide on a specific spot in the house where you want to keep it.  Make a mental picture of your keys lying in the designated spot.  Fill your picture in with yourself fetching it, someone / something giving it / holding it, and so on.

Memory palace technique:  used by many athletes; you associate information with a specific place (s) that is familiar to you, like your home or the roads you take to get to work and back, with that which you want to remember.  If, for example, you need to do some grocery-shopping, try to look at the buildings and things around you when you drive and “link” your list to things.  For example, seeing a robot can remind you of buying green beans, oranges and apples (green, orange and red). 

Give your brain a challenge:  just like your body needs to be exercised to stay strong and healthy, so too does your brain.  Learning to play an instrument, learning a new language, playing chess or cards, doing crossword-puzzles, and/or doing art, are all examples of things that you can do to help your brain to make new neural pathways.

Try not to write down your daily “to do- “list or store it on your phone:  your brain is far more powerful than you think.  When you try to remember things every day, the list of things you can remember will increase every time.  When you start to rely on writing things down, or storing it on your phone, your brain becomes lazy.  Think of it as a muscle; when you exercise you keep your strength, flexibility and muscle memory.  When you don’t exercise / stop exercising, you lose your muscle strength, and the muscles become weak / lazy.

Do manageable things every day:  Michael said that frequent revision is the key to assist in locking information in.  When he broke the Memory World Record for Pi last year, he said his secret was to break the learning down into small, manageable chunks of information, that he revised regularly.

What else can you do to help your brain to stay fit, healthy and remember?

Start by ditching a bad diet.  What we eat not only affects our bodies, but also our brains.  When cholesterol plaques build up in the brain, it can damage the brain tissue due to the lack of oxygen-rich blood.  Brain cells need oxygen-rich blood in order to work optimally and, if deprived of it, not only affects your thinking and memory, but it can cause other health problems as well.  Best to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish (especially oily fish), nuts and wholegrains.  Your brain needs Omega-oils to work as well as stay healthy.

Exercising regularly.  Exercise protects the brain against deterioration and reduces the risk of cognitive decline with age.  There is a saying that “we are only as old as we think we are.”  Whether you just go for a daily walk, a jog, do yoga or Pilates, moving the body is vital.  Not only does your brain excretes the “happy- “hormone serotonin when you exercise, but exercising can lift your spirits (just like laughing); especially when you can be outdoors.

Cutting down on alcohol or stopping altogether is not such a bad idea.  Did you know that binge drinking, for example, even when you did it when you were younger, can destroy the nerve cells in the brain, as well as damage the hippocampus (the part of your brain that plays an important part in memory)?  If you do like a glass of wine, for example, opt for red wine, as it is high in antioxidants.  Again, the key here is moderation: no more than 1 – 2 glasses with a meal; no need to finish the bottle just because it is open!

Smoking is another bad habit that can cause lasting damage to your brain cells.  Not only does smoking deprive your body’s cells of absorbing oxygen, but it can kill certain cells permanently.  When your brain doesn’t get enough oxygen, parts of it can start to die off.  The same with the rest of the cells in your body.  Oxygen is life!    

Socializing.  Studies have shown that, being socially isolated and/or lonely, can be tied to an earlier onset of dementia.  When we socialize our brain’s performance is boosted.  If you know of someone that lives alone, stay in touch.  Make a point of going out with friends and/or family.  Discussing different things and chatting to others is good for both your morale and brain.

Classical music.  Ever heard of the Mozart-effect?  Baroque music, especially the music composed by Mozart, have been shown to have a wonderful, positive effect on the brain.  It is used by millions of students and adults alike when they are studying / learning.  Not only does it calm the mind and soul, but the musical rhythms are such that it can have a positive effect on the brain waves and memory alike.

Horse riding, karate, Tae Kwan Do, Judo.  Doing a sport like the beforementioned, teaches the child / adult to focus.  When you are focused you not only achieve more, but you get more done.  As I’ve mentioned before, think of your brain as a muscle.  When you learn to become centred (as is the case with these types of sports), you start to use it in all areas of your life.  Horse riding is an excellent sport for children that is highly intelligent.  Because the horse is an intelligent animal, the person riding the horse must adapt and learn to “listen” to the horse – not the other way around.

Eat more dark chocolate!  Yes, you heard me – cocoa is high in antioxidants that can aid the brain’s performance.  Chocolate with a 70%+- cacao amount is best.  The flavonoids in the cacao can, according to various studies done, aid in brain functioning by improving blood flow to the brain.  However, skip chocolate with added sugar in and don’t overindulge!

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