Do you have trouble remembering people’s names at networking events? Or find yourself needing to write absolutely everything down so you don’t forget it? If so it might be worth trying to improve your memory which is simpler than it sounds. Being more mindful is the place to start.
According to clinical psychologist and mindfulness consultant Richard Chambers, mindfulness can help boost your memory in three ways – first simply paying attention gives you the best chance of recalling information later on.
“When we’re not paying attention in the first place, we’re not going to be able to remember later what we’re experiencing,” he says. “Learn to pay attention, to really listen and notice what’s being said or what’s happening.”
Mindfulness also acts on a neurological level, Chambers says, by activating and strengthening the prefrontal cortex. Research has shown that practising mindfulness can strengthen our short-term memory.
“The prefrontal cortex is involved in directing attention, planning, reasoning and regulating emotions, but it’s also involved in short-term memory,” he says. “By practising mindfulness you’re growing a muscle, you’re growing the prefrontal cortex so you can remember better in the short term. And there’s evidence now that it also acts on the hippocampus, which is the brain area involved in long-term memory.”
Mindfulness can also alleviate stress, according to Chambers, which impairs the prefrontal cortex and therefore weakens short-term memory.
“When we’re stressed out our immunity goes down, so we’re more susceptible to illness, but it also causes atrophy, which is shrinking in the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus,” he says. “So practising mindfulness actually prevents that shrinking and protects our memory.”
In addition to being more mindful research from Harvard provides a number of other strategies to boost your memory.
Economise your brain use – If we use all our mental energy trying to remember what time that doctor’s appointment is or where we left our keys this morning, we’ll have nothing left to remember the really important stuff.
To make life easier we should take advantage of calendars, planners and shopping lists to keep routine information accessible. To help remember where we put our keys or glasses, it’s best to designate a specific place for them at home. By removing clutter from our home or office we minimise distractions, helping us to focus on new information that we want to retain.
Organise your thoughts: When it comes to remembering information like phone numbers or passwords, it’s helpful to break them down into smaller chunks.
Take note: You can expand the areas of the brain that deal with learning by reading aloud, drawing an image or writing down the information you want to learn. According to Harvard, just forming a visual image of something makes it easier to remember and understand, forcing you to make the information more precise.
Repeat information: Especially when you’ve been introduced to someone, it’s a good idea to repeat their name out loud and use it when you’re speaking to them.
Other ways you can improve your memory include the use of mnemonics, spacing out your learning (rather than cramming the night before) and getting a good night’s sleep. According to Harvard research, sleep is vital for memory consolidation – and we all know how well our brains function after a sleepless night.
To make sure you’re on top of things each day and get a good night’s sleep, Harvard suggests maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and routine by going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning, as well as avoiding caffeine, late-night exercise and napping during the day.