Even right now — as you age – you want to keep your mind sharp and your memory from worsening. But how? Here are 5 ways that you can improve your memory and workout your brain so that you can work and live to your fullest potential.
1. Capture Everything
By capturing all of the things that come to mind, you’re actually giving your brain a decent workout and fostering a habit that will improve your memory. The process of capturing your thoughts, ideas, tasks, and more will free up your mind to do the real work it needs to do — focus on the quality of what you want (and need) to do — rather than focus on the quantity of what you have on your plate. David Allen has suggested that by capturing items on paper or in digital form, you are getting closer to a “mind like water” state. Building this habit is like building a muscle — very much a workout — and by keeping less in your brain, you actually will give it the ability to be more reliable with what is in there. That’s where the memory improvement comes in.
One of the greatest things you can do is start capturing what’s in your head today. There are no rules when it comes to journaling. It’s simple to do, you don’t need fancy tools to do it, and the impact of doing so will be both immediate and long-lasting.
You need to challenge your brain to keep it in shape. This is where puzzles and games can come into, well…play.
These puzzles can range from the ever-popular crossword to seek-a-word puzzles and more. You can also try different approaches to solving these puzzles, such as trying to find the words spelled backwards, or switch to finding number sequences instead. The point is to make sure that you are challenging yourself, whether through increasing the difficulty of the puzzle or game or simply spicing things up with a variety of options. Otherwise, you aren’t really working your brain out hard enough.
One of the ways to get started with this is to take part in social gaming, such as Words with Friends or Letterpress for iOS or getting a group together for a regular board game night. Board games are experiencing a renaissance (with Wil Wheaton even hosting a web show that deals with them, TableTop, so there’s no time like the present to introduce — or re-introduce — them to friends and family to help them give themselves a mind makeover as well. Put together a coffee bar, maybe a potluck, and some nice tea and wine.
Practicing yoga can improve both mind and body. An article in the University of Houston publication *The Daily Cougar* suggests that “college students who practice yoga develop lower stress levels and anxiety, mental clarity and an increase in flexibility and strength” — and that can apply to those who don’t spend hours in the classroom as well.
I’ve been practicing yoga for a little while now, and the idea of stretching both my mind and body beyond what I’ve been able to in the past has opened up a lot more opportunities for me. It’s increased my mental and physcial energy, and helps cleanse both my mind and body whenever I do it — almost giving me a clean slate to work with when I’m done. Yoga gives me a refresh and a recharge all in one go — and that’s a huge boon to my productivity.
I have found that music really helps me get into a state of flow. There’s something about listening to music that allows me to really get deeper into the state of creativity that I need to get my work done.
While this may not work for everyone, I know I’m not alone in this. According to a post over at Body+Soul, studies “showed first-grade students who participated in special music classes saw their reading and maths skills increase dramatically,” so this kind of brain workout has been implemented in young children and seems to be working quite well. I know from personal experience that adding music to something repetitive or tedious (such as doing the dishes or cleaning the house, makes the chore a form of contemplation — and even meditative to a point.
Try throwing on some classical music or jazz the next time you want to get a mental workout and just let it flow through your ears and into your mind. You might find yourself — and your brain — all the better for it.
5. Get Enough Sleep
Your mind can’t function at optimum levels if it’s tired, so getting enough sleep is crucial. How you do that is pretty subjective. Whether you’re an early riser or a night owl, you need to make sure you get enough solid sleep to help hold back the effects of aging on the brain. An article in The New York Times quotes a report by Nature Neuroscience, suggesting that “structural brain changes occurring naturally over time interfere with sleep quality, which in turn blunts the ability to store memories for the long term.” That means you’d better start working on getting a better night’s sleep now so that you can have a greater impact on keeping your sleep quality in better shape later. All of this relates to keeping your brain in top shape, whether you burn the midnight oil or rise with the sun.
The important thing to remember here is to not fight your body clock. If you are already predisposed to stay up late, then try to adjust your schedule so that you can get enough hours in after the fact. If you are up at the crack of dawn, then make sure to go to bed early enough to get in the hours of sleep you and your brain need. Wasting time and energy trying to make a wholesale shift from night owl to early riser, for example, can make the process of getting that sleep that much tougher. Focus on getting a good night’s sleep, not different time for sleep, and you will see consistent results that much faster.
We’ve got a lot going on in our lives, and while that may seem as if it gives our brain a healthy workout and improves our memory, it can actually do it more harm than good. Reliving the same patterns over and over again can actually cause more harm than good over time — and that’s not what you want to have happen to you. By giving the above suggestions a try, you’ll have a better shot at keeping your brain working for you and not against you as the days, months, and years pass.
Photo credit: Alviman