Monday, June 18, 2012

7 mind exercises to shape up your 'memory' muscles

You’ve got your phone numbers on speed dial, your old classmates on Facebook and your directions on GPS. Any other information that gets stuck to the tip of your tongue you just quickly Google on your smart phone. Technology can help you operate more efficiently, but it can become a crutch when it affects your ability to memorise essential information.

How the internet changes what we remember
Research has shown that access to a reliable host of digital memory space changes the way humans store information. Instead of remembering details, you memorise where to find it online. The internet acts as transactive memory in the same way that you associate skills sets with friends. However, with unlimited data capacity, it is now possible to keep need-to-know memory stored online. Some argue that this reliance on the internet makes for superficial thinking. For instance, you can easily switch between twitter and text messages without ever having to follow an extended train of concentrated thought. Others say having access to excess memory space liberates the mind and enables you to focus on the implications beyond the details.

Some life situations depend on human memory
Either way it may be wise not to hand over too much of your own brain power to modern technology. There are some situations that really depend on your own memory library.

Phone battery issues: Let’s say you get stuck at a client meeting and your phone dies, but you need to revert back to your boss with important information. If you know his/her number by heart you can simply call from a landline or another mobile phone.

No internet access: Referring back to emails for important information is fairly common. However, if you need to double check your booking reference for a hotel address but have problems with internet access, well, you’ll be stuck unless you actually know where to go.

Emergency situations: Perhaps a friend needs medical care and you have to drive her car to the hospital but there’s no GPS. Know some simple directions around your neighbourhood should be able to get you there quickly, without the use of technology.

Foreign language skills: It is one thing to check your dictionary here and there but you cannot have a real conversation if you have to look up each sentence on your digital translator. Study your grammar and the rewards will soon outweigh the effort.

Make a conscious effort to train your memory

Ultimately it’s up to you to decide what kind of information is important to memorise and what can be stored elsewhere to help you operate more efficiently.

Here’s how to keep exercising those increasingly lazy memory muscles.

1. Learn skills from your friends
Whether your friends are mathematicians or make-up artists, everyone around you can teach you a few life skills. Ask your friends for some professional tips or assistance in their area of expertise and pay attention to how things are done when you ask for help. Taking control in this way broadens your skills set and your memory capacity.

2. Memorise important phone numbers
Speed dial is great, but there are certain situations when you may be out of touch with technology and need to get hold of important business contacts or loved ones. It only takes a small effort to memorise a number but once you know it, chances are that the information will be available to you instantly when you need it most.

3. Don’t use GPS repetitively
Keep using GPS to drive to work every day or to visit close friends and you will never learn the directions from your own memory. Pay attention to street names and visual references along the way and not only are you storing information but you are also keeping your brain well trained. At the same time knowing where you’re going makes for safer driving.

4. Write things down
Writing something down stimulates a part of your brain that helps you to focus and clarify your thoughts. It indicates that you give importance to the words you’re putting down on the page and so your brain works overtime to prioritise the information. Keep a notebook at hand and keep checking back to ensure you remember those important details.

5. Learn to use language properly
Don’t just rely on a spell checker and allow a machine to think on your behalf. Automatic spell checkers are not intuitive and don’t always know what you intend to say.  Make sure you know the rules of the language you’re using and take control of what you’re saying. Spell check should really only assist as a guideline and to help you double check yourself.

6. Use your calendar as a backup
For very important appointments it is best to use your digital calendar as a back-up, but don’t rely on it to keep you on schedule last minute. Meetings are a lot more efficient if you prepare for it and in general it helps to plan for events, even if it’s a social meeting with a friend. Your calendar should only be a helpful reminder of your daily schedule.

7. Get enough exercise
Modern society provides many devices for keeping us from doing exercise. Not only are our memory muscles becoming lazier but our bodies too. Exercise improves your memory capacity, metabolism and brain function in general. Making sure you get lots of exercise will help you focus better and so increase your memory capacity for the better.

It is important to keep thinking for ourselves and to remember key information for those critical situations when technology may not be around. Keep consciously improving your memory and next time you forget to charge your mobile phone or your computer crashes unexpectedly you will be able to recall important information instantly.

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