I’ve rediscovered a favorite habit-reading. I’m solidly in the “hold a book in my hands” camp, but lately I’ve ‘read’ more books by listening to or reading them on my computer. But some books I simply want to hold and read. This feeling corresponds completely with how I like to learn. To remember well, I need to see it.[Read more…]
Did you watch the Super Bowl? I am always impressed with the athleticism of some of the players. Their agility, strength, and speed inspire. But it doesn’t just happen. Years of practice, repetition and habits lead to the athleticism culminating in Super Bowl moments.
Becoming more physically fit is a priority goal for me this year and maybe for you too. The best method for us is also to create a habit. If you know me, you know I love discussing habits! Various lifestyle habits will be on tap here for the next few weeks and exercise is a great place to begin.
Do you use all of your brain power? Probably most of us could put more of our brains to good use daily. It’s estimated we only utilize a tip of the iceberg amount of our brain’s capacity. Yet most of us are okay with this. Why?
Is it because thinking deeply or doing complex things is more difficult? I suspect this may be part of the reason, yet we also realize hard things usually get easier the more we do them. Still, we drag our proverbial feet toward improving our mental fitness and increasing our brain’s capacity.
I’m drawn to the path of least resistance, yet I also have experienced doing what’s outside my comfort zone often becomes my most rewarding accomplishments. Yes, at times I failed or didn’t achieve all my goals. But when truly worthwhile, I kept trying. It’s scary to not succeed or do complex things that make us feel physically or mentally inadequate. It’s simply easier not to do them. But this only creates more problems now and leads to less cognitive ability later in life.
Remember the law regarding inertia? A body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion stays in motion. A similar concept can be applied to our brains. The more we use it, the more we have to use. I’d encourage us all to go even farther and use our Whole Brain-not just the parts we’re used to or enjoy.
When we explore the areas of our brain not typically used often, they’re strengthened and function better later. If we only do simple things, it’s like walking in someone else’s footprints. It’s easier but we’re not blazing any new mental trails.
We all know people who remain mentally and physically sharp as older adults. Why do you think this is? It’s not simply their genes. The physical and mental exercise they did when younger allows them to have improved cognitive function as older adults. What are we waiting for? Let’s blaze our own cognitive trail and do some hard things!
Here are a few simple examples to get started. Take a look, then make up some of your own based on your own unique experiences and where you want to take your brain power!
- Start with what you love. Take an interest and go farther. Love cooking? Try a difficult recipe or a new, more complicated technique. Love reading? Try something outside of your favorite genre, join a book club or simply read aloud to activate different parts of the brain. Take what you already love to the next, more complex level.
- Do your opposite. Stretch the opposite side of your brain. Use your non-dominant hand/side (safely of course). Hate math and numbers? Do some mental math, balance your checkbook without a calculator, or try a numbers puzzle. It doesn’t have to be for a long time, but doing that which we don’t enjoy strengthens underutilized parts of our brain.
- Push past what’s comfortable. We’ve all heard of the ‘wall’ runners feel when distance running. When they ‘hit’ this and run through it, they usually succeed at their goal or at least feel better trying. We can do the same with our brains. Do another problem, read a few more pages, try to grasp one more concept or play one more song. Don’t push yourself into a stressful situation, but do challenge yourself and ALL the parts of your brain.
- Do it for your future. Whether it’s more independence later in life, enjoying loved ones, and/or simply desiring a better quality of life, how we use our brain now will impact how we can use in it our future. Don’t wait for tomorrow, do it now.
Doing hard things in life is well, hard. It requires more brain power, willpower, and physical and mental stamina. But the reward for doing so is the improved brain function we’ll have both now and in our future. Let’s push past comfortable by blazing a mental trail into a better cognitive future.
“I’m worried about (fill in the blank of a loved one), their memory isn’t what it should be.” I hear this often and did again the other day. Many suffer more forgetful moments with age. For those of us in middle age, it can be due to increased stress or doing too many things at once to focus and remember well. In our older years, many see forgetfulness as a normal sign of aging and lesser abilities overall. While there is a bit of truth to that, we should still be able to recall what we want, when we want, even as we get older.
My friend said her loved one was less social and didn’t engage in many mentally challenging things any more. These comments were a red flag to me. Often those experiencing memory loss tend to withdraw from socialization because it’s more difficult. They don’t like doing mentally stimulating activities because they’re more challenging than in the past. It’s not fun being in those situations! But in these situations it’s important to stay engaged and also speak to your physician.
Memory loss can be caused by many things including stress, depression, medication interactions, or a physical issue. If these are all ruled out, then a neurological assessment should be done to see if there’s another reason for the memory issues. A complete workup can differentiate why memory issues are occurring and help with treatment.
But one thing that will help us all is mental stimulation. Ideally, we all want to challenge ourselves daily to the point of it being a mental workout, but not stressful. How we do this varies depending on the individual, time of day, circumstances etc. The important thing is to just do it!
Do what you love by pushing yourself to learn something new or by doing it differently. My friend who was concerned about her loved one said he liked to read, so I suggested reading aloud. It activates more of the brain than reading silently. Leisure activities may have to adjust too. If one card game causes stress, try a different one that challenges but doesn’t frustrate. Or simply do challenging things for shorter time periods to give your brain a break.
Another way to push ourselves mentally is to do it with friends or family. Play games together, go to cultural events, learn new things, or travel to new places. When we do things with others we stimulate our brains differently than we can by ourselves. It’s always more fun to learn new things with others!
Aging can create its own challenges and if memory loss creeps in, the difficulties mount. It’s important to acknowledge and seek assistance as soon as memory issues are noted. The earlier strategies are put in place, the better memory loss can be managed. Seek professional help and therapies to assist. Being proactive with mental fitness, being with others and learning memory strategies can improve and lengthen quality of life. Don’t worry about memory loss, do something about it!
Winds are shifting, leaves are beginning to fall and school bells are ringing. These telltale end of summer signs may make us feel sad about the end of one season and the beginning of another. But if you’ve participated in our #SummerToRemember series, it’s my hope you have plenty of memories to draw upon as autumn approaches.
Mine sure has been a summer to remember with monumental birthdays, milestone events and small moments to cherish. Whether yours was full of big moments or a series of small, all of them are worth savoring. We began this series with the premise that life is short, so let’s make our choices count. The goal was to create an environment for making memories of all our fleeting moments. I did pretty well-how about you?
First off, we discussed how the choices we make reflect what we value while also impacting what and how well we remember. What we choose to think about and how we manage our physical wellness is imperative. Taking care of our bodies and also prioritizing what’s important dictates how well we live and recall our lives. Making healthy choices matter.
To that end, we began with some challenges. The first one was to be aware of and hone the skill of focused attention. How we each do this is unique, but the main point is if we don’t or can’t pay attention well, we will never remember anything. It’s just not possible to input information into our memory without paying attention. If we learn and apply this, we’ll remember more.
Next was a challenge to identify HOW we individually prefer to remember. This typically stems from how we learn or our learning style-visual, auditory or tactile. We may not all understand how we learn best, but thinking about what we enjoy is a first step in knowing our unique learning style(s). Then we apply memory techniques to coincide with how we learn and bingo-we begin to remember more!
Now that we know how to remember more, our challenge focus shifted to keeping our brains healthier. Just like a muscle wants to move, the brain wants to be used. It’s the old ‘use it or lose it’ adage which rings so true. We need to keep learning to keep remembering. Resting on our laurels only allows our brains to atrophy. In order to make it a summer or any moment to remember, we need to keep our brains learning, growing, creating, and maintaining neural connections. This can even be improved upon by stepping out of our comfort zones.
Just as we need to keep our brains learning, we need to keep our bodies moving. Exercising our bodies feeds our brains to function better. Remembering well is enhanced by physical exercise and hopefully the 5 tips to encourage more movement benefited you this summer!
Remembering well is not just about the what, but also the how. How something feels as well as how we think impacts what we remember. Using our senses to connect memories while having a good attitude about life and all we experience truly strengthens our actual memories.
To remember well It’s crucial to manage the three S’s-socialization, sleep and stress. If these aren’t in sync and managed well, our moments can easily turn into ones of lonely, sleepless stress. Often this summer, my sleep habits were varied and I always felt it. Crabby, groggy and foggy could have described me on some days. But managing, adapting, and adjusting my sleep and stress when I could (not always as well as I would have hoped) was beneficial. Being with others can either cause stress or relieve it. Using all the tips given in these posts helped me manage and improve these big three components.
We went through a wealth of information in this #SummerToRemember series. It’s my hope you were able to learn but most importantly apply this information to make your own moments memorable. Take these memories and literally and figuratively store them in your memory and/or as something tangible like pictures, a journal or even simply sharing them with others. Our memories make up the fabric of our lives and the patchwork of our identity.
As we turn to September, autumn and the seasonal and life changes which will evoke different memories, I’ll be taking a week off to make and share memories with loved ones over Labor Day. Please do the same.
Life is short and every moment is meant to be savored. Take some time to enjoy the long weekend and share some memories with others. I’ll be back the following week, ready to encourage us all to even more memorable moments!