Improve Your Memory
Jonathan came into the office last Monday and asked how my weekend was. I paused for a moment and realized, I had no idea. Nothing stuck out, so it must have been unremarkable, right? Still, since it had just happened, I should have been able to remember it. Meanwhile, I can easily recall a commercial I saw once when I lived in Massachusetts "At Danburry Autopark, pay no more til '94!" Which gives an indication as to how old that commercial is. I remember riding the Peter Pan ride at Disney World when I was five, I remember biting into a marshmallow and seeing blood, and realizing I had finally lost my first tooth, but I forgot to eat breakfast this morning, something I have done nearly every day of my life.
According to a recent study, science has finally found out why we remember some things and not others, and the bottom line is: surprise. I was surprised when that commercial used a familiar military cadence. I was surprised when we rode by the crocodile trying to eat Captain Hook. I was surprised when I lost my first tooth; however, I wasn't surprised by breakfast as it's happened every day of my life. I'm not surprised when I need to find my car keys, as I drive nearly every day. These every day activities come as no surprise, so it's easily forgettable.
But what is the science behind it, and can we use it to help our memory? According to the study, done by the University of Edinburgh, when we are exposed to something new, our brain releases a chemical called dopamine. When it hits the memory part of our brain, it creates a quick snapshot (or, if you saw the movie Inside Out, one of those little memory orbs).
Professor Richard Morris of the Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems at the University of Edinburgh said, “Little surprises happen all the time in subtle ways that reflect our personal lives and interests. Somehow, the novelty of surprise creates a halo of better memory for all the otherwise trivial events of one’s day that we ordinarily forget.”
Now that we know the science, how can we use this to increase our memory? Part of the study was introducing mice to something new, and then introducing them to what they wanted the mice to remember. The experiment worked; the mice were more likely to remember. Likewise, the study suggests that if we introduce something new or induce dopamine another way -- such as exercise -- the dopamine carries over into what we want to remember.
Try a few of these and see what works for you:
1) Break your to-do list down into small bites. We release a bit of dopamine whenever we accomplish something, so even if it's something small, you get a bit of a rush and are more likely to remember what follows. This is a reason that those with depression issues often gravitate toward video games, which reward you with nothing else other than a "well done!" for even minor tasks.
2) Distract yourself. This is one I personally use. If you've been at something for a while, your brain may feel foggy or numb. You are not producing your best work, and you're not likely to remember much of your day. Take a quick break; watch a YouTube video, do a wordsearch, or call someone you haven't spoken to in a while.
3) Move. Like I mentioned above, exercise helps release dopamine (and endorphins!). Walk around, dance, or jog up and down the stairs. Some say it also improves creativity.
4) Try something new. Listen to a new song. Touch something you've never touched before. Smell something new.
5) Eat fresh foods, especially garlic and onion. These have long been known to aid with memory retention, and there's a study done by the Journal of Neuro-Oncology to back it up.
Having hypothyroidism, my brain is often more "foggy" than most. I took this past week to try these tips out, and I can tell you exactly what I did this weekend. I surprised my kids with coming home for lunch and taking them out to eat. I saw Incredibles 2. I helped my younger son start his first fundraiser. I worked in my garden. I ate breakfast every single day. I knew where my keys were. My cat killed a large bug and left it in my dining room chair.
We sincerely hope these tips help you improve your memory. You're welcome to email us by clicking here, responding to this post below, or reaching out to us on social media. We'd love to know if any of these work for you!