You may have noticed how the world has sped up. Even kids are talking faster than they did decades ago.
With the internet literally in the palm of our hands, modern society is now accustomed to finding answers to their questions and solutions to their problems in the matter of seconds.
Thinking quickly and having a ready answer is the norm. Sometimes we wonder if we can keep up with the agile minds of our associates. Memory retrieval is the key to being an engaging leader in the conversation. But with so many facts and issues swirling around, how can we improve our recall and thought processing skills?
Thankfully, there are ways to improve memory. It doesn’t happen by chance. It takes conscious effort to develop the skills needed to always retrieve a vital piece of information from memory and form your next point while still speaking.
What is Working Memory and Can it Be Improved?
Working memory springs into action when we need to reason, understand, learn and adapt. It allows us to take several pieces of information and use them to our advantage.
Working memory helps you to:
– Quickly retrieve information stored in your memory
– Generate ideas in a split second
– Mentally manipulate and process information to solve a problem
– Organize thoughts and concepts into a logical pattern
– Process the data you have in order to arrive at an explanation or reach a conclusion
– Analyze a situation to figure out the best possible next move or series of moves
We all have a measure of working memory but it’s possible to strengthen and maintain memory skills so that we can work more effectively and be more productive.
6 Ways to Improve Your Working Memory
#1 — Reduce Distractions
Relentless distractions can produce stress and anxiety. Truth be told, when it comes to distractions, we are often our own enemy. Checking emails and social media every hour, calling home or the girlfriend several times a day and allowing our minds to wander from the task at hand are just of the few interruptions we can’t blame on anyone else. Being aware of the distractions we allow in our lives is the first step in shutting them down.
There are apps for your smart phone and add-ons for your browsers that block you from accessing certain websites during the times of day that you set. Some jobs do not require checking email often. If that is your case, check it once in the morning and again after work.
Set a timer to work on a task. Don’t allow your mind or body to wander away from it until the timer goes off. Do whatever works for you to reduce the number of distractions you experience each day.
#2 — Stay Organized
This is related to the distraction discussion above. When you environment is organized, your mind is more at peace. When you can find something quickly at your home or office, you are more productive. You don’t waste mental energy thinking of where something could be and what will happen if you can’t find it. To improve your working memory, keep your mind and life organized and they will be sharper and more productive.
#3 — Brain Exercises for Memory
Brain training websites claim to improve cognitive functions. This claim is controversial. It undoubtedly depends on what you are trying to accomplish.
Most men need something more robust than the games found on brain training sites. If you want to know how to increase your memory power, look at the Duel n-Back game.
The game gets progressively harder and goes something like this: [1.] You are required to listen to a series of letters. When you hear the same letter twice in a row, you press a button. [2.] Next, you push a button when the same letters are one space apart (a, b, a), then two spaces apart (g, n, o, g), then three and so on.
It’s more difficult than it sounds because the letters keep coming at you for a minute and a half. You never know when the first of the pair is being spoken. It requires total concentration. If your mind wanders for even a second, you are lost.
To up the game, try a tic-tac-toe board with your friend. While these rules are easy to understand, the game has the potential to produce 26,830 different variations. But worry not, you can learn some tips and tricks on how to win tic-tac-toe.
The game improves working memory because you must float several images in your brain, retrieving them instantaneously as you would if you were in a heated debate or solving a complicated problem. It should be noted that research has shown that the memory-improving effect is not permanent. In order to maintain the gain, you must play the game every day or every other day.
The question arises as to whether other games, such as the Chinese checkers board game, can improve working memory. Possibly, if you played several fast moving games against several players at the same time—often.
Another possibility might be complicated wooden puzzles. Take it apart and put it together within a very short time frame would require problem solving and focus, which as integral parts of a good working memory.
Simpler games, such as the solitaire peg board game, may be fun and reduce stress but would not do much for answering the question of how to improve your memory.
#4 — Resistance Training – Train the Body, Train the Mind
Research done by Teresa Liu-Ambrose and others have showed a favorable correlation between certain physical training activities and improvements in cognitive abilities. In particular, resistance training was shown to be more benefit than aerobic exercises for improving attention and mental strength.
The reason may lie in the focus component of weight lifting. The mind must concentrate on the weights and the muscle that is being worked. Rather than having many external stimuli, as when bike riding or playing a team sport, distractions are blocked out so that the mind can focus on the area of the body where the strength training is intended to benefit.
#5 — Practice Meditation
Studies have shown that just eight minutes a day of mindful meditation helps improve your working memory. The act of mentally focusing on a single thing disciplines the brain to ignore all distractions. This in turn makes it easier to dismiss distractions when it is time to focus on business-related matters.
Meditation is also famous for reducing stress and anxiety, two unpleasant emotions that hinder the optimal performance of working memory.
#6 — The Importance of Sleep on Memory
We have all heard that the adult male needs six to eight hours of sleep a night. Undoubtedly, you have experienced a day when you can’t think clearly due to lack of sleep the previous night. So of all the working memory improvement activities, this is the easiest. Getting a good night’s sleep is as easy as falling into bed at the right time.
Try this simple experiment: One hour before your normal bedtime, remove yourself from all cool lighting, including television, computer screens and smartphones.
For the first half hour, put on a soft, warm light in your bedroom and read a novel or spiritual material. It shouldn’t be work related, which may stimulate your mind to start planning the next day. Instead, make it casual reading from a printed page. The soft, warm-spectrum lighting will allow your brain to begin creating melatonin, the sleep hormone.
After half an hour of reading, turn out the light and go to bed. If your mind is still racing, focus your mind on a quiet image.
Conduct this experiment for three nights in a row, taking note of how your working memory performs the next day. You may discover that this pleasant discipline will sharpen your recall powers and allow you to focus on difficult tasks for longer periods of time.
Now you know how to increase memory power. Stay sharp, focused and productive by practicing these six activities regularly : reduce distractions, stay organized, do brain exercises for memory, resistance training, practice meditation, get plenty of good sleep.
Even as you grow older, you can keep your mind and recall sharp, holding a place at the table with the quick thinkers and talkers of the younger generations—even in high-pressure situations.
Photo: Getty Images