Most of us are familiar with the brain fitness exercises that have become so popular in recent years. Whether you do crossword puzzles, brush your teeth with your nondominant hand, or play Scrabble with friends, millions of people are doing mental exercises to stave off cognitive decline.
Scientific evidence supports such mental stimulation to enhance brain health. But memory exercise can go beyond merely doing jumping jacks for your brain.
Memory aerobics use focused techniques to improve everyday memory skills in a very practical way.
The basic method that I teach is based on three functions in the memory process: Look, Snap, and Connect.
1. Look is just a reminder to focus your attention. The single biggest reason we fail to remember things is that we simply aren’t paying attention in the first place. How many times have you been introduced to someone at a party while you’re distracted and 10 seconds later you don’t know the person’s name?
2. Snap directs you to create a mental snapshot or image of what you want to recall later. This step takes advantage of the fact that our brains are hard-wired to remember things visually.
3. Connect is the final step that reminds us to link up our mental snapshots so they have meaning and can be recalled later. If something is meaningful, it will be memorable.
In using this technique, try to be as specific as possible with your images; Snaps with greater detail are more memorable. For instance, imagine two sandwiches. One is simple ham on white bread; the other is a hamburger with bacon, cheese, and grilled onion on a sesame seed roll, with a pickle and olive garnish.
Which of those two sandwiches do you think you’d be more likely to remember?
I often tell patients that the more active and unusual their mental images are, the easier they will be to remember.
This method is also great for remembering to-do lists. For instance, if you are running out of the house and don’t have time to jot down your errands, imagine a story that incorporates images that represent those errands.
See yourself holding a large egg with a stamp on it, but the egg slips and cracks open all over your shoe. This will remind you that you need stamps and eggs, and have to stop by the shoemaker.
“Look, Snap, Connect” forms the basis for overcoming everyday forgetfulness, including the most common age-related memory challenges.
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