What did I come to the fridge for? Did I lock the door? Did I turn off the stove?
Are you plagued by self-doubt? Have you asked yourself these questions lately? Worried that it is something more serious?
We often blame our memory for “forgetting” when, in truth, we didn’t even pay attention to what we were doing in the first place. The good news is: you can learn how to improve your focus easily and, voila, your memory improves!
As a professional memory coach, I work with many people who suffer anxiety daily because they can’t remember if they did something or not. For example, one client, Kathy, explained that she asked herself on the way to her upstairs bedroom each night, “Did I lock the door?” She inevitably forgot whether she did or did not and proceed to go back downstairs to check the door. This was getting on her nerves and it became a quality-of-life issue causing her much anxiety.
Fortunately, there are simple techniques and tools to improve memory that work well for many everyday instances like Kathy’s where we doubt ourselves and our memory. The self-doubt erodes our self-confidence and affects how we believe in our memory. Our own belief in our memory is a crucial component to how well our memory works. What do you say to yourself when you have a “senior moment?” Is it negative and fear-based? Or positive and gentle? Do you say, “I will never remember your name,” or do you give yourself time and patience?
Check out these tools to improve memory:
Use your senses
If you use all of your senses to encode the memory, it will be much easier to retrieve it. Your senses stimulate the brain. Research shows if you use one sense to encode a memory, you are only 10% likely to remember it one week later. But if you use four senses, you are 97% likely to remember it.
Here are some examples of how you can use this technique to alleviate self-doubt and anxiety related to whether you did these tasks or not:
Did I lock the door?
Look at your hand turning the knob, feel the key in your hand, hear the click sound of the lock working, say out loud, “I am now locking the door.” So later, when you doubt yourself, you will remember hearing yourself say out loud that you locked the door.
Did I turn off the stove?
Watch your hand turn off the stove, move the pot, say out loud, “I turned off the stove.” Smell the aroma of what is cooking.
Self-talk helps to anchor the memory
A few minutes later, think back to the newly minted memory and that will anchor it even more. Don’t worry about people who might think you are crazy for talking out loud, everyone does it, especially if they are on Bluetooth!
So, the next time that you think you forgot something, ask yourself, did I even pay attention to it in the first place? if not, use one of these techniques to help you. This awareness alone can help to alleviate the fear of getting dementia.
Use mental images
People spend an average of 16 minutes a day searching for lost items. What a waste of time! Use this simple trick to remember where you put your keys, glasses, wallet, or purse.
Same problem, you don’t pay attention to where you put things when you put them down. You are probably talking on your phone or thinking about twenty other thoughts when you put your keys down. You are not being mindful of what you are doing. Your hand is putting the keys down and your brain is in Honolulu!! You need to align your brain with your hand by being mindful. Bring your attention to what your hand is doing.
We are often so busy trying to get things done, that we think multitasking is productive. But research shows that multitaskers make double the amount of mistakes. Multitasking trips up our brains and increases our stress level. It also temporarily lowers our IQ by fifteen points. If we could just slow down a bit and focus on one task at a time, we will actually remember what we are doing.
Using mental images when you do a task helps you remember where things are.
Now, where did I put my keys, glasses, and purse?
Here’s how to use the mental images technique:
When you put your keys on the coffee table, make sure you are not on your phone or multi-tasking, use your senses, and make a vivid mental image of a bomb blowing up over your keys, a genie popping out of your keys, or a huge bouquet of red roses attached to the keys.
Make the image absurd, funny, colorful, full of action, and you WILL remember it! When you take the two seconds to do this. It encodes it better in your long-term memory so you can easily recall it later. The image that you created will pop into your head when you ask yourself, “where are my keys?”
The image can be anything that speaks to you or that you enjoy. Your mind thinks in pictures, so use your imagination to help your memory. When you practice this technique repeatedly, you get better at it.
The bottom line
What do you say to yourself when you have a “senior moment? Is it negative and fear-based? Or positive and gentle? Do you say, “I will never remember your name,” or do you give yourself time and patience?
Remember that our brains work infinitely better when your belief in your memory is positive. Stay optimistic that your memory can and will improve and it will. Don’t beat yourself up.
Try these simple, but powerful tools to improve memory and everyday functioning! They really work.
About the author
Rena Yudkowsky, a professional memory coach and geriatric social worker, is the founder of Memory Matters. She teaches online memory improvement courses to mid-lifers and seniors. Over the past twenty years in the field, she has served as the director of an Alzheimer’s unit in an assisted living facility in Maryland, the director of development at a senior enrichment program in Israel, trainer for dementia caregivers, facilitator of support groups, and international lecturer on aging topics.
Currently, she offers global webinars for senior groups about memory and focus. She does 1:1 memory coaching and has a membership program as well.
She is super passionate about her mission of helping those 50 + to age more healthfully, both physically and cognitively, as she empowers them to believe in their own memory with confidence. Questions? Email Rena or check out her website to learn more.
Interested in more tips like these plus some brain exercises? Join Monday Memory Motivation, the first Monday of every month. It is a group brain exercises coaching call. See details HERE.