Improving Your Memory

Improving your memory has been provoking us to develop memory systems for a long time.

There are hundreds of them, and the most recent improving your memory tools include technology designed to improve recently discovered capacities of the human brain called neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.

A great example of the most recent technology is the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, which has been demonstrated in the ACTIVE study to roll back memory loss 10 years.

The recently published IMPACT study (April 2009) demonstrated similar results when the Posit Science system was used by 524 Senior Citizens, all over the age of 65.

In fact, there is quite a bit of uproar in the marketplace about a new concept called brain fitness.

The marketers, of course, are saying that we should all begin to work out our brains like we work out our biceps, because those brains grow new brain cells every day which, generally speaking, migrate to the hippocampus, where memory begins, if I do not kill those new neurons with booze or stress hormones or environmental toxins.

The scientists take a more cautious approach to the brain fitness issue, although no one can deny that neurogenesis is a fact, and no one can deny our brain's incredible ability to rewire itself when we learn new stuff, which is called neuroplasticity.

If you want to make sense of the brain fitness craze, then I suggest you read Brainfit for Life by Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D. who are neuroscientists at the University of Michigan.

Their book speaks to the pillars of brain fitness, which are physical exercise, nutrition including lots of antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acid, sleep, stress management, and novel learning experiences, like using the computerized brain fitness program Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro, which really helps with attention and focus.

Do you need attention and focus to help with improving your memory?

More on Mind Sparke in a moment.

Improving Your Memory Systems

Texas A&M University provides an excellent listing of improving your memory tools, from which this section about remembering the names of folks you were just introduced to is taken.

"Remembering People's Names

One of the most important things we use our memory for is to recall people’s names. Although it’s important, most of us put ourselves in embarrassing situations where we can and do remember the face, but cannot remember the name. Our recent ancestors were lucky enough not to have this problem. It was common knowledge that people who baked bread were named "Baker." The same is true for "Blacksmiths," "Carpenters" and "Tailor’s."

Today the name game is a little more complicated. In college, we meet people in large group settings and it is extremely difficult to remember just a few of the names for any real length of time. Thankfully, there are two systems that can help us remember and connect the face to the name. Used correctly, each system builds and strengthens the other. The first system derives from the early colonial rules of social etiquette, and the second is taken from the Mnemonic Methods we have learned about earlier in this handout.

The first or Social Etiquette System follows a series of steps that progress to the goal of remembering names for social interaction purposes. Whether for social or professional purposes, the steps will set an easily learned pattern that can help you start associating a particular name with the corresponding face.

1. Don’t "know" that your memory is terrible and not attempt to really "hear" how each person’s name is pronounced.

2. Greet people by looking them straight in the face. Look for one distinguishing feature such as hair, eyes, lips, nose, forehead, wrinkles or facial hair. Find something that makes this person unique.

3. Listen to "how" this person’s name is pronounced.

4. Always ask to repeat the name. "Did you say Joe Smith?"

5. If the name still puzzles you, ask for the correct spelling. If you were panicked by introducing yourself, this is a good way to hear the name again without being totally obvious

6. Find closure with steps #4 and #5. Make sure that you can spell or say their name.

7. Exchange business cards if you can. You then have a hard copy for review.

8. Repeat that person’s name in conversation as much as possible. "John, do you know Joe Smith? Joe is a business major from Houston."

9. During any pauses in the conversation, internally repeat that person’s name to yourself.

10. During longer breaks, step back and recite each persons name along with the facial characteristic that helps you to remember them.

11. When the group breaks up or you leave, use that person’s name in your farewell. "Well Mr. Smith, it was a pleasure to meet you."

12. After you leave the scene, write down people’s names and the facial characteristics that set them apart from others.

13. Set your goals slowly. If you have not tried to remember names in the past, you won’t be an expert right away. Make a goal of remembering 5 people’s names each time you get into a group setting. When this becomes easy, push your goal up to 6 or 7. You will find that once you get the 5 goal down that increasing the limit is extremely easy.

The second system in "remembering people’s names," is the Mnemonic System we have learned about in the earlier sections off this handout. By using simple association and imagination, we can mentally flag information that we choose to make interesting enough to remember. A combination of this and the Etiquette System works best for long term retention of memory.

1. Make sure you are clear about the correct way of spelling and pronouncing that person’s name.

2. Make sure you mentally repeat the person’s name at least twice in your mind.

3. Look for that one obvious head or facial characteristic.

4. Mentally reconstruct that person’s face. Use your wildest creativity to exaggerate the head or facial characteristic much like a cartoonist would.

5. Repeat that person’s name while imagining the intensified feature you made up. It sometimes helps to rhyme or spoof the person’s name. You might remember John Pane by thinking "John Wayne" Pane.

© 2009 TAMU Student Counseling Service

The Role of Brain Fitness in Improving Your Memory

Improving your memory is much easier in a brain that is keeping all of its newly minted neurons because they are regularly challenged with novel learning experiences.

The brain fitness literature says that novel learning experiences must consist of the kind of learning we experience when learning a new language or a new instrument, which means means increasing levels of challenge with the opportunity for the appropriate amount of positive feedback (about 80% correct anwers) built in, which means no more of the same old same old.

As a counselor, I cannot read another counseling book and expect to enhance neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.

Computerized brain fitness programs are excellent at providing the appropriate challenge, especially if I do not have time to learn a new language or a new instrument.

Excellent choices are the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, the Lumosity program, and the Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Program.

Evans and Burghardt in Brainfit for Life review the research on the dual n back task, upon which the Mind Sparke Program is based, quite favorably.

The Mind Sparke program has been shown to increase IQ, which is part of improving your memory.

Here are links to improving your neurogenesis and neuroplasticity tools.

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