Your brain is a complex machine, and like all complicated systems, it’s bound to have its share of quirks. What was I thinking? you ask yourself when you open a package to find thepair of Danny DeVito sequin pillows you forgot you ordered from Amazon. You can probably remember a time when someone’s name was on the tip of your tongue but eluded you until two a.m., when you bolted upright in bed and shouted, “Barbara!”
If you’ve never left your grocery list behind on the counter, forgotten to call the school when your kid is sick, or lost your train of thought mid-sentence — or worse, your train ticket mid-trip — this article isn’t for you. But if your memory needs frequent jogging or you find yourself praying to the Patron Saint of Lost Things* at least once a day, then read on for five hot tips for putting a stop to frequent memory lapses.
Mindfulness practices are known to improve attention, memory, and mood. Start each day with 10 to 15 minutes of meditation, and as you go about your business, sprinkle in your choice of science-based mindfulness exercises, like The Raisin Exercise, the 3-Minute Breathing Space, and the Mindful Walking Down the Street Technique. Over time, you’ll likely find that you’re on autopilot less frequently and have better memory recall.
A lack of sleep is going to jack up your memory, there’s no doubt about it. Sleep deprivation reduces your verbal instant memory, attention, alertness, and visual processing ability — and the effects are cumulative. If getting a good night’s sleep is easier said than done, do what you can to make it happen — including seeing your doctor about chronic insomnia, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and improving your sleep hygiene.
There’s nothing like chronic stress to frazzle your brain and leave you drawing blanks all over the place. Consistently high levels of stress hormones damage the hippocampus (the brain region where memories are formed) and keep your prefrontal cortex (responsible for retrieving memories) preoccupied with deciding whether to fight, flee, or freeze.
To help get your memory back in shape — and improve your overall wellbeing — reduce the stressors in your life, and learn to cope with those you can’t do away with.
Regular exercise, daily meditation, adequate sleep, and healthy food help reduce the body’s stress response and improve your mental stamina so you can better form memories — and recall them later.
If your memory lapses tend to center around remembering the name of the person who told you their name literally ten seconds ago, get into the habit of repeating the name out loud, seeing it spelled, and attaching a mnemonic to it. “So nice to meet you, BOB!” B-O-B, Bob the builder, bobbing for apples.
This strategy is also helpful if you tend to misplace the same things over and over and over — your phone, glasses, keys, wallet. As you develop mindfulness (see #1), train yourself to announce where you put things. “I am setting my phone down on the top shelf behind the ceramic owl.” “I’m putting my glasses in the silverware drawer.” “I’m laying my keys on top of these random boxes stacked in the pantry.” Either you’ll realize you’re putting the item in a spot where you’ll never find it, or you’ll remember that your water bottle is behind the couch pillows when you get thirsty.
Thanks to technology, you really don’t need to rely on your persnickety synapses and sluggish neural pathways to recall the important things you always seem to forget. You’ve got a smartphone — so make it your memory’s henchman:
Can’t remember the name of the guy who played the main dude in that one movie? Ask Google, Siri, Xfinity, or Alexa.
Keep missing appointments because you can never find the envelope, napkin, or receipt you wrote it on? Download — and train yourself to religiously use — a free calendar app.
Always forget important recurring events like recycling day, school early-out days, or your book club meetings? Add them all to your calendar app, set the correct repeating interval (daily, weekly, monthly, yearly), and turn on reminder notifications.
Often find yourself at the supermarket before you realize your list didn’t make the trip? Download a grocery list app, and you’ll never be without it.
Frequently find yourself loaded with shopping bags, scouting the parking lot for your car? Next time, take a photo of your spot. Chances are, just the act of snapping a picture will be enough to help you remember where you parked — but if not, you’ve got the answer at your fingertips.
Tired of the painful password reset process you have to go through every time you want to order a pizza or pay a bill? Set up a password manager, and all of your logins and passwords will be at your fingertips at all times.
Keep misplacing the same items at home — or leaving them all over town? Slap a Tile on ‘em, and use the handy app to locate them without tearing the house apart or wasting gas retracing your steps on errand day.
A foggy memory isn’t generally cause for concern, but it can make life harder than it needs to be. Remembering things occurs at the intersection of attention and memory, and taking action to improve both will leave you with more time on your hands — and less guilt for leaving your significant other behind at Target because you totally forgot they tagged along.
*Prayer to St. Anthony: “Tony, Tony, look around! Something’s lost and can’t be found!” Repeat until you find the item — or realize that St. Anthony must have better things to do than help you find your thumb drive.