Harvey Mackay: Build your memory | AspenTimes.com

Harvey Mackay: Build your memory

“Do you know what today is?” a wife asked her husband as he left for work.

“Of course I know what today is,” the husband grumped. “I can’t believe you would think I would forget such an important day.” And with that the husband rushed to his car to conceal his panic and embarrassment. Had he forgotten their wedding anniversary again?

That evening, the husband returned home bearing a dozen roses and a beautiful dress from his wife’s favorite boutique.

“This should win me some points,” he thought to himself.

His wife could barely contain her excitement. “My goodness!” she exclaimed. “A dress and flowers. What a wonderful surprise? But tell the truth, do you know what day this is?”

“Of course,” said the husband confidently.

His wife said, “Today is Arbor Day!”

Will he forget Arbor Day ever again? Probably not. But he will have a tough act to top his anniversary!

Most people who claim they have a poor memory actually have an untrained memory. Twenty percent remember by hearing, so say things out loud. Forty percent remember by seeing, and the other 40 percent remember by doing, so write things down to prove to yourself that you know it.

But this isn’t anything new. Confucius said 2,500 years ago, “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.”

You have heard me say many times that pale ink is better than the most retentive memory. In other words, write it down. Brain clutter and interruptions can detour the best intentions to remember.

Ever had a great idea that you forgot almost right away? Most of us have, and it can happen more frequently as we grow older. It’s often said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but just about any healthy person can improve his or her memory.

Take for example Scott Hagwood, who follows a regimen to improve his memory similar to those athletes use to train their bodies. Hagwood suffered from thyroid cancer, and one of the side effects of his radiation treatments was memory loss. Hagwood, who most would consider an average college student, entered a contest called the USA Memoriad – a sort of memory Olympics. Contestants memorize poetry, decks of cards, lists of numbers, words and so on. Hagwood won.

You can improve your memory and keep it strong at any age by following a few basic tips:

• Get plenty of rest: Lack of sleep can diminish your brain’s ability to solve problems, think creatively and form memories. A good night’s sleep is essential.

• Exercise: Physical activity increases the flow of oxygen to your brain and keeps you healthy in other ways. You become more alert and relaxed, thereby improving your memory. Relaxation techniques can be helpful in improving memory.

• Socialize: Stay in touch with friends. Good relationships are important to emotional health and mental processes because they provide stimulation and laughter. Volunteer, join a club, or get a pet.

• Reduce stress: You may not be able to eliminate all unpleasant situations and activities from your life, but do your best to manage your reaction to them.

• Eat the right food: A nutritious diet can help you stay in shape mentally as well as physically. Research shows that foods with omega-3 fatty acids can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and fruits and vegetables supply antioxidants that are good for your brain.

• Organize your thoughts: Learning new material or retaining facts works best when you group related information until you have mastered it and then move on to other concepts.

• Spend extra time for really difficult material: Learning the names of a couple new co-workers is a breeze – but when you need to identify every member of your new department, allow yourself a little more leeway. Study lists so the names themselves become familiar.

• Keep your brain active: Spend more time reading and doing crosswords or Sudoku puzzles than watching TV. A good mental workout will keep your mind in shape to process and remember important information.

• Minimize distractions: Pay attention. Distractions can make you quickly forget even simple items. The ability to concentrate and focus can’t be understated. If you’re easily distracted, pick a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. He also spends about six weeks a year in Aspen.

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