- Does your brain play this trick on you?
- Why it’s good to forget things
- A neuroscientist’s tips on memory power
This might shock you.
But there are two Ray Collins.
Or should that be “two Ray Collinses”?
Anyway, there is the Ray Collins who writes these emails to you with useful (hopefully) information about health and nutrition.
He probably comes across as someone fairly ‘on the ball’ – or at least I’d like to think so.
Perhaps there’s the odd spelling mistake or error, here and there, but nothing to suggest to my readers that I have any trouble with my brain.
But then there’s the other Ray Collins.
I HATE him.
He’s my nemesis.
We share the same body, but he only appears when my conscious mind lets its guard down.
As soon as I’m distracted, Ray II steps into the control seat and messes with my life.
I’ll give you an example…
My house and car keys always hang on a hook in the hallway when I am not using them.
Well, almost always.
Because when I am not paying attention, Ray II likes to put them in other places – for example, behind a mirror on the fireplace, under the coffee table or in my desk drawer.
Ray II also throws away important documents, only for me to find them in the bin.
Ray II forgets important appointments but then remembers them just at the point where it’s too late.
And Ray II also likes to blank out the first names of people I have met SEVERAL TIMES, just when I need to introduce them to Lara at a party.
“Lara, this is….. uh…. um… err… haha… oh.”
Does this ring any bells?
Do you suddenly go blank, lose important objects or forget appointments?
Welcome to the club.
Of course, I know Ray II is me. But sometimes it really feels like I have to battle with this other version of me that takes over when I am distracted.
I’m constantly losing things (it drives Lara mad) and when I find them it’s usually because I’ve shoved them somewhere silly.
Now, I’ve been like that all my adult life – so it’s not a recent development that I need to worry about.
You see, most of our memory lapses are simply because we don’t focus our attention on what we are doing. Because of this, we sometimes cannot recall where we have recently placed objects – and that’s because we never stored the information in our head in the first place.
Same goes for going blank about a name – it’s a common occurrence that shouldn’t overly concern you, particularly if you have a lot on your mind.
Even that thing where you walk into a room and forget why you went there – that’s normal too.
However, it can be distressing to experience this as we get older, because we all worry about dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Certainly, if you find yourself putting your wallet in the freezer, not remembering the name of a long term partner, or forgetting where you are entirely, then that’s something to get checked out.
But if like me, you simply struggle with day-to-day memory, here are some professional tips from a brain scientist who knows her stuff.
A neuroscientist’s tips on memory power
Recently, I read an interesting piece in the newspaper by neuroscientist Lisa Genova, who researchers Alzheimer’s and whose book Still Alice was made into an Oscar winning film.
Her latest book is about memory, and in it she claims that forgetting is actually good for the brain.
We are so overwhelmed with information in any given day, she says, that your brain cannot possibly store it all. So it jettisons the less important details.
All completely natural.
However, it is annoying when it gets rid of memories you need….like the name of the person you met 5 minute ago)… or the plot of that film you watched last week… or the reason you’ve gone into the bathroom.
So if you want to make your memory stronger, there are strategies that Lisa Genova recommends.
When you are told a name, number, or a piece of important info you need to keep, then repeat it out loud or, if that’s embarrassing, repeat it over and over in your head.
When you do this for over a minute, the info slips from the short term ‘holding bay’ memory into the long-term memory, stored in your hippocampus.
You can also bunch information into small groups.
For example, the number 13102021 is tricky – but if you memorise it as 13/10/2021 it becomes easy.
Same with phone numbers – break them into little chunks like 020-7555-4052 and try to remember the rhythm as much as the numbers themselves.
Genova also points out that it’s important to look at your physical health.
A lack of exercise, too much sugary processed food and poor quality sleep all contribute to cognitive problems. So running, walking and swimming – along with a balanced nutritious diet – will help keep your brain alert.
You can also strengthen your neural connections by taking up a socially or mentally stimulating hobby.
These could include book clubs, learning a musical instrument, or taking an online course.
How to lock in memories
Losing your keys and glasses – while annoying – is not too traumatic.
But losing more valuable memories can be – for instance, great films you’ve seen, funny jokes you’ve heard, or anecdotes about your friends and family.
So the advice on that is to cherish important memories by reflecting on them often, or talking to friends about them.
You should also keep a journal – the very act of writing something down helps lock it into your mind, and you can then read it back every now and then.
I do this with books – I read so many that sometimes I find myself forgetting what was in a book I read only months ago.
So if I want to remember it, I write down the name of the author, the title and the year of publication, then a few paragraphs about the most important elements of that book – and why I liked it.
Sometimes that action alone keeps it stored in my brain, even if I don’t go back and look at what I’ve written ever again.
You could do this same thing with all manner of events and recollections, then refer back regularly to your notes to keep it all in mind,
Anyway, I hope this all helps!
If you want some nutritional tips on keeping your brain alert, check out this issue of the Good Life Letter from 2019 where I wrote all about it: How to feed your brain to keep it younger, sharper, more focussed