I went to Home Depot the other day in search of…something. By the time I got to the store, I’d forgotten what it was that I needed. As I wandered the aisles, hoping that something would trigger my memory, the sales clerk came over and asked, “Can I help you find something?” I replied, “Can you help me find my brain? I seem to have lost it.”
I didn’t actually say that to him because I have an aversion to being carted off by the men in white coats. But I thought it. Boy, did I think it. My brain was gone and I had no idea where it went.
That day was the last straw. My memory has been deteriorating and my attention span shortening (pretty sure the two are related because if I can’t pay attention to anything, how can I be expected to remember anything) for a couple of years now. It’s gotten so disturbing that I mentioned it to the doctor on my last visit. His answer: “Well, you’re not twenty anymore.” Well, duh, dude. Ignoring his sarcasm, I made him check for any physical reasons why my brain is failing me. He couldn’t find any. Well, other than I’m not twenty, of course.
I know hormones and aging can play havoc with memory and cognitive function, but come on. I’m not that old and it’s already this bad? Really? I miss my old self. I was a nerd in school. I could study for hours, memorize anything, and internalize new concepts as fast as I could eat a handful of jelly beans. I used to have an eidetic memory. I was smart. Now I can’t even remember why I went to Home Depot.
Since my problem isn’t obviously physical, I guess I have to take matters into my own hands. I’ve done quite a bit of research over the years in the area of brain science and I’ve come up with the following list of things that might help save my brain. (Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor and this isn’t medical advice. It’s merely a list of things that I’m willing to try in the hopes something might get my brain back in order.) It might all be hokum, but if it helps…
- Play more games. I’m a huge board gamer, but I tend to get stuck in ruts. I like to play the same things over and over again and while there’s some merit to that from a brain perspective (every game involves problem solving and other skills), I can do better by playing games that are new to me. New games require learning new rules and mastering new skills. Much more challenging than doing the same thing all the time.
- Get off the Internet. Yes, I use the Internet to make my living, but I need to ease up. The Internet has been shown to shorten attention spans. I know this is true. I used to be able to focus on one task for hours at a time and now I’m like a jackrabbit on speed, clicking from one thing to the next, multitasking, and reading many snippets of information but mastering and learning nothing. I need to get my information from more in-depth sources that make me think and stop spending so much time in the 140-character world of social media.
- Read more. I’m already a voracious reader but as with games, I get into sloppy habits. I stick to favorite authors and genres and don’t branch out to more challenging material. I should try more challenging non-fiction and fiction, books in foreign languages, and books about topics with which I am unfamiliar.
- Quit multitasking. I’m among the millions who kid myself that I’m getting more done by multitasking. This is a myth. All we’re doing when multitasking is mentally switching between tasks. We’re not really doing two things at one time, all we’re doing is further fragmenting our concentration. I need to go back to focusing on one thing at a time and giving it my full attention before switching to something else.
- Write it down. This is more of a helper than a cure, but if it can keep me from having another Home Depot episode, then I’m all for it. Making lists can be a great way to keep focused on tasks and improve productivity, as well as improve memory and recall. The act of writing things down often imprints them on the memory more so than simply thinking, “Remember this.” And actually write it down, don’t type it into the computer. Using your hand to write activates more neurons than typing.
- Cut down on TV. As with the Internet, TV is a distraction that just makes processing information that much more difficult. If I’m watching something then I should focus on that, but if it’s just on for noise, I should turn it off and focus on whatever else I’m doing. And I need to get better about choosing quality programming instead of brain garbage. (Dancing With The Stars, I’m looking at you.)
- Puzzles. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, word finds, jigsaw puzzles, and other brain-challenging puzzles can be a good way to stretch the neurons. Except for the People crossword. That’s just more brain garbage.
- More exercise. I’m pretty good at this, but I do get slack like everyone else. I need to remind myself to work out more often and to try new sports/activities. The brain thrives on oxygen. Doing different activities keeps exercise from getting boring and teaches new skills.
- Meditate. I’ve tried this before with little success, but I’m going to try to stick to it. Supposedly, a meditation practice improves memory, focus, and concentration, as well as lowering blood pressure and other health benefits.
- Eat better. This is another thing that I’m normally pretty good at, but I sometimes fall off the wagon and go for fast food. Good food fuels the brain, so I need to make better choices including healthy fats and lots of vegetables, less diet Mountain Dew (my secret addiction) and more water.
- Get proper sleep. I am a very light sleeper and it’s a condition made worse by having discourteous neighbors who crank their motorcycles up at midnight. There’s not much I can do about that, but I can work on improving my sleep environment: Darkening the room, getting a fan for white noise, reading before bed instead of watching TV, drinking less caffeine, getting up and going to bed at the same times each day, etc.
- Get out more. Working from home makes me a bit of a shut-in. I don’t get out and about with others as much as I should. Brains love social interaction, cultural events, volunteering, travel, and engrossing hobbies. I need to make an effort to get out more and do things with real people in the real world.
- Learn new things. I need to step out of my comfort zone and make the effort to learn new skills. Try to finally master Italian. Learn to cook new things. Take up an instrument. Take a class in something I know nothing about. I’m guilty of getting complacent with my knowledge and not stretching to learn more.
I have no idea whether any or all of this will help, but I’ll keep you posted. That is, if I can remember to keep you posted.