TIME psychology

4 Easy Ways You Can Resolve Life’s Toughest Questions

How To Work More Efficiently

Use the Eisenhower Matrix.

decision-book

Via The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking:

The US President Dwight D. Eisenhower supposedly once said: ‘The most urgent decisions are rarely the most important ones’. Eisenhower was considered a master of time management, i.e. he had the ability to do everything as and when it needed to be done. With the Eisenhower method, you will learn to distinguish between what is important and what is urgent.

Whatever the job that lands on your desk, begin by breaking it down according to the Eisenhower method (see model), and then decide how to proceed. We often focus too strongly on the ‘urgent and important’ field, on the things that have to be dealt with immediately. Ask yourself: When will I deal with the things that are important, but not urgent? When will I take the time to deal with important tasks before they become urgent? This is the field for strategic, long-term decisions.

 

How To Be Happy

Try the “Flow” model.

decision-book

Via The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking:

After interviewing over a thousand people about what made them happy, (Csikszentmihalyi) found that all the responses had five things in common. Happiness, or ‘flow’, occurs when we are:

• intensely focused on an activity

• of our own choosing, that is

• neither under-challenging (boreout) nor over-challenging (burnout), that has

• a clear objective, and that receives

• immediate feedback.

Csikszentmihalyi discovered that people who are ‘in the flow’ not only feel a profound sense of satisfaction, they also lose track of time and forget themselves completely because they are so immersed in what they are doing. Musicians, athletes, actors, doctors and artists describe how they are happiest when they are absorbed in an often exhausting activity – totally contradicting the commonly held view that happiness has to do with relaxation.

 

How To Remember Everything You Have Ever Learned

Use the Supermemo model.

decision-book

Via The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking:

Imagine that you are learning Chinese. You have learned a word and memorised it. Without practice, over time it will become increasingly difficult to remember. The amount of time it takes for you to forget it completely can be calculated, and ideally you should be reminded of the word precisely when you are in the process of forgetting it. The more often you are reminded of the word, the longer you will remember it for. This learning programme is called SuperMemo and was developed by the Polish researcher Piotr Woźniak.

After learning something, you should ideally refresh your memory of it at the following intervals: one, ten, thirty and sixty days afterwards.

 

How To Deal With A Dilemma

Use “The Rubber Band Model.”

decision-book

Via The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking:

Is this a situation you are familiar with? A friend, colleague or client needs to make a decision that could irrevocably alter their future: for example to change career, move to another city or take early retirement. The arguments for and against are evenly balanced. How can you help them out of their dilemma?

Copy out the rubber band model, and ask the person to ask themselves: What is holding me? What is pulling me?

At first glance the method seems to be a simple variation of the conventional question ‘What are the pros and cons?’ The difference is that ‘What is holding me?’ and ‘What is pulling me?’ are positive questions and reflect a situation with two attractive alternatives.

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TIME

Sleep Helps You Remember Things If You’re a Mouse

That’s the technique that worked best for mice in an intriguing study on how sleep helps the brain to create and store memories

It’s hard to tell how much a mouse remembers, but by peering at the activity of nerve cells in animals’ brains while they sleep, researchers have found some clues. That’s how Wen-Biao Gan, a neuroscientist and physiologist at New York University, learned some interesting things about what happens when mice snooze.

By tagging nerves cells in their brains, Gan and his colleagues report in the journal Science that sleep is actually a very active time for the brain, in which connections between buzzing nerve cells are made in order to consolidate memories. The researchers had mice run on a rotating and accelerating rod, then allowed them to sleep. Some of the mice got to slumber undisturbed, while others were handled to keep them from getting quality sleep. The animals who slept undisturbed showed signs of new neural connections forming during just the first phases of sleep, known as non REM sleep.

“My feeling is that sleep is important to the process of forming long term memory,” says Gan. During REM, not only are the same nerve connections that the mice made while they ran reactivated, but new connections were also made. When he blocked the reactivation of nerves, no new connections were made, suggesting that learning, or making long term memories, is a two part process in which sleep plays an important role.

How applicable are these findings to helping people? Hopefully some of same principles apply, says Gan, although more studies will be needed to confirm that. So don’t underestimate how much work your brain is doing while you catch some z’s. Most of what you remember could be thanks to getting a good night’s sleep.

TIME psychology

How to Develop a Photographic Memory: 4 Easy Steps

Could you memorize the order of a deck of cards in under 30 seconds?

(Hat tip to Josh.)

Don’t feel bad; I can’t remember what I ate for lunch yesterday.

In fact, one-third of British people under 30 can’t remember their home phone number.

Via Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything:

According to a survey conducted in 2007 by a neuropsychologist at Trinity College Dublin, fully a third of Brits under the age of thirty can’t remember even their own home land line number without pulling it up on their handsets. The same survey found that 30 percent of adults can’t remember the birthdays of more than three immediate family members.

The thing is, while some people are blessed with a naturally impressive memory, the true memory experts are made, not born.

How do you dramatically improve your memory? C’mon, we’re gonna build a palace.

The Memory Palace

The idea dates back to the fifth century B.C. and was first synthesized in Cicero’s Rhetorica ad Herennium.

So what does a palace have to do with remembering your shopping list?

Your memory is not just a hard drive that stores everything equally well. It’s particularly good at certain things and terrible at others.

Work with it, you’ll be impressed. Work against it and you’ll be wandering the supermarket aisles for that one thing that’s on the tip of your tongue…

Our ancestors didn’t need to remember long lists, they needed to remember routes to resources.

Memory champion Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, penned a piece for the New York Times explaining:

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t need to recall phone numbers or word-for-word instructions from their bosses or the Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum or (because they lived in relatively small, stable groups) the names of dozens of strangers at a cocktail party. What they did need to remember was where to find food and resources and the route home and which plants were edible and which were poisonous. Those are the sorts of vital memory skills that they depended on, which probably helps explain why we are comparatively good at remembering visually and spatially.

While we’re terrible about remembering lists of random numbers, the human mind is naturally excellent at remembering places.

What memory experts do is work with the brain’s natural setup to turn hard-to-remember things and fit them into a format that is easy to remember:

The point of the memory techniques described in “Rhetorica ad Herennium.” is to take the kinds of memories our brains aren’t that good at holding onto and transform them into the kinds of memories our brains were built for.

So what do you need to know about the fundamentals of memory to get cooking?

  • We’re really good at remembering layouts, routes and spatial information.
  • Our minds are visual.
  • We remember things that stand out; things that are absurd, funny, sexual or offensive.

Here’s how you combine these principles to remember anything:

1) Build Your Palace

It doesn’t need to be very royal. Basically it can be any building you know the layout of. A good starter palace is your childhood home.

Via Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything:

The crucial thing was to choose a memory palace with which I was intimately familiar. “For your first memory palace, I’d like you to use the house you grew up in, since that’s a space you’re likely to know very well,” Ed said.

2) Construct The Images

The things you want to remember (like the items on a grocery list) need to each be associated with an image you won’t forget.

What type of images do we not forget? Extreme things that stand out. Go for crazy, lewd or funny.

Via Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything:

The Ad Herennium advises readers at length about creating the images for one’s memory palace: the funnier, lewder, and more bizarre, the better. “When we see in everyday life things that are petty, ordinary, and banal, we generally fail to remember them, because the mind is not being stirred by anything novel or marvelous… Evolution has programmed our brains to find two things particularly interesting, and therefore memorable: jokes and sex—and especially, it seems, jokes about sex.

3) Place the Images In The Palace

So how do you remember your shopping list?

Think about how you would normally walk through your childhood home and “place” the memorable images in the order you need to remember them along that route.

Via Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything:

“We’re going to array the items of my to-do list one by one along a route that will snake around your childhood home. When it comes time to recall the list, all you will need to do is retrace the steps we’re about to take in your imagination…”

So, for example:

  • You go in through the front door and standing there is a cow on fire (symbolizing the burgers you need to buy at the store).
  • You go up the stairs but they’re slick with the fiery cow’s dripping blood (you need to buy ketchup too.)
  • At the end of the upstairs hall is an enormous human butt (you need to buy hamburger buns.)

Did hearing any of these images make you say “gross” or “disgusting”? GOOD. That means they’re working.

4) Go For A Walk To Recall

Time to remember? Just take a stroll through your palace, visiting each crazy image.

You can use this system for most any memory activity. Cicero used it for speeches, connecting the points he wanted to make as items in his palace.

Via Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything:

Cicero agreed that the best way to memorize a speech is point by point, not word by word, by employing memoria rerum. In his De Oratore, he suggests that an orator delivering a speech should make one image for each major topic he wants to cover, and place each of those images at a locus. Indeed, the word “topic” comes from the Greek word topos, or place. (The phrase “in the first place” is a vestige from the art of memory.)

Yes, your mind is going to be full of dinosaurs, naked people and a level of absurdity that would make Salvador Dali cringe.

Who knew developing your memory could be so much fun?

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TIME China

The Invisible, but Not Forgotten Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

The 1989 Choice: China’s Paradox of Seeking Democracy and Wealth
A lone demonstrator stands down a column of tanks June 5, 1989, at the entrance to Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The incident took place on the morning after Chinese troops fired on pro-democracy students who had been protesting in the square since April 15, 1989 CNN—Getty Images

As the 25th anniversary of the crackdown approaches, the Chinese Communist Party is pressuring its citizens to forget that heady push for democracy — but some are boldly struggling to keep the memory alive

They wanted him to disappear. In the early hours of May 6, Chinese authorities took away Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent Chinese human-rights lawyer who survived the June 4, 1989, crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square. Just days before, Pu had attended a private panel discussion on the upcoming 25th anniversary of the massacre, posing for a photograph that was posted online. Five attendees, including Pu, were later arrested.

Pu’s detention did not go unnoticed. Even as China’s censors scrambled to block searches for his name, people started talking about him online, often using coded language to get around the Great Firewall. Last Tuesday, Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi (the star of movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Memoirs of a Geisha) urged her fans to watch The Attorney, a South Korean film about a human-rights lawyer who, per Zhang, “pursues democracy, rule of law, and justice.” Netizens knew exactly what she meant; the post went viral.

With less than three weeks to go before the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the ruling Chinese Communist Party is trying very hard to stay on message. For the most part, that means not talking about, or marking, the events of that restless spring. The nationwide protests that swept China that year were brutally crushed by the party and its military arm, the People’s Liberation Army, with hundreds killed. Much of what unfolded was broadcast worldwide on television, reported and photographed. But within China, information about the incident has been scrubbed from the public sphere.

“The Beijing regime has been remarkably, if temporarily, successful in enforcing its official account of 1989 within China, justifying the military crackdown as necessary for stability and prosperity and for countering a Western conspiracy to divide and weaken China,” writes Rowena Xiaoqing He, who teaches a class on Tiananmen at Harvard University, in her new book, Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China.

Sticking to the script means that in the run-up to the anniversary each year, those who speak up are often arrested. In addition to Pu and his friends, several others have been targeted this year, including Gao Yu, 70, a protester who went on to become one of China’s most respected independent journalists. Last week she was forced to confess — on television — to charges that she leaked state secrets. On Friday, Chen Guang, a soldier turned artist whose work touches on Tiananmen and its aftermath, was also detained.

This official amnesia is an affront for those who participated in the protests, or lost loved ones in the crackdown. In 2006, Pu wrote movingly in the New York Review of Books about his annual visit to the square to honor fallen friends. “If everyone forgets, are we not opening the door to future massacres?” he asked.

The May 3 panel was perhaps an effort to stop this from happening. In a statement released to journalists and published online, the participants said they gathered to “investigate the truth of the incident” and “restore accuracy to history.” It was only by facing up to what happened, they said, that the country might start “closing its wounds.”

Healing is a long way off, but online, at least, a clandestine conversation is under way. After posts with the term Pu Zhiqiang started getting censored, Chinese Internet users started posting Pu’s photograph. When the pictures were pulled, one person responded by posting a portrait-shaped space white space. “Even though your face has been blocked,” wrote the poster, “everyone knows who is in this image.”

TIME Big Picture

Who Needs a Memory When We Have Google?

Brain
Getty Images

I have a confession to make: I’m an infomaniac.

In high school, I was on the debate team and got an early taste of what it’s like to dig deep into information so that I could support my debate arguments. Ever since, I have been hooked on gathering and consuming information as part of my lifestyle. I still get a morning paper delivered to my house and I start my day by checking up on the local news. When I get to the office, I log on to all types of general news and tech sites to catch up on what I missed overnight. Curiosity is in my DNA and my type-A personality drives me to be addicted to information. In my line of work, this is good, but I admit that I overachieve in this area and it sometimes becomes overwhelming.

For most of my early life, this was a manageable problem. In those days, I had newspapers, magazines and a set time to watch the network news every night at 6:00 PM. But from the beginning of the information age and especially with the advent of the Internet, the amount of information sources at my fingertips grew exponentially. I admit that, more often than not, I now have information overload. To put it another way, I have way too many tabs open in my brain at any given time.

It’s almost impossible to keep some that info straight or, even worse, remember most of it. That’s where Google and search engines come in. While I was at the TED conference recently, I talked with a lot of people from various industries. We often compared notes on things we were doing, people we know and items or events that we have been involved in over the years. What’s interesting is that the common denominator in many of these discussions is that when we got stumped on a person’s name, event or item we were talking about, instead of fretting about it, we all took out our smartphones and Googled for the answer. We almost always found what we were looking for, and the conversation continued only slightly interrupted.

In all honesty, that scene happens for me whether with business associates, friends or family. I clearly can’t remember all of the information I take in, so I now rely pretty heavily on Google and other search engines to either find the information I need at any given time or to jog my memory about the topic at hand.

I am sure that this has happened to a lot of people. The role technology plays as an extension of our memory banks has become quite important to us. I have found that when I’m digesting information now, many times I don’t even read the full stories — mostly just the headlines or a quick summary, knowing that if I ever have to recall it, I can just Google it.

In 2008 the Atlantic had a great article by Nicholas Carr titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” In this excerpt from this article, Carr says:

For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

I am not sure his premise that Google makes us stupid is exactly correct. In fact, I would argue that because of a search engine’s ability to help us quickly find the information we need, it’s actually making us smarter, to a degree. But what Google seems to be doing to me — and perhaps many others — is making our minds lazy. Many times, I may be told something without really concentrating on what is being said, knowing full well that as long as I get the bullet points straight, I can always go back and look up the info.

At first I wanted to chalk some of these memory lapses up to getting older. It’s just part of aging, right? But the more I read about aging, the more I realize that some of this is happening because we are not exercising our brains as much as we should be. More and more often, we’re relying on Google to be a fallback. We concentrate less on what’s in front of us, leaning on Google for anything we can’t remember.

A while back, my wife bought me a Nintendo handheld game system that included a game called Brain Age. It was my first foray into digital brain games, and I found that the more I used it, the more it helped me fine-tune my brain to be much more cognizant of what I was reading and observing. This game came out before everyone had smartphones, and now we have dozens of brain training tools such as my favorite, Lumosity, or Condura, another brain training app.

There are a lot of studies that talk about the Internet’s impact on memory. One that was highlighted in the New York Times in 2011 shared some specific research about this issue. In the article, Patricia Cohen wrote the following:

The widespread use of search engines and online databases has affected the way people remember information, researchers are reporting.

The scientists, led by Betsy Sparrow, an assistant professor of psychology at Columbia, wondered whether people were more likely to remember information that could be easily retrieved from a computer, just as students are more likely to recall facts they believe will be on a test.

Dr. Sparrow and her collaborators, Daniel M. Wegner of Harvard and Jenny Liu of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, staged four different memory experiments. In one, participants typed 40 bits of trivia — for example, “an ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain” — into a computer. Half of the subjects believed the information would be saved in the computer; the other half believed the items they typed would be erased.

The subjects were significantly more likely to remember information if they thought they would not be able to find it later. “Participants did not make the effort to remember when they thought they could later look up the trivia statement they had read,” the authors write.

Whether our brains have become lazy or not, the Internet has clearly impacted the way we read and digest information, and as stated in the Times’ article, search engines have now become just a part of our memory processes. Search engines are very valuable, but if they become crutches that dull our thinking and make our brains lazy, then I believe people will need to use things like Lumosity and other brain-tuning games to help them stay sharp.

Information overload makes it impossible for many of us to keep up with the constant stream of information that’s available. Because many of us try to consume so much information, most of us are forced to mostly skim highlights and summaries just to keep up. However, I believe we can’t let search engines impact our memory. At least in my case ,I don’t want that to happen, so I’m using these brain games to help me deal with this challenge.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME

Your Brain Isn’t Equipped to Deal With the Heartbleed Bug

We know how we’re supposed to generate passwords, but our brains just don’t work that way

You might be scrambling to come up with a new password after news Tuesday of a vicious software bug that leaves our bank information, credit card numbers, emails, passwords and other sensitive and supposedly protected information vulnerable to being exposed.

While Heartbleed’s danger lies in the fact that it can grab information like passwords and credit card information while you’re typing it in, it can also pluck usernames and passwords for decoding as well.

But while our brains are powerful and arguably more flexible than computers, there are certain things that silicon-based programming does better than the cells and nerves that make up our three-pound “hard drive.” Generating and remembering passwords is one of them.

Ideally, it’s best to have a different password for every account that contains private information: emails, bank accounts, and your favorite online shopping sites. The best passwords, we’re told over and over again, are alphanumeric, and not based on something that hackers can use as leverage to break your code, like birthdays or wedding anniversaries or addresses. Random number generators that require you to punch in a different number each time you log in are probably the best passwords around.

MORE: Change Your Passwords: A Massive Bug Has Put Your Details at RiskPosts

But practically speaking, your brain doesn’t work like that. The brain is more like a detective, using clues and prompts to pull up things from our memory banks. “The brain is designed to remember things that mean something,” says Dr. Glenn Finney, chief of behavioral neurology at the University of Florida and member of the American Academy of Neurology, and “forget things that are useless or don’t mean anything, which is the opposite of what we’re told to use in generating passwords.”

Blame evolution. Before the age of encryption and logins, nurturing irrelevant information wasn’t a benefit to survival. In fact, doing so could crowd out other, more relevant information, such as where those life-threatening tigers liked to roam.

So we’ve come to remember by association; the more salient and meaningful something is to you, the more likely you are to remember it. Not only that, but the memories that the brain stores are also malleable, modified ever so slightly by your experiences, past and present. “Items that you already learned can interfere with what you are trying to learn if there are similarities or differences between them,” says Dr. Barry Gordon, professor of neurology and cognitive science at Johns Hopkins University. “And what you are learning now can interfere with older memories in retrospect. All those factors conspire to be the exact opposite of what you want in remembering a strong password.”

MORE: How to Protect Yourself Against the Heartbleed Bug

Hackers know this. So if you’re trying to diffuse the next Heartbleed Bug (and you know there will be one), don’t fall back on your brain. Think more like a computer instead. You can take something that means something to you, like a phrase or favorite object, but try turning it into symbols or numbers. At least that way you aren’t fighting evolution — and the code won’t be entirely random.

TIME memory

7 Tricks to Improve Your Memory

Try these research-backed brain-sharpening techniques

I used to have a memory that amazed people, but in the last few years I’ve had trouble remembering names and movie titles. (“You know, the one about the guy who goes somewhere? It won that award…”) I hope to have many years of sharp thinking ahead of me—I’m in my mid-40s, nowhere near senior-moments territory—so I got to wondering: Is there something I should be doing now to counteract the lapses that already seem to be taking place?

There’s no way around the fact that memory erodes as we get older. The hippocampus, the area of your brain responsible for building memory, loses 5 percent of its nerve cells with each passing decade. Plus, aging slows production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter vital to learning and memory. Based on these facts, scientists once believed that a person’s mental ability peaked early in adulthood, then went downhill from there. But over the last few decades, research has found that adults’ brains are still able to form new, memory-building neural networks in a process known as neuroplasticity. The reassuring latest thinking: With a little effort, anyone can boost their power of recollection.

To test this theory in the real world, I tried an array of research-backed brain-sharpening techniques over one six-week period. Am I now able to list all 44 U.S. presidents? No. But can I more easily summon up where I put my keys? Yes. And I think being able to leave my apartment and lock the door is a more valuable life skill than remembering James K. Polk. Here’s what worked for me—and what fell flat.

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Technique #1: Play brain games

Puzzles like Sudoku and crosswords may improve memory and delay brain decline, though experts are not yet sure why. “My guess is that playing them activates synapses in the whole brain, including the memory areas,” says Marcel Danesi, PhD, author of Extreme Brain Workout. Research so far is decidedly mixed: Some studies have found that, while doing crossword puzzles may make you better at remembering the capital of Burkina Faso, there’s little evidence they’ll boost your performance at more general tasks, like remembering where your car is parked. But a 2011 study showed that participants who played a computer game called Double Decision for six years improved their concentration so much that they had a 50 percent lower rate of car accidents.

So I decided to try an online brain-training program called Lumosity, which neuroscientists from Harvard, Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley have used in their own studies; its creators claim that 97 percent of users improve their memory in just 10 hours of playing time. First I answered a series of questions at lumosity.com to identify which of my cognitive processes, including memory, could use a little help. Then I received a personalized training regimen. A 10-minute daily series of games is free, and a more advanced program is available for $12.95 a month. (Being cheap, I stuck with the former.) The games are pure fun—remembering a pattern of blocks, spotting a bird in a field—and are based on what research has found to improve concentration and other cognitive skills.

My grade: B- By the end of a month, my “brain performance index” score rose 6 percent—not amazing in the Lumosity world, but respectable. The main problem: You have to play the games every day, forever, to keep up the benefits. I’ve mostly kept up. (Except on weekends. Or if I’ve had a busy week. OK, I haven’t kept up.)

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Technique #2: Eat the right foods

According to Gary Small, MD, director of the UCLA Memory Clinic, memory superfoods include antioxidant-rich, colorful fruits and vegetables, which protect your brain from harmful free radicals. He’s also enthusiastic about low-glycemic carbs, like oatmeal, and anything with omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, a recent study published in Neurology found that people with low levels of omega-3s had brains that appeared to be a full two years older in MRI scans. That was incentive enough for me to follow the memory-enhancing diet from Dr. Small’s book The Memory Prescription, which claims it works in just two weeks. Much like the Mediterranean diet, it’s heavy on produce, legumes, nuts and fish. It’s low on meat, since meat’s omega-6 fatty acids may contribute to brain inflammation, a possible underlying mechanism for Alzheimer’s. Refined sugars produce a similar effect, so they were also out. (That was the toughest for me.) I ate a farmers market’s worth of blueberries, spinach, avocado and beets, and consumed enough fish to sprout gills. I also went beyond Dr. Small’s advice and took 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12, the standard recommended daily amount—since studies show people with low levels perform poorly on memory tests—and 1,000 international units of vitamin D, discovered by Tufts University researchers to boost cognitive function. (My doctor signed off on the supplements.)

My grade: A It was difficult to eat meat only once a week, until I noticed how much less physically and mentally sluggish I felt. And my memory became markedly sharper over 14 days. (For instance, I quit using a bookmark because I could remember the page number I’d stopped on the night before.) Planning those meals took a lot of prep, but it paid off tremendously. I still try to use the diet as a guideline: I eat meat once a week, aim for five fruits and vegetables a day and pop omega-3 supplements (since I don’t get as much fish as I did on the diet).

Technique #3: Quit multitasking

“One reason people can’t remember where their keys are is they’re not paying attention when they put them down,” says Mark McDaniel, PhD, a psychology professor and memory researcher at Washington University in St. Louis. (His suggestion for always finding them: “When you put them down, stop and say out loud, ‘I’m leaving my keys on my dresser,’” or wherever you’re placing them.) Studies show that it takes eight seconds to fully commit a piece of information to memory, so concentrating on the task at hand is crucial. I willed myself to stop giving everything “continuous partial attention,” a term coined by tech honcho Linda Stone. I put away my gadgets when they weren’t absolutely needed. I didn’t have 10 websites up all at once. I called a friend, sat on my bed, closed my eyes and actually listened to what she was saying.

My grade: B+ It’s amazing how difficult it is to do one thing at a time. Concentration takes work, but I found I could remember appointments better because I paid attention when I made them and repeated the day and time, rather than agreeing to commitments while doing the laundry and returning e-mail messages. My husband, usually my living iCal, was very impressed.

Health.com:12 Reasons to Stop Multitasking Now!

Technique #4: Master a new skill

A recent Swedish study found that adults who learned a new language showed improved memory for people’s names, among other things. Any activity that is practiced diligently, such as knitting or skiing, will likely have this effect, researchers say. I vowed to learn to play the keyboard. On YouTube I found PlayPianoKing, an affable guy who teaches everything from Pachelbel’s Canon to “Gangnam Style.”

My grade: C- While I did learn a mean “Gangnam” and felt my concentration improve, I soon gave up: With brain games and a diet overhaul crowding my schedule, the hour-long, every-other-day lesson was making me cranky, even before I saw any noticeable memory gains.

Technique #5: Get more sleep

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered that losing half a night’s rest—three or four hours—on just one evening can erode memory. And the journal Nature Neuroscience recently reported that one way to slow decline in aging adults is to improve the length and quality of sleep. During a deep sleep of eight hours or more, it’s believed that the brain shifts memories from temporary to longer-term storage. Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one third of us get less than seven hours a night—including me.

So, for more than a month, I implemented a stringent schedule: I would put my preschooler to bed and take a bath. Then I’d hit my own bed with a book, rather than watch TV or movies, which several studies reveal will make you feel too keyed up to wind down. Normally I fall asleep at 11:30 p.m. and wake at 5:45 a.m., but the new routine put me out by 10.

My grade: A+ Nothing had a better effect on my memory than that long stretch of sleep. I was able to semi-credibly measure the difference because I started my other interventions a few weeks before this one. I bounded out of bed fully recharged. My mind became as focused as a laser beam; I even remembered every mom’s name during the school run (no more “Hey, you!” or just “Hi!”).

Health.com:The Best and Worst Foods for Sleep

Technique #6: Use mnemonic devices

These are basically memory tools that give meaning and organization to a random group of words or concepts. They could be an acronym (BOG for “Buy oranges and grapes”), an exaggerated visualization (imagining a massive stethoscope to remember a doctor’s appointment) or a rhyme (to recall a co-worker’s name, I’d remember, “Ted has a giant forehead”). Memory champions also love chunking, or breaking a large amount of information into more manageable nuggets. Say you have to memorize these numbers: 2214457819. It’s much easier to do as a phone number: 221-445-7819.

My grade: A+ I found these tactics enormously helpful. I usually forget my poor nephew’s birthday, but this year I actually sent a gift, thanks to the unpleasant but memorable NITS (“Nephew is 10 Sunday”).

Technique #7: Hit the gym

Researchers from the University of California at Irvine recently discovered that a little exercise might yield big mental benefits. They had one group of subjects ride stationary bikes for six minutes, while another group cooled their heels. Afterward, the active group performed significantly better on a memory test. Instant results! The researchers believe the boost may be tied to an exercise-induced brain chemical called norepinephrine, which has a strong influence on memory. And Dr. Small contends that exercise is the best memory aid of all. “It can increase your brain size,” he says—and the bigger your brain, the greater your capacity to remember. His recommendation: 20 minutes of brisk walking a day. I began doing an hour daily—more than Dr. Small recommends, but also more consistent than the gym workouts a few times a week I used to favor, and, according to many experts, more effective in juicing up memory.

My grade: A- This moderate, regular activity worked wonders on my stress levels, and it became much easier to concentrate afterward, so I could fix things (like a grocery list) into my memory. I grew addicted to my walks and still take them. In fact, I found that the memory-boosting healthy lifestyle habits—exercising more, stressing less, eating a better diet—were the most sustainable over time. And that’s a win-win.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Exercise

Run Now, Remember More Later

Running improves memory
Jordan Siemens—Getty Images

Cardio activities in your 20s may mean better memory in middle age, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology. Researchers studied the link between 2,747 healthy participants' mental and physical activity over the span of two decades

It’s easy to put off the gym until tomorrow, but here’s a reason not to delay: cardio activities like running in young adulthood are linked to better memory and recall in middle age.

Researchers studied 2,747 healthy participants, all around age 25. For the first year of the study, published in the journal Neurology, the participants were studied while walking or running on the treadmill until they were out of breath. On average, participants were able to stay on the treadmill for 10 minutes.

Twenty years later, the participants underwent the treadmill tests once again, and their average time fell to 2.9 minutes. At 25 years after the first treadmill test, participants were then given cognitive tests that analyzed their verbal memory, executive function, and their brain’s relationship between thinking skills and physical movement (psychomotor speed). For every extra minute people completed on the first treadmill test, participants got 0.12 more words right in a word memory test. In a test for psychomotor speed, they were able to replace 0.92 more numbers with symbols, as the test directed. The participants who lost less time on the treadmill between year one and year 20 also performed better on executive function tests.

Although the differences were modest, the researchers note that the memory-related tests used in the study have been shown to be accurate identifiers for dementia. In some of the tests, an additional word recalled is associated with a 18% lower risk of developing dementia in 10 years, according to the authors.

So when it comes to exercising and preserving brain health, the saying “it’s never to late” might not apply, unfortunately.

TIME

Study: Freud Was Wrong About Repressed Memories

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Sarah Katherine Place—Getty Images/Flickr RF

Contrary to the Freudian theory that suppressing traumatic events will come back to haunt us, new research suggests that it's actually a good coping mechanism

A new study pokes holes in the popular theory, originating from Sigmund Freud, that suppressed memories, like those from a traumatic event, remain intact and can negatively influence behavior and mental health.

But according to a study published in the journal PNAS, suppressing unwanted memories actually interferes with the brain’s activity and reduces the likelihood that the event unconsciously influences a person’s behavior.

Researchers from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit and the University of Cambridge’s Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute (BCNI) had participants learn a variety of picture-word pairs while hooked up to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that monitored their brain activity. After learning the picture-word pairs, the participants were asked to either think of the image that corresponded to a word or to suppress the memory of the image and its corresponding word.

Next, participants were asked to identify objects that were visually distorted and displayed for a brief amount of time. Participants had a harder time identifying the objects they had suppressed compared with those they had not. Brain imaging showed that suppressing memories of the objects interfered with activity in the brain’s visual areas, leading researchers to conclude an “out of sight, out of mind” effect. The suppressed memory, according to the brain imaging, doesn’t remain intact, making it less likely that it affects our behavior in a Freudian way.

If suppressing traumatic memories as a coping mechanism can actually help, these findings may be able to help psychologists treat patients with traumatic memories, and could contribute to further research on issues like intrusive memories, which are common among people suffering disorders like PTSD.

[Science Daily]

TIME

Blood Test Could Predict Alzheimer’s, Study Finds

A woman, suffering from Alzheimer's dese
Sebastien Bozon - AFP/Getty Images

Scientists say the test could predict the disease with 90% accuracy

Scientists say a new blood test could detect Alzheimer’s disease three years before the patient develops symptoms of memory loss.

The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, identified 10 molecules in the blood that predicted Alzheimer’s with 90% accuracy. Researchers wrote the bloods tests “can change how patients, their families and treating physicians plan for and manage the disorder.”

On the other hand, experts warned the Guardian that a test for an incurable disease with a 10% rate of error would have to be approached with caution, both by the doctor and the patient.

[Guardian]

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