Concentration and memory are two mental skills that are directly related to one another. In fact, many memory complaints have nothing to do with the ability to remember things! Instead, they come from a failure to focus properly on the task at hand.
One example is forgetting where you parked your car at the supermarket. It is likely that you didn’t pay much attention to where you parked the car in the first place – perhaps you were already thinking that you mustn’t forget the milk this time. Such inattention to where you left the car leaves your brain with few opportunities to register the information that would be recalled later to help you find your car: perhaps you parked next to the trolley return, or in the second row of cars beside the exit sign. The same lack of concentration is responsible when you forget where we put our glasses, or finding ourselves turning right en route to our home when we really meant to turn left to go to the butcher.
As we grow older, the brain takes a little longer to process information. Unfortunately, the crucial ability to focus and ignore distraction becomes more difficult with ageing, too.
Ok…so what can we do to improve concentration and memory? A general solution is to keep the brain healthy by taking note of the main pillars of brain health: balanced nutrition, physical exercise, mental stimulation, stress management, and making sure we stay engaged with lots of different activities and people. Going beyond these, try these strategies to keep your concentration and memory sparkling.
Focus on what you are doing. If you are talking to someone, ask questions. If you are reading then ask yourself how you would summarise what you have just read to a friend.
Try not to do too many different activities at once – multitasking is a myth! Doing more than one thing at a time divides your attention and means less concentration on each individual task.
Try to eliminate distractions and focus on exactly what you are doing. If you are parking the car, notice the surroundings and take a good look around so you will remember where it is.
If you are studying or working on an important task, turn the TV, phone alerts and radio off – the quieter your workspace the better.
If you have pressing tasks, do them first so you don’t have to think about them.
Closing your eyes helps reduce visual distraction, but perhaps not when you are parking the car!
Give yourself mental reminders to concentrate until the habit is well and truly established.
Use your new concentration skills.
The more personal the information to be remembered is, the easier it is to remember. Ask yourself how it makes you feel, or does it remind you of another experience.
Repeat the information, coming back to it more than once. Remember how repetition at school made sure you can still remember your times tables.
Elaborate the information in your mind. Think about it. Picture it. Expand on it and attach it to something you are already very familiar with. For example, if you meet Cathy for the first time ask her ” Do you spell Cathy with a ‘C’ or a ‘K'”; do you know another Cathy; do you have a friend with the same interest in poodles as Cathy; was she wearing something memorable….add as much detail as you can around Cathy and you will be surprised at how easily you recall her name when you meet her for a second time.
It works! Try it and you will be amazed at how quickly you can establish good habits of concentration and you will find you remember things much more easily by practising these few simple strategies.
Dr. Allison Lamont is founder and clinician of the Auckland Memory Clinic. Allison, with her sister Gillian Eadie, created the Memory Foundation to make information about preserving and improving memory available to everyone. We can rewire the brain and sharpen memory at any age. You can try the Foundation’s fun memory games right now on the Grownups website! Just click right here Memory Foundation Games on Grownups
And you want to keep your brain sharp. Right? And to know how to go about it?
Here is your answer! The popular book 7-Day Brain Boost Plan by Dr. Allison Lamont and Gillian Eadie will show you the way!