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Why Do We Struggle to Remember? From A Neuroscientist

By Carolyn Leaf – Clinical Neuroscientist Author/Speaker

Have you ever read a section in a book, turned the page and, well, forgot what you just read? Or studied hard for an exam and struggled to recall what you spent so much time learning? Why do people struggle to remember things? Is there a way we can improve our ability to recall important information?  

When it comes to memory, there are actually a number of warning signs. If we learn to listen to our minds, we can actually use our ability to think in a healthy and productive way, in every area of our lives! 

What are some of the situations we should look out for, and how can we make our circumstances work for us and not against us?

1. Chaotic thinking creates neurochemical chaos in the brain, which in turn affects memory. It is always important to take the time to think about our thinking and control what we allow into our minds. 

Never let thoughts just wander through your mind unchecked, because thoughts are real things that have real effects in the brain and body.Focus on the “now” moment and observe your thoughts and feelings, perhaps writing down your thoughts in a journal to organize them. 

2. Toxic schedules can negative impact our memory. Living under an unnecessary sense of urgency creates toxic stress that causes the blood vessels around the heart to constrict, restricting blood flow and oxygen to the brain that can cause foggy thinking and memory problems. 

It is important to take the time to rest and not let the clock rule our lives. Give yourself time to breathe: get coffee with a friend, go on a date night or treat yourself to a spa day!

3. We merge with our environments because of the plasticity of our brains—essentially, our brains respond to our minds (our thinking/feeling/choosing). How we react to the circumstances of life, and whatever we are focus on the most, will be wired into our brains and influence our mental and physical health, which in turn impacts our ability to recall information. We need to pay attention to our external and internal (thought) environments, because if we keep focusing on our toxic thoughts, they grow and damage the brain—memory issues are just one of the problems that can occur when we don’t pay attention to our thinking. 

Take a few moments every day to write down what is happening in your life and what you feel, and how that affects you thinking. Analyze the relationship between your environment and your thoughts, and think of ways you can improve your external and internal environments to improve your mental health and ability to build memory.

4. The average person spends up to eight hours a day using technology. The fast pace of technology creates a toxic addiction because they stimulate a temporary high and this can rob us of deep thinking, which is essential for good memory—the internal circuits of the brain disconnect and this can lead to feelings of depression and memory loss. Some of the worst effects of electronic devices, including their effects on our ability to think and learn, can be mitigated when devices are used less than two hours a day. 

Find ways to limit your use of technology throughout the day—take the time to go for a long walk in the park, play with your loved ones in the park or read a good book in the bath. These “off” moments give the brain time to reboot, heal and build healthy memories.

5. Some medications, particularly psychotropic drugs (such antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, antipsychotics and stimulants) can cause atrophy (shrinkage) of the brain, and have been scientifically shown to cause memory issues, in amongst a myriad of other issues that can affect the systems and organs of the body.

What is one thing you can do every day to help improve your memory?

Instead of spending hours on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, limit your time on social media, spending an hour or so every day reading a newspaper or magazine article, or a chapter in a book, and thinking deeply about the information you have just read. Ask yourself what the author or authors are trying to say, answer your question by writing down several points, and discussing what you have read with a family member, friend or colleague. Thinking deeply about information fires up your mind, allowing you build healthy memories and succeed in life!

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