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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Pantazi

13 Tips to Improve your Attention and Memory

Updated: Sep 29, 2019

Are you satisfied with how well you can remember things and how effectively you can focus? For most of us, there is always room for improvement, and we can definitely influence how smart we feel!

The ability to selectively process information (attention) and to retain information in an accessible state (memory) are critical aspects of our cognitive capacities. The two systems are closely interlinked, and regardless if you are a student or a working individual, the better these work, the more effective and productive you will feel.

Your attention and memory are the foundation of your ability to learn new information, process it, understand it, and later successfully remember it; it is therefore noteworthy to be aware of a few simple ways to keep your cognitive abilities sharp.

1. Rest and Take Breaks

Your brain needs downtime to unwind, encode and consolidate newly learned information.

This doesn’t only mean that you need to ensure you’re having enough sleep every night, but also take regular breaks in between tasks, especially when you are switching between different ones.

The good news is that your brain can get into its downtime quite quickly, so even a few minutes (5-15 minutes) suffice as a refreshing consolidation break.

Small breaks after digesting new material help your brain memorize what you’ve just learned. Moreover, mental idle time facilitates creativity and problem solving.

The idea is to empty your mind and really do nothing that requires mental effort from time to time.

Useful ideas in this direction are:

  • practicing mindfulness

  • meditating

  • physical exercise

  • activities that don’t require complex thinking e.g. doing the dishes, laundry, tidying up

  • using your body: e.g. short walk or bike trip

*the more mindfully you can do these activities, meaning focusing only on those rather than allowing your mind to wander to other thoughts or ruminating, the better!

2. Organize your learning/ working space

If you want to improve your odds at studying or working effectively and concentrated, take care of the physical space around you, too.

By tidying up and decluttering your working space, you give room to your brain to focus better on what you really have to do, rather than the chaos around you. By having a clean, simple, organized and tidied-up working space, you’re actually doing yourself a huge favor that will definitely reflect on your learning capacities.

3. Healthy Lifestyle

“A healthy mind in a healthy body”- what a wise phrase. Your body and mind are one and the same, so your physical and mental health are closely interlinked.

By taking care of your body with regular exercise, a healthy and balanced diet, good hydration, and healthy habits overall, you’re providing your brain with just the right fuel in order for it to perform well.

4. Use Multiple Means to Encode New Information

When concentrating and learning new information, it can help to engage all your senses and use multiple means to facilitate the processing and encoding of information by your brain.

For example, don’t only rely on your listening skills during a lecture or meeting, but also take some simple notes while listening. This way you are providing your mind with 2 different ways of information processing; listening and text processing, thus making it easier for you to learn and later better recall new information.

5. Utilize your Own Learning Preferences

There are different learning styles and preferences: visual, auditory, verbal, kinesthetic, logical, interpersonal and intrapersonal. Getting to know your own will further help you employ the most appropriate and tailor-made for you learning strategies in order to boost your learning speed.

For instance, if you are a visual learner, consider using visual learning techniques to help you thrive:

  • coloured post-its

  • markers to differentiate between topics

  • mindmapping when brainstorming.

Or if you prefer learning through listening:

  • you can consider reading out loud to yourself texts to be learned

  • listen to audiobooks rather than only reading, to give your brain an auditory entry of new information.

If you are interested to find about your own learning preferences, schedule an appointment with me to try out MILS can help you explore them!

6. Structure

Your brain likes structure and categorization of concepts based on similar characteristics. This is called the perceptual principle of similarity: elements that are similar are perceived to be more related than elements that are dissimilar. Also, information is organized in your memory in related clusters.

Use structure in order to work with your brain, rather than against it, to help yourself concentrate and learn better. For example, group relevant materials together, or compartmentalize information to be remembered in clusters.

7. Focus your attention on one thing at a time!

Despite the fact that multitasking nowadays often tends to be praised as if it is something to strive towards, in fact it doesn’t really work, simply because it goes against the way your brain likes to operate. It is important to attempt to focus your attention as well as possible, because otherwise you will not be able to encode and thus learn and remember new information.

Therefore, avoid multitasking and focus your attention on one thing at a time, mindfully and purposefully instead of frantically jumping from one task to another, that is counterproductive. Allocate different time for different tasks, rather than trying to do everything at once.

8. Get rid of distractions

As emphasized before, the person who can successfully crush their goals is the one who perseveres and can effectively eliminate distractions and obstacles on their path towards goal completion.

Especially in our times of constant technological revolution, the distractions around us are literally endless. For instance, the internet is vast and offers plenty of attractive stimuli that gear up procrastination- a major obstacle to concentration and your cognitive abilities.

If your willpower, self-control and self-discipline are not strong enough to keep you focused and away from distractions, perhaps you have to be more drastic and take radical measures!

For instance:

  • Put your mobile phone away! Use airplane mode on your mobile for as long as you are working, or even better switch it off, and place it in a different room, in order to effectively remove temptation to go on social media or games when trying to concentrate on your work.

  • Get out of your house! If you can’t really focus to work/study at home, because of countless distractions around your living space, get out of your house! Your chances at concentration will be better in a more neutral, better structured environment, such as a café or library.

  • Use blocking apps and software. Thankfully, there are so many people struggling with internet distractions, that there are plenty of blocking apps, software and browser extensions to choose from. For instance, Cold Turkey, FocusMe, Anti-Social, Kill Newsfeed, Stay Focused, Keep Me Out etc.

9. Repeat

Repetition is the mother of all learning, and practice makes permanent. If you’re trying to learn something new, make sure to repeat it as many times as possible, and avoid last-minute cramming of new information, since it is ineffective!

Elaborative rehearsal combines rehearsal with enriching your material-to-be-learned with new aspects at every rehearsal. For instance, if you are learning the definition of a new term, elaborative rehearsal would involve first simply reading the definition, then studying it for a bit longer, and then reading a more detailed description of the term.

10. Use Reminder Systems

Your brain is a powerful tool, but sometimes you find it hard to keep in mind everything you need to. Do not hesitate to make use of reminder systems, such as notepads, post-its, online calendar, agendas, to-do lists and relevant apps that can help you remember all those tasks you need to complete.

11. Use Mnemonic Devices

Mnemonic devices are simply techniques to aid in memory recall, such as the Method of Loci, or the use of acronyms. There are many such techniques, and those proven to work well often involve positive imagery, novelty, and humor.

12. Contextualize and Understand

It is easier to learn new information, if you can connect it to things you already know, or take the time to delve deeper into what you just learned in order to understand it better.

When you actively think about new information, you better imprint it and encode it in your mind; rather than just trying to memorize it.

For example:

  • Ask Who, What, Why, How, Where, When clarifying questions to better understand what you are trying to learn

  • Summarize newly learned information in your own words

  • Compare between new information and what you already know, in order to create meaningful links

13. Train Your Brain

Challenging your brain generally improves your ability to learn, focus and remember, and it is also protective against memory disorders later on in life, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Choose demanding activities to enhance and sharpen your cognitive abilities:

  • learning a new hobby

  • learning a new language

  • playing brain games and puzzles (e.g. Dual N-Back, sudoku, crosswords etc.)

  • Just keep reading! books, both fiction and non-fiction, to help your brain stay sharp and active!

...In Conclusion...

There are many ways to sharpen your brain and master your cognitive abilities! Explore them all in order to find which one works better for you, and get smarter starting today!

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