I wish I could say I’ve never walked into a room and forgotten why. Sadly, this has occurred more times than I’d like to count. Before you suggest aging is prompting these moments, let me suggest another culprit. Not just because I’m reluctant to categorize myself as old–at least not until I hit eighty. There’s a more pragmatic reason for a closer look at forgetfulness.
For one thing, age does not affect memory at the same rate for all of us. My great-grandmother, for example, continued to beat everyone at Scrabble to the end of her ninety-one years. People under thirty who suffer from grief, anxiety, or depression can experience more difficulty with concentration and memory than individuals over sixty free from these diagnoses. Nutrition, exercise, and cognitive training prove to support improved mental acuity for persons of all ages as well as those with emotional struggles. Age clearly isn’t the only detriment to memory.
Good news, no matter how old you are. Everyone take a moment to shout, “Woohoo!”
In fact, a simple, resolvable issue could be one of the most common causes of forgetfulness. When I miss an exit, wonder why I’m in the kitchen, or forget a grocery item, I usually have a lot of other things on my mind. A myriad of concerns and objectives whirl into a storm and overwhelm my cognitive processors.
The short term memory has limited capacity. It functions sort of like the limited work space which can be viewed at one time on a computer screen. Data you want to retrieve later should be saved to a long-term file or printed out. Ever lost unsaved work when you overloaded the system and your computer shut down?
How often do you experience mental overload? If your short term memory is running more than one program at a time, you’re at risk of absent-minded behavior. While the long-term memory is designed with enormous capacity, conscious thought can only do a few things at once. Science has proven that multitasking does not work as well as most of us think. We perform one cognitive task efficiently, but add another requiring thought and our performance diminishes.
American lifestyles force many of us to maximize each second, and multitasking often seems like the only solution. Overtasking the short term memory can prove counterproductive if poor execution of tasks requires more time or even re-doing the task altogether due to mistakes. To resolve the issue of mental overload, we need to enlist the right tool.
Simple lists offer the best start toward streamlining your brain’s processing systems. See why and how in the following steps:
- Unload. Unload all those things on your mind onto paper (or your favorite tech tool). Once out of your short term memory into a readable file, your brain is free to focus its energy on the jobs for which it’s needed.
- Prioritize. Determine your values and purpose. Persons of faith find that prayer brings valuable guidance to this process. Identify urgent objectives and tasks which can be delegated. Be sure to limit multitasking, and couple cognitive work with things not requiring focused thought (e.g. treadmill jogging while listening to a webinar, eating while studying). Defer problems outside your control–another opportunity to apply faith.
- Pencil a list. Organize your thoughts and tasks into a digital or low-tech list according to time and importance. Include wiggle room and remain flexible, since unplanned events are bound to arise.
- Review. Check off completed tasks. Add unexpected duties and check them off, too. Celebrating your accomplishments boosts mood, which improves performance.
- Rest. At the end of the day, add any unfinished business to tomorrow’s list so your brain can rest without stewing over it during the night. Take time to meditate, Consider adding prayer to the unloading of your concerns. After compiling the next day’s checklist, set aside your objectives until the next day. Restful sleep dramatically improves productivity.
If list-making can improve mental acuity, who’s willing to try it? Send me your comments and let me know how en-listing this vital tool worked for you.