By Melissa Frieswick on Mon, Apr 12, 2021
The human brain consists of about 85 billion neurons, and if each neuron could only store a single memory, running out of space could be a problem. A person may only have a few gigabytes, similar to a single USB flash drive! The good news is research shows neurons work together, exponentially increasing storage capacity to about 2.5 million gigabytes of digital memory. While the brain can store huge amounts of memories, memory recall of that information is limited. Luckily, there are ways to increase our brain power and boost our memory, even as we age and memory typically declines.
To better understand how the brain stores and recalls memories and how to use it to our advantage, Total Brain founder and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Evian Gordon discussed ways to Boost Your Memory in a recent podcast episode. The main takeaway? “You really can rewire your brain; it just takes a very specific strategy.”
Here’s a simple, five-step framework to build a sustainable memory training habit – just imagine being able to remember more numbers, faces, even passwords!
Start with The Why
Do you need to better remember work tasks and deadlines? Do you forget your friends’ birthdays? Do you want to retain a special skill? The motivating factor for improving memory plays a large part in how successful someone is in achieving this goal. Given this, the first step is having a clear why. Dr. Gordon suggests, “Start with the end in mind so that you can be committed to doing it properly.”
In the workplace, an employee’s “why” could be performance motivated as a strong memory drives one’s capacity to make better decisions and feel more confident. A strong memory is also associated with high executive functioning and being able to effectively multi-task.
Be Ready for Change
Change is hard; if it were easy, everyone would do it! As Dr. Gordon says, “If you’re not ready for change and [willing to] own it, it becomes infotainment. We get all of these alerts, and people say 'you should, you could,' but if you’re really not committed to owning it, you’re unlikely to do it.”
So once you’ve clarified your “why” and committed to change, the next step is getting smart on which brain capacities to target and train.
Get to Know Your Brain
Do you get stressed easily? Do you have anxiety? Do you often forget passwords? Getting to know your brain’s strengths and limitations is key to training the areas you need to improve your memory. A great way to do this is by taking the Total Brain 15-minute assessment so that “you can see your brain in a sort of mirror – How is your memory? How well do you focus? How well do you control stress? These insights are extremely helpful.”
Memory is one of the brain’s 12 capacities, and many of the capacities – such as stress control and focus – can affect memory. Having a complete picture of your Total Brain ‒ all 12 capacities ‒ is important when it comes to improving your overall brain health, including memory.
Assessing and measuring your brain capacities allows you to know where you stand and increases both “the commitment and the insight into your own brain,” Dr. Gordon said. This data-based insight is helpful because “the brain wants to win. It will do a lot of stuff, even avoid stuff, when it feels like it’s going to fail. So we need a good strategy, so that the brain can feel like it can win,” he explained.
Have a Strategy ‒ Train for the Moment
Having a strategy for improving your brain function is what bridges the gap between knowing and doing. Dr. Gordon warned, “You are not going to rewire your brain unless you have a strategy in place.”
Memory is about increasing new connections between neurons. It operates on “the surprisingly basic principle of ‘when neurons fire together, they wire together.’”
Dr. Gordon asks, “With 85 billion neurons and trillions of connections, which is the equivalent of about 300 years of watching television, why is it we struggle to remember specific things?”
The answer: Consolidation. When humans are learning something new, “they have about 30 seconds to consolidate it clearly and cleanly so that it gets converted down the pathway. This pathway creates new proteins that are wiring the connections of that thought,” he explained.
To make these 30 seconds count, the brain needs to be primed and trained to catch these thoughts so they travel further into the brain where they get stored. “Once something becomes a habit, it goes deeper into the brain as little habit memories, or little habit processes,” said Dr. Gordon. “We are just a composite of our habits.” When we sleep, we also consolidate much of the information we learned that day.
“When you test yourself, that’s the best way to improve your memory because your brain is really aligning the pieces you want to remember. It’s wiring them in the most effective way,” he continued.
For example, a great testing and training tool is Memory Sequence, which asks users to watch and remember increasingly difficult sequences of numbers. “On average the brain can remember about seven numbers, but you can increase that with training. It’s just a fun little game in Total Brain, but it’s really useful to do because you are solving problems, you’re expanding your brain, and you’re keeping it more flexible,” Dr. Gordon said.
In this video, Dr. Gordon shares 10 quick strategies to specifically boost memory as well as other Total Brain tools that support these strategies.
Just like in sports, training is key. “Becoming a brain athlete for a few minutes a day is the way you rewire your brain. It’s about habits, being deliberate, visualizing, and taking small steps so you’re more likely to win,” urged Dr. Gordon.
Track Your Progress
With the goal of boosting your memory, tracking your progress strengthens your commitment to the process. “It’s like testing yourself. If you don’t measure it, you don’t manage it,” Dr. Gordon said.
Seeing those tangible results leads to developing long-term habits. “If you feel that success every day, you can tick the mental box that you trained your memory for a couple minutes that day,” he continued.
These positive affirmations also help lay the groundwork for long-term habits. Dr. Gordon advises starting with a 30-day challenge of training 10 minutes a day, three times a week with a specific memory training strategy. Building a course of action that works for you and then regularly putting it into practice is key to success.
“Once you find that, that’s where you get the rewiring, and you become amazingly productive,” he said. “That’s it. Track it. Measure it. And start seeing for yourself how you can move that habit into an integral part of your daily life.”
Listen to Dr. Gordon’s full podcast episode “Boost Your Memory” to learn more.
For additional insights and lessons on the impact of stress on memory and focus, download our latest eBook, “Stress: The Great Derailer of Focus and Memory.”
If you’re an HR or benefits professional charged with improving employee mental health, schedule a meeting to discuss how Total Brain can help.