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How can I improve concentration and memory?

Atten­tion (or con­cen­tra­tion), and mem­ory are two men­tal skills directly related. In fact, many mem­ory com­plaints have noth­ing to do with the actual abil­ity to remem­ber things. They come from a fail­ure to focus prop­erly on the task at hand.

Take the exam­ple of not remem­ber­ing where you parked your car after shop­ping at the mall… It is likely that you did not pay much atten­tion to where you parked the car in the first place, thus leav­ing your brain with few oppor­tu­ni­ties to reg­is­ter any infor­ma­tion that could be recalled later to help you find your car. The same rea­son­ing goes for not remem­ber­ing where we put our glasses!

Many of our actions are per­formed auto­mat­i­cally. By oppo­si­tion, focus­ing atten­tion is effort­ful. As you know, with age the brain needs more time to process infor­ma­tion.  Along with speed of pro­cess­ing, other brain func­tions decline. A cru­cial one is the abil­ity to focus and ignore distraction.

As we age it thus get harder and harder to pay atten­tion. But focus­ing our atten­tion on the task at hand is key for bet­ter mem­ory per­for­mance. What can we do then to improve con­cen­tra­tion and memory?

One gen­eral solu­tion is to keep the brain healthy. This can be done by adher­ing to the main pil­lars of brain health and main­te­nance: bal­anced diet, phys­i­cal exer­cise, cog­ni­tive stim­u­la­tion, stress man­age­ment, and social engage­ment.

How to improve concentration

  • Focus on the task at hand: If talk­ing with some­one: ask ques­tions; if read­ing a book or a report: ask your­self how you would sum­ma­rize what you just read to a friend or to your boss.
  • In gen­eral, avoid and/or elim­i­nate dis­trac­tions. Tune out every­thing else. The harder the task, the more impor­tant it is to tune out distractions.
  • Do not try to double-task, this will increase your errors and divide your atten­tion. Atten­tion is lim­ited. When you try to do sev­eral things at once, you nec­es­sar­ily have to divide your atten­tion and thus con­cen­trate less on each indi­vid­ual tasks.Improve Concentration through Meditation
  • Use med­i­ta­tion. Sev­eral stud­ies have shown that med­i­ta­tion can be a good brain train­ing tool that affects espe­cially atten­tional / con­cen­tra­tion skills.

How to improve memory

  • Pay atten­tion and con­cen­trate! (see above)
  • Relate to the infor­ma­tion you are learn­ing. The more per­sonal the infor­ma­tion becomes, the eas­ier it is to remem­ber it. Ask your­self how it makes you feel. Ask your­self where else you have heard this. Ask your­self whether there is some­thing in your per­sonal life related to this piece of information.
  • Repeat the infor­ma­tion: Come back to it more than one time. This has been found in tons of stud­ies: repeated infor­ma­tion is eas­ier to recall. Spaced retrieval (a method with which a per­son is cued to recall a piece of infor­ma­tion at dif­fer­ent inter­vals) is one of the rare meth­ods that show some results with Alzheimer’s patients.
  • Elab­o­rate on the infor­ma­tion: think about it. Things that are con­crete and have a clear mean­ing are eas­ier to remem­ber than abstract and vague ones. Try­ing to attach mean­ing to the infor­ma­tion you are try­ing to mem­o­rize will make it eas­ier to recall later. Your brain will have more cues to look for. For instance, try to pic­ture the infor­ma­tion in your head. Pic­tures are much eas­ier to mem­o­rize than words. To remem­ber fig­ures and per­cent­ages it is much eas­ier to pic­ture these in a graph for instance. Relate the infor­ma­tion to some­thing you know already.

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