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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.

Keep read­ing…

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14 Responses

  1. D says:

    i like what u have 2 say..i orig­i­nally went search­ing for brain kines­thet­ics and came accross your info..glad i did.thanks

  2. Caroline says:

    D — Glad you are enjoy­ing the site! We always love to hear how we’re doing — let us know your thoughts as you keep exploring.

  3. Dave says:

    Thanks for the tips. I’m look­ing for spe­cific exer­cises that I can do to improve con­cen­tra­tion and mem­ory. I am going to try mem­o­riz­ing por­tions of scrip­ture. That has helped in the past a lot. Also, have you heard any­thing about clap­ping one’s hands to a metronome to improve con­cen­tra­tion? I heard about it once, but am not sure of the specifics. Thanks!
    –David

  4. Hans Ruecker says:

    Helps me a lot.
    Thanks,
    H.Ruecker

  5. blau augen says:

    I for­got what I just read O.o lol ^^

  6. Adam Roberts says:

    I think being focused and atten­tive is some­thing thats required, but we’re not nec­es­sar­ily taught. Its impor­tant to try to watch your thoughts and sus­tain your thoughts for as long as needed. I’ve found that med­i­ta­tion and a good diet works well in order to aid focus and over­all cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing. Hope this helps.

  7. ombogadennis says:

    thank you for your inspir­ing hints on how to improve my memory

  8. W. R. Klemm says:

    I blog on mem­ory reseasrch (thankyoubrain.blogspot.com) and I ran across papers that show peo­ple are more dis­tractible as they age. Most older peo­ple (I am one) have to work harder to pay attention.

  9. Kevin says:

    Thankyou.
    All makes sense being an older stu­dent myself (47) :0 . this will help me retake my 3rd year under grad­u­ate stud­ies again with a bet­ter under­stand­ing and more con­fi­dence, improv­ing concentration.

  10. Lixia Zhang says:

    Thanks Q&A for tips of improv­ing con­cen­tra­tion and mem­ory. I think they will be much helpul to my prepa­ra­tion for TOEFL. I’m greatly inspired to improve my listening.

  11. M. Klemes says:

    I found that study­ing some­thing on 2 dif­fer­ent days (1 day between them to study some other sub­ject) helped a lot in all my under­grad and grad­u­ate stud­ies, as long as I stud­ied seri­ously both times. Inter­leav­ing the study days this way worked for me even as an older stu­dent (Ph.D., enginer­ing). No dis­trac­tions, of course!

    Marek K.

  12. kenbull says:

    I found read­ing dif­fi­cult some­times because i nor­mally expe­ri­ence headache due to hav­ing dif­fer­ent thoughts most cases but now things have improve.

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