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How can I improve concentration and memory?

Attention–or con­cen­tra­tion– and mem­o­ry are two crit­i­cal men­tal skills and are 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…

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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