How Good Is Your Memory?

Father TimeHave you ever spent ten minutes looking for the glasses that were on the top of your head?

How about coming to an unceremonious halt half way through a sentence when you realize you can’t remember what the hell you were talking about?

And what about wasting hours of your life looking for car keys that weren’t where you just know you left them.

The fact is, as we get older events like those seem to become more and more frequent.

Even Life Coaches know that our cognitive function isn’t going to be quite as good at 50 as it was at 20. The body breaks down and the brain declines as we age and that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

But what if it weren’t like that? What if that were merely a belief that we turn into a self-fulfilling prophesy?

If you put on twenty five pounds of weight the evidence is there for all to see. You can see yourself in a mirror, feel those clothes getting tighter and watch the frowns from family members when you start complaining the portion sizes are too small in The Cheesecake Factory.

You can kid yourself for a time, but eventually you have to accept you’re no longer ripped like the side of beef you undoubtedly once were.

Knowing you are putting weight on, can, if you allow it to, act as a call to action. Of course millions of people decline to act, but that isn’t because they aren’t aware they’re overweight. More importantly, it’s also not because they don’t know what to do to lose weight either.

Everybody knows that for the vast majority of people a good balanced diet with regular exercise is going to eventually lead to stable and healthy weight. It’s really not that complicated and it’s definitely not brain surgery.

Unfortunately, cognitive decline can be a lot less obvious, a lot more insidious and is very often presumed to be just a natural part of the aging process.

To make matters worse, many people are embarrassed by the symptoms of decline such as failing memory, loss of focus and lack of energy and install coping strategies to help hide their shortcomings.

One such coping strategy is avoidance behavior. In terms of memory, this may mean making lists rather than trying to learn information or saying no to a social invitation rather than having to deal with remembering peoples names.

If you broke your leg and had to have it set in plaster for several weeks, what do you think would happen? When the plaster came off do you think the leg would be exactly as you left it?

No, of course not. If you are a women there is a good chance it would probably be a damn site hairier than when you last saw it and if you are Caucasian probably somewhat paler too. But more importantly, the muscle would have atrophied and you would need to partake in some physical therapy to build it back up to the previous level.

Now if you think about your brain as a muscle that needs exercise just as much as the rest of your body, you’re on to something. In the same way you can’t sit still in a chair and expect to be building huge quads, you can’t improve your brain and memory by avoiding using it.

In fact, you do the complete opposite because the less you use it the more the neural networks atrophy and die and the more your recall and associated functions worsen.

After a great debate in the comments field of ‘When is a Habit Not a Habit‘ post and at the recommendation of Maureen, I ordered a copy of ‘The Brain That Changes Itself’ by Norman Doidge. A fascinating and excellent book for sure and one that really opened my eyes to the potential of the human brain and what we can do at an individual level to maintain our own cognitive abilities.

The part that jumped out as me was the research that suggests there seems to be no real reason (drug and alcohol abuse notwithstanding) for the brain to deteriorate like it does in most people. And the predominant cause is through the lack of the right kind of stimulation, and not because of how old somebody is.

There were a number of references to the break through work in brain plasticity of Dr. Michael Merzenich and the company he founded called Posit Science. Posit Science with the help of specially designed software were supposedly not just slowing down mental decline in people, but actually reversing it. Here is what they say on their website:

“Posit Science cognitive training programs take a different approach to brain fitness than other companies. They don’t just drill memory or teach compensatory tricks. Instead, they target important roots of memory and thinking—the ability of the brain to absorb information from the senses. We do this because the quality with which your brain sees and hears has a direct relationship with how quickly you think, how much information you take in, and how well you remember.”

I must admit that my memory isn’t that great and it’s definitely not as good as it was fifteen years ago or more.  Like the fact I now wear glasses when only three or four years ago I didn’t, I just presumed this was yet another unwelcome indication that no matter how many times I say ‘dude’ or go into Abercrombie and Fitch , I’m no longer a spring or even summer chicken.

However, if that isn’t the case, and I can increase my concentration levels as well as my memory, well what’s not to love about that? The reason I only deal with 3 clients per day is not purely to maintain my work/life balance, but also because I find my concentration levels dipping after 3 people.

I contacted Posit Science and asked if they’d be willing to let me have a trial program in return for me blogging about it. The miserable bastards said no, but undeterred I decided to shell out almost $400 of my own money and buy it anyway so I could experiment on myself.

The course is made up of 40 one-hour sessions and they recommend it be completed inside 90 days. I intend to do it a lot quicker than that and plan on doing an hour every day or at least 6 times per week. I’m currently six days in and haven’t noticed my brain expanding just yet, but I’m hopeful.

I have deliberately left out any links to Posit Science because I want to see if this stuff works for me before I advise anybody else go and try it. I’ll be keeping you updated on my progress here, but in the meantime I’d really like to know how good is your memory, or probably more pertinently, how good is it compared to 10 or 15 years ago?