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Feeling Forgetful or Distracted? 3 Strategies to Boost Your Memory and Increase Your Focus

Did you ever see a film back in 1995 called Johnny Mnemonic? Keanu Reeves playing the part of Johnny who was able to store huge amounts of information in his memory using a computer chip.

In reality our memories are nothing like computers, however back in the early 90’s the idea of having a super powered memory was something that instantly grabbed my attention for a number of reasons:

  1. For years I had a reputation for having an extremely bad memory
  2. I made a decision to work hard on not only improving my memory but taking it to a whole new level, so in that same year (1995), I competed in the World Memory Championships and was ranked as one of the first ever Grand Masters of Memory in the World (crazy title, I know!)
  3. Also, in 1995 I created a Game show called Monkhouse’s Memory Masters for the BBC that aired to 8 million people.

Off the back of the TV show I fell into working with real people with real challenges and got hooked.

So, what does it take to go from having no confidence in your memory to knowing you can learn and remember anything you put your mind to?

It’s an over simplification, however if I had to, I’d break it down into 3 steps

  1. Memory Mindset
  2. Tiny Habits®
  3. Creative Memorization

While I cover all of these and more in The Total Memory Blueprint, let’s briefly look at each one of these areas…

Get the Right Memory Mindset

If someone asked you, “Would you like to improve your memory by 500%?” what would you say?  My guess is, for most people, they would jump at the chance. I’ve personally heard people respond with a phrase like, “Yeh, I could really do with that!” However, the real impact of having a good memory is rarely thought about.

So what if we were to be more specific? What if someone said you could learn a new way of thinking that would deliver:

  • Confidence in your ability to remember anything
  • Focus to overcome mind wandering and procrastination
  • Skills to save time, filter and remember what was important
  • Talents to help you step up in your career
  • Beliefs to start your own business
  • Potential to grow your current business
  • Freedom to do what you love and become an expert in your field 

If someone said that you could achieve all of this, how would you respond? What different choices would you make going forward? What impact would it have in your life? What would be the best part of having a set of strategies that allowed you to do each one of these things?

I’ve been lucky enough to work with people from all walks of life at different stages, from students to professionals or CEOs and even actors. The first coaching session is always the most interesting as people are buzzed up to start learning memory techniques and tips, however that is never where I start and here’s why… most people don’t know why they want to improve their memory AND they have beliefs that don’t support them. So we always start with the mindset and get absolute clarity on:

  • How a better memory will change their life
  • Uncovering hidden challenges and beliefs that could slow them down, hold them back or stop them in their tracks
  • 5 to 10 options they are absolutely committed to trying in the next 7 days

There is a catch to all of this though; there are no quick fixes, magic pills or microchips (at least not yet) that instantly transform your ability to remember. It takes energy and commitment; this is where Tiny Habits® come in…

Tiny Habits® for Memory

When I first heard about Tiny Habits I got pretty psyched. My initial driver to try them out was to create some better health habits. Since starting Tiny Habits I’ve gone from an erratic (every now and then) 20 minute morning workout to a 2 hour ritual that gets my mind and body in peak state for the day.

During my first conversation with BJ Fogg, he suggested I could use this method with my clients, so I decided to give it a go and trained as a coach. Shortly after I began introducing Tiny Habits for Memory and Focus to my clients and they loved them. They found it a simple way to introduce new techniques into their lives and it also helped create momentum when they hit a learning curve.

It was as if by creating these Tiny Habits they were not only planting the seeds for each of the strategies I shared, these seeds were taking root so it was easier for them to grow the larger behaviors they could actually use in real life situations.

Here is a simple example of a Tiny Habits for Memory

After I wake up in the morningI will memorize 3 itemsThen you celebrate to help the habit take root

Here’s the key though, you don’t just memorize by picking 3 items and repeating them over and over again in your mind, you get creative! For example let’s imagine your 3 items are a chair, plant and mobile phone.

You might imagine:

You give a chair to a plant that needs to make an urgent phone call.

This is called a Chain Story and you can create something like this in about 10 seconds. The interesting thing is, it’s very hard to forget.

Let’s ramp it up, look at these 9 items and try to remember them:

I created this using Rory’s Story Cubes

Now Imagine this: you are playing with the abacus and a key falls out, you use it to get inside the plane, which is caught by a giant hand that gives you the padlock. You shrink and jump inside and fall all the way through to a tree, you fall asleep and are woken up by lightning. You see the masks!

By doing the Tiny Habit above (with just 3 items) you start conditioning your brain to use this strategy more automatically.

Once you master this technique, its application goes way further than just simple items; you can use it to remember key points in a presentation, facts from a meeting, details about people, conversations and combined with a few other strategies even whole books!

Tiny Habits® for Focus

An essential ingredient to having greater memory retention and recall is the skill to instantly be in the moment. As someone who was a professional actor for many years this was intrinsic in being able to learn large scripts, let go of anxiety and remain confident. A large part of what I share with people is this skill of really getting into that state of flow. Here’s a very simple Tiny Habit to set you on the right path. I call these primer questions:

Example of Tiny Habits for Focus

After I finish my breakfastI will ask myself, “what is the one thing I will give my focus to today?”Celebrate

The purpose of this primer question is to turn on your internal radar to pay attention to the thing that is most important for you ‘today’. It is all too easy to be distracted by technologies and other peoples agenda, so by explicitly asking yourself a question along these lines every morning can bring real focus to your day.

By creating Tiny Habits for each of the Memory and Focus strategies you can incorporate them into your life so much easier.

So we’ve talked about facilitating the right mindset and creating Tiny Habits that will build real momentum. There is a primary ingredient that we still need to achieve some of the outcomes we went through at the beginning of this post. You have already had a taster of this when memorizing those 9 items earlier; I call this Creative Memorization.

Creative Memorization

The idea behind Creative Memorization isn’t just about remembering. It is about experiencing a deep level of learning. To truly learn, you have to create; with creation and use comes understanding. You move from a place of knowing something intellectually to having something in your body – this is what creative memorization feels like.

Creative memorization is not a passive form of remembering but a way of thinking that is results-focused and draws on each of your memory types (episodic, semantic, procedural, emotional, priming, conditioned response), looking for creative ways to make anything more memorable so you can put it into practice.

Before you jump into the complex stuff, with any new skill you need to master the basics. Try this well known strategy called the Chain Method. Here’s an example I usually start with to get people going. There are 15 main items in this story. Read the story 2-3 times and each time imagine it more vividly in your mind than the time before…

Big Ben is wearing a fur coat and bouncing up and down on a springboard. He dives into a large pot of honey, and out of the honey comes a dinosaur wearing a red baseball cap and swinging a baseball bat. It starts smashing up a Ferrari with the baseball bat. Driving the Ferrari is Tom Cruise, who is smoking a huge cigar. Tom looks over to his right and stubs out the cigar on the head of a bald man. The bald man is eating a big sticky Mars bar, and wrapped around the Mars bar is a slimy snake, playing the drums and drinking a bottle of Budweiser.

Drop a comment below letting me know how well you got on!

Where to start?

Over the last 5 years I’ve written a number of books to help people build their skills in this area. For some people a book is enough and for others they are looking for something more, that could be some personal 1-1 coaching or online video training they can complete at their own pace to step up in their career, make the leap to start a business or just feel like they have the freedom to do the thing they love.

There’s a whole bunch of resources and courses you can find here. If you really want to take your memory to the next level then check out:

>> Total Memory Blueprint

Feel free to ping your questions to me!

While Johnny Mnemonic is still science fiction the potential of having an outstanding memory is absolutely a reality. All it takes is the right mindset, tiny habits and some killer strategies.

Ready to celebrate your success? Get our killer list of 102 Ways to Celebrate here!

What Do You Mean By Dance?

By Robin Zander

My friend Ben Weston teaches men to dance. He even gave a TED talk about why it is a problem in the world that men don’t dance more, which I highly recommend.

Personally, I have taken a different extreme and train classical ballet, about as far from dancing in bars as it is possible to get while still sharing the term “dance.”

I learned to dance as an adult, and did so with a lot of unnecessary stress. It need not be so hard for others, and I’ve lately begun exploring why people who want to dance more regularly don’t do so. One of the conclusions is that that most of us are too narrow in how we define dance.

Dance can be anything

  • Classical ballet
  • Zumba
  • Pre-work dance parties
  • Aerial silks
  • Dancing in bars
  • My mother’s aerobics class
  • West Coast Swing classes
  • Dancing around your kitchen in your socks

Let’s redefine dance

Instead, by setting the definition of dance as something beyond our reach, many of us have set ourselves up for failure. It isn’t enough to hold hands and dance in the kitchen, or even take a west coast swing dance class. We have to aim high. We don’t dance because we look silly, forgetting that is can be learned in any environment including the privacy of our own homes.

Set your goals lower. Don’t worry about bolstering your motivation and “trying harder.” Make your success easy and often. Redefine dance to be something you can do with ease and will enjoy. Start there, and more will follow.

I have begun to coach people in how to dance every day, regardless of what kind or what that dancing looks like. If you’re interested in learning how to dance every day, email me at robin@robinpzander.com.

Start To Dance Every Day (By Starting Small)

By Robin Peter Zander

I am currently dancing classical ballet about 20 hours each week and am about to start a gig performing with the San Francisco Opera. Regularly, I hear some version of admiration followed by self-denial, like: “That’s great that you dance so much. I have two left feet.”

I always say the same thing: “You can, too.” To begin dancing, start simply. It doesn’t have to be complicated. 

The 7 Simple Steps To Dance

  1. Make sure you are alone in a room. No one is watching you.
  2. Turn on a song that you know well and enjoy.
  3. Close your eyes.
  4. No, really: close your eyes!
  5. Listen to the music.
  6. Begin moving in any way to the music that you hear
  7. Pay attention to how you are moving – both how it feels and what you are actually doing
  8. Congratulations, you just danced!

We make “dance” to mean performing under pressure or doing something that is incredibly hard. While these things are fine desired outcomes, they are much to big to begin with. We have to start small, in order to quickly proceed to bigger and lofier goals. So play some music, close your eyes, and move. That counts and having done so, you’ve danced today! Congratulations!

There’s much more to how to dance regularly, and I’ll be following up with posts about other things that people use to hold them back.

I have begun to coach people (for free) in how to dance every day. BJ and I interested in people who want to dance everyday but don’t. If you are interested in FREE coaching on this, join the Facebook group or fill out our brief Dance Every Day survey.

5 Habits to Remembering Names

Having worked with clients for over 20 years in the art of improving memory I noticed that there were a number of common problems people shared:

  • getting over the learning curve when it came to using memory strategies
  • finding a way to implement them in real life situations
  • making this new way of ‘thinking and learning’ a habit

So when I first discovered the Tiny Habits® Method it sparked my interest. I had a feeling it could perhaps be a solution to overcoming some of these key problems.

Tiny Habits for Remembering Names…

One of the simplest ways to demonstrate how Tiny Habits can help improve your memory is to pick a specific problem countless people deal with, in this case, Remembering Names.

The steps to remembering a persons name, for the most part are quite straight forward, in summary you need to do 5 different things:

  • Prime your brain to pay attention
  • Become present and listen
  • Make a connection (this is where your creativity comes into play)
  • Use the name in the conversation (can be harder than it sounds)
  • Have a good strategy to revise for long-term retention

Each one of these steps use part of what I refer to as creative memorisation and initially this can feel like a lot of things to do, although in real-life steps 1-4 all happen in about 3-10 seconds depending on the name.

Imagine being able to walk into a room with 20 people and walk out remembering everyones name. Depending on what line of business you are in, this can be a very valuable strategy, especially if you can meet someone a month later and still remember their name.

The Challenge…

The biggest challenge I’ve observed is making all of this automatic and not getting caught up in old habits. This is where the Tiny Habits Method excels and makes it all feel super easy.

One of the things I love about Tiny Habits is that the ‘recipes’ for new habits are so simple to create, here’s an example of how to take the first 2 steps of remembering names and turn them into a simple tiny habit.

Tiny Habit 1: Prime & Presence

After I sit down on my train into work (you replace this with your own anchor, a habit which already exists in your life)
I will choose a person and ask myself, “what is interesting about them?” while I breathe, look and listen
Woohoo! (celebration)

If you did nothing else and just this for the next 7 days you would notice your ability for remembering names start to improve. Once this habit becomes automatic it starts to permeate into other parts of your life. You walk into a meeting and your brain is already primed to notice the people in the room and be ready to listen to their names rather than your mind being diverted or wondering about other things.

Try it out…

If you have any challenges with remembering names and you’re looking for a strategy that not only gives you a way to remember names on the fly, makes them stick and makes it all happen on autopilot then I’ve created a free 7 day email course to get you up and running over at memoryschool.com

Here’s how it works:

  • You get an email every day for 5 days which includes a breakdown of each of the memory strategies for remembering names, a supporting video and some follow up activities
  • You’ll drop a quick email back to me with any challenges
  • I’ll offer you some tips to improve
  • Within 5 days you will have all the memory strategies in place to make remembering names a breeze 🙂
  • On Day 6 you will learn about the 3 Tiny Habits® Method for Remembering Names
  • On Day 7 You’ll check in with me on your first experience with Tiny Habits for Names

For the next week, you can check in with me everyday on how your habits are going and I will give you some personal 1-1 email coaching.

It’s as simple as that!

You can get started at anytime, just pop over to memoryschool.com and sign up for the 7 Day free email course.

If you want to improve your memory Tiny Habits is the simplest and most effective way to create those key behaviors. Imagine if you could use this strategy to not just remember names but remember anything?

Appreciate Your Progress

By Robin Zander

In any learning process, appreciation is essential. Celebrating yourself throughout a learning process will make the whole experience more enjoyable, and incidentally faster.

Appreciate where you are

Appreciating where you are right now is probably the most difficult aspect of appreciating the learning process. Most of us want to be better, more successful, more fulfilled than we are now. That’s fine. Striving is a great attribute. But it is also important to acknowledge with compassion or gratitude where you are right now. I find it easiest to do this just after a successful practice interval. For example, when I am enjoying my runner’s high or just after a great ballet class is when I feel the most proud and appreciative of where I am right then.

Appreciate progress

The appreciation of progress comes of noticing progress. I often get down on myself for not learning as quickly as I think I should. Of course, this self-judgment impedes progress. Instead, there are several simple ways to notice how much you are changing.

  1. Know the steps. This requires some amount of forethought: knowing each of the steps along the way to where you would eventually like to be. I find it most useful to set a specific goal and then break down all of the possible permutations of steps that will allow me to reach that goal. I describe an example of this in my story of achieving the gymnastics giant.
  1. Record progress. Even if you aren’t going to break down each of the steps towards every specific goal – which does require a lot of thinking – it is still useful to monitor your learning. There are many tools for this sort of self-monitoring, but for my own physical studies I find a video recording my progress to be the best measuring device.

Appreciate future goals

This is probably the easiest for most people. Future goals are where you would like to go. But the important thing to know about goal setting is that getting upset for not being there yet is only going to impede your progress. By all means, set ambitious goals. Then get excited about accomplishing them, not down on yourself for not being there yet.

Appreciate where you are, your progress and your goals for the future.

If you’d like help learning to appreciate progress and expedite learning, I am currently using the Tiny Habits Method to coach people how to dance every day for free. Contact me through my Tiny Habits page.

Three Reasons Why Change Is Easier Than You Think

Kim Avery, MA, PCC

I tried everything. I bribed, threatened, coaxed, prodded, and coached myself to start exercising again but to no avail.

After some major life transitions, I had fallen off the exercise wagon, and five years later it looked like I’d never get back on.

I was sad. And frustrated.

I am a mature (relatively speaking), functioning, working adult.  In fact, I’m a Professional Certified Coach who specializes in helping people make and sustain lasting change.  And I’ve experienced great success both in my own life and the lives of my clients.

But like most people, there were still a few pockets of life that stubbornly resisted my efforts at reform.

Until…

The Missing Link

Until I stumbled on a small, playful tool that proved to be the missing link in my earnest quest.  Tiny Habits.

What are Tiny Habits?  Developed by Stanford researcher, B. J. Fogg, Tiny Habits create behavior change by tapping into the power of the environment and baby steps.

It doesn’t sound powerful, does it? Like something that could shift entrenched mindsets and behaviors we’ve clung to for years?

But it can. And for me, and thousands of others, it has.

Here’s why:

  1. Motivation Not Required

Don’t get me wrong when I say motivation isn’t required.  We have to want to change. That’s the whole purpose of change; we want something to be different.

But that fickle mood we call motivation, the one that fluctuates based on time of day, hormones, stress, peers and 1,000 other things, is unreliable and unsustainable over a long period of time.

When I relied on motivation alone to move me to exercise again, I often spent as much time trying to motivate myself as I did on the exercise.

Thankfully, Tiny Habits doesn’t assume we’ll have a steady stream of motivation, will power or self-discipline. And that’s very good news.

  1. A Tiny Habit is so Easy There’s No Reason NOT to Do It

Our culture applauds the notion of taking massive action to make massive change. It’s inspiring. Visionary. Bold.

But while the idea of massive change may be compelling, the reality is not.  Very few people succeed in rewiring their lifelong habits no matter how motivated they are. In Alan Deutschmann’s book Change or Die, he cites a study of heart patients who’ve been told they must change their lifestyles or risk dying, yet only one in ten could make the lasting changes. In other words, 90% failed.

Tiny Habits takes the opposite approach.  Instead of figuring out a way to make people try harder, BJ Fogg has found a way to make change a lot easier.  All you have to do is identify an existing behavior and then add to it one tiny, new behavior – something that you can accomplish in 30 seconds or less.  The new behavior should be so benign that even if you are stressed, hurried or sick, you’d still be willing to do it.  For example, floss one tooth (that’s right, just one) after you brush your teeth, take one sip of water every time you sit down to eat, or recall one thing to be grateful for when your head hits the pillow at night.

It doesn’t get any easier than that.

When picking a Tiny Habit to help me integrate exercise back in to my life, I chose to lay out my exercise clothes after I got ready for bed at night.  That’s it.  While targeting that behavior, the goal wasn’t to put those clothes on the next morning or to go to the gym – just lay out my clothes the night before.

I can do that. And I did. Because it was so easy to do.

  1. Success Breeds Success

One reason change is so hard is because we’ve failed at it so many times.  In our innermost selves, many of us have come to believe we can’t change. It’s too difficult. We’re too undisciplined. It simply can’t be done.

Successfully changing even the tiniest of behaviors challenges that false belief.  Take a regular, common habit, brushing your teeth, for example, and pair it with a super-simple, super-fast new behavior, such as flossing one tooth.  After 5 days of flossing that tooth, you’ll begin to see that you can keep the commitments you make to yourself.  You really can do new things.  And do them well.  So, why stop at one tooth? You might as well add in the other teeth, too.

Before you know it, you are the rare, the few, you are a flosser!

That’s success momentum.

For me, success momentum turned something as simple as laying out my exercise clothes each night into a five-day-a-week training program. That training program has been so successful that next month I’ll be competing in the first half marathon I’ve done in five years.

Clearly, my behavior has changed; but more than that, I’ve changed. I think about myself differently.  I am an exerciser. I am a person who can create and sustain lasting change.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

It’s Your Turn

What areas of your life have stubbornly resisted change? Give Tiny Habits a try.  It has the power to change what you do; and when you change what you do, you change who you are.

Learn Handstands with the Tiny Habits Method

Taking small steps is the fastest way to progress in any new skill. Unfortunately, handstands are almost never taught according to this dictum. Especially with a physical feat as unusual as standing or walking on your hands, every student and most teachers want the outcome, the end result of balancing upside down, very quickly. It is human nature to see a goal and attempt to accomplish that outcome now. But in the case of handstands, this push impedes progress.

Make Learning Easier

There are two ways to adopt new behaviors: increase motivation or decrease the barrier for entry. As a fitness trainer, I have seen that the primary way people are “encouraged” to get more fit is through pressure and guilt. This results in gym goers feeling guilty for not ever using their memberships. The same holds true for handstands. Many more people want to learn handstands than actually take the time to break down handstands into the component, learnable parts, and practice them regularly enough to achieve mastery.

Take Baby Steps

Consider how infants learn to walk: they take innumerable, incremental steps, while maintaining a sweet curiosity that keeps them from becoming overwhelmed. If you fail repeatedly and then get frustrated you will be slower to achieve your ultimate goal. Instead we will examine all of the incremental steps that make up learning handstands, just like an infant learns to scoot, crawl, and cruise before walking freely on her own. Have patience, and follow the steps. If you do, you will learn your fearless handstands very quickly!

Watch this video to understand the value of learning the component parts of a handstand: http://bit.ly/X4O4ze

Make Practice Easy

Handstands are quite easy to learn when practiced as component parts. Instead of just forcing an inversion and hoping for the best, the baby steps that make up a handstand can be practiced incrementally as simple habits built into daily life.

If you are interested in learning more about how to practice the incremental steps of learning handstands, download your free copy of the 4-Week Guide to Mastering Fearless Handstands.

Tiny Habit Handstand Recipes

After I get out of bed in the morning, I will place both hands on the ground.

I like “place both hands on the ground” as a new behavior because it is so simple and effortless to do. It takes practically no time. It is a tiny behavior that can stand alone as a part of practicing handstands, but it can also grow into more complex movements like moving around on all fours, or actually being upside down.

After I eat breakfast, I will move around on all fours.

“Moving around on all fours” is something every toddler does but most of us as adults have forgotten. By its nature it is playful. I choose the kitchen because there is usually space in the kitchen for some more dynamic movement. This behavior, too, is a complete habit by itself, but can also grow into more complete handstands.

After I brush my teeth at night, I will imagine myself being upside down.

This habit is a good nighttime activity because it is quieter than the previous two, while still in the direction of learning to do a handstand. By imagining the activity without actually doing it, we practice the desired behavior without much of the physical limitations that might otherwise standing in the way. Additionally, imagining practice provides useful insight into the nature of our fears of being upside down.

To learn about all of the steps necessary to learn to balance a handstand, watch the videos of those incremental steps on YouTube: http://bit.ly/1uBoqQ7

How To Balance a Fearless Handstand

If you are interested in learning more about all of the pieces necessary to balance a handstand, I’ve recently published a short e-book on this topic. Using the Tiny Habits Method, I’ve been able to refine my own handstands and teach this skill to hundreds of others. Learn more at http://www.fearlesshandstands.com.