Category Archives for "Brain Health"

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!

Are Your Habits Hurting Your Brain? Part 3

Yesterday we examined how mindless routines can be transformed into mini-workouts for your brain. If you haven’t read that post, check it out! Today we’re going to look at how healthy habits can lose their potency, and how to reinvigorate them.

The Puzzling Truth About Crossword Puzzles

It makes sense that adding cognitive challenge to routine tasks like brushing your teeth can benefit your brain, but if you do a crossword puzzle every day, isn’t that a workout on its own? Maybe. Crossword puzzles are the quintessential example of a cognitive challenge, but if you regularly breeze through yours it might have become like that route you take to work, to well-worn to excite your mind. If brain boosting is your goal, you never want to get too comfortable.

In his seminal work Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi explains how the perfect combination of skill and challenge leads to satisfaction and growth. This same principle applies to many of the activities that are routinely touted as brain-building. Whether you play a musical instrument, study a foreign language, play chess or memorize poetry, you can eventually become so proficient that the activity is no longer stimulating or rewarding. As your skill grows, you must continually seek out new challenges to stay in the zone of growth and engagement.

Add Some Weight

There are two ways to shake up a good habit gone soft. The first is to amp up the challenge. Think about lifting weights. As your muscles grow stronger, you need to lift more if you want your muscles to continue to grow.

  • Find a book or newspaper with more challenging puzzles.
  • Try new scales or songs on your musical instrument.
  • Learn new vocabulary words in a language you already know.
  • Read a book or watch a show that is slightly higher than your fluency level in a language you already know.

Try Cross-Training

Increasing the difficulty works to build muscles you already have, but for overall brain health and robust cognitive reserve, think cross-training. It’s ok to continue playing the piano or doing crossword puzzles if you enjoy these activities, but alternate your favorite brain-builder with something completely new that challenges you in a very different way.

  • Swap a crossword puzzle for sudoku, which relies on logic and numbers instead of words and ideas.
  • If you already play the guitar, learn the flute instead of the cello.
  • If you’re fluent in Spanish, try Russian or Chinese instead of another Romance language.

The brain’s need for novelty is a double-edge sword. On the one hand, it means that the task of keeping your brain healthy is never-ending. You can’t just implement a handful of good habits and be done. Instead, you need an ever-changing approach to brain health that continually introduces new activities and new challenges.

However, the brain’s need for novelty has an upside: studies show that people who seek out novel experiences tend to be happier, healthier and more satisfied with their relationships and their lives. The combination of mindful habits and novel experiences can make your mind both rich and resilient.

If you’re ready to learn more about the habits that support your brain health, click here to join our groundbreaking new course, Habits for Brain Health. This live, interactive course combines the Tiny Habits method with powerful, practical recipes for keeping your brain sharp now and throughout your life.

Are Your Habits Hurting Your Brain? Part 2

If you missed yesterday’s post explaining the neuroscience behind habit formation and the novelty response, click here to get up to speed. If you’re wondering how you can cultivate cognitive reserve in your most routine moments, you’re in the right place.

Mindful Habits or Mindless Routines?

When you first learned to drive, your brain was probably very engaged. This challenging task requires coordination between your eyes, hands, and feet in particular. You have to be aware of everything around you while also monitoring your speed and position on the road. However, over time driving becomes less of a challenge and you are eventually able to navigate all but the trickiest of roadways with only minimal engagement. This is great for your commute, but not so great for your brain.

The brain possesses an infinite capacity for mastering new skills and making them feel effortless. This is great, as it’s exactly what we need to establish healthy habits and effective routines. However, like an energetic child, it needs to be continually challenged or it can become bored and disengaged. The key is to strike the right balance between novelty and structure.

Turning Off Auto-Pilot

If you frequently can’t remember whether you took your morning supplements or arrive at work with little recollection of the drive there, your brain may be so bored by the day’s predictability that it has essentially shut off. When your routines have become mindless, you’re missing out on great opportunities to boost your brain throughout the day.

Try spicing things up by adding a small cognitive challenge to each routine task.

  • Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. It’s harder than you’d think. It also forges novel connections in several parts of the brain.
  • Shower with your eyes closed. You’ll use senses that are usually neglected and be more focused on the task.
  • Spritz on a new scent. Our olfactory center is closely linked with memory formation.
  • Try a different morning beverage – swap coffee for tea or sample a different blend. Take a minute to really savor the new flavor.
  • Switch seats – at the dinner table, in the lunchroom or in a meeting. You’ll hear different conversations and see things from a different perspective, literally and figuratively.
  • For one day, turn your photos upside down. Again, the change in perspective can spark your brain to work in new ways.
  • Shop in a different grocery store. It might take a few minutes more, but your brain will be more engaged and open to new foods and discoveries.
  • Read a section of the paper you usually skip. You’ll learn something new and spark your creative brain as those new ideas bump up against the old.

Now you know how you can change your everyday routines to better support your brain health, but what about that morning crossword puzzle? Is it possible it’s not as productive as you think? Check back tomorrow to find out more.

If you’re ready to learn more about the habits that support your brain health, click here to join our groundbreaking new course, Habits for Brain Health. This live, interactive course combines the Tiny Habits method with powerful, practical recipes for keeping your brain sharp now and throughout your life.

Are Your Habits Hurting Your Brain? Part 1

If you’re hoping to foster new habits this year that will increase your health and happiness, we’re here to help. Daily exercise, meditation, and even flossing can boost your brain health, but not all habits work in your favor. You probably already know that smoking, sugar and a sedentary lifestyle can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular and cognitive functioning, but what about your drive to work or your morning crossword?

Making Healthy Actions Automatic

Habits and routines give our lives structure and direction. Turning healthy behaviors into habits is important because you want to follow through on those actions even when your motivation is low. That’s one reason the Tiny Habits method is so successful. Often those habits become part of our daily routines, and are so engrained we don’t even have to think about them. In general, that’s a good thing. However, you certainly don’t want to go through life on auto-pilot. Your brain craves novelty and challenge to stay sharp and agile.

Pathways in the Forest

Every new thought or experience sends a tiny spasm of electricity that stimulates dendritic growth and expands your brain volume. Dendrites are like tiny pathways through your brain, and the more of them you have, the greater your cognitive reserve. If a thought or action is repeated, the pathway becomes stronger and it takes less effort to send a signal through. “Neurons that fire together wire together,” as neuroscientists say, and this is exactly how habits are formed: by repeatedly following a trigger with an action, that pathway is solidified in the brain and the action becomes more automatic each time.

Building Cognitive Reserve

Establishing strong pathways that reinforce healthy habits is a good thing. However, you don’t want your brain to become so accustomed to its most well-worn pathways that stagnation sets in. As we age, the plaques and tangles that cause Alzheimer’s disease can choke off even the most established of routes. If one pathway becomes bogged down, it’s good to have plenty of other options. As you continue to learn new things and challenge yourself throughout your life, you increase your cognitive reserve, creating a brain that is both resilient and adaptable.

This Is Your Brain On Novelty

Psychologists call it the “novelty response”, and in some ways it’s the opposite of a habit. Where a habit is so engrained you don’t even have to think about it, a novel experience requires your attention and engagement, but this is precisely why it’s so effective. When you challenge yourself to learn a new word every day, cook a new recipe or take a new class, you activate new neural networks that keep your brain alert and engaged. For the best results, be sure there’s a method to the madness. Build novelty into your day by periodically establishing new habits that challenge your brain in new ways.

Building cognitive reserve doesn’t have to be costly or time-intensive. Come back tomorrow to learn how you can increase your cognitive reserve on your drive to work or even in the shower. Click here to join our groundbreaking new course, Habits for Brain Health. This live, interactive course combines the Tiny Habits method with powerful, practical recipes for keeping your brain sharp now and throughout your life.

5 More Ways to Improve Your Brain Health in Under 30 Seconds

If 5 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health in Under 30 Seconds inspired you to care more for your brain in the coming year, click here to receive information about our upcoming course, Habits for Brain Health. If you’re ready to plant some new seeds today, try one or more of the habits below.

  1. Sip a cup of green tea. The antioxidants in a cup of green tea may contribute to lower blood pressure, better working memory, stronger bones and a healthier immune system. Drink it hot as you read the morning news or iced at the end of your workout for the moderate boost in energy and long-term neuroprotection the caffeine will provide. Brew your own and go easy on the sweetener for a brain- and budget-friendly beverage.
  2. Stub out your cigarette. If the threat of lung, throat and oral cancer isn’t enough to dissuade you from smoking, maybe its effects on your brain health will. Smoking thins the lining of the cortex, a part of the brain that is essential for memory and language function. The sooner you quit, the less damage you’ll do and the longer your brain will have to recover.
  3. Text a friend. “Remember that time when…?” Research shows that the more connected you are, the more likely you are to maintain high cognitive functioning throughout your life. Reminiscing with friends activates the memory center and relieves stress, providing a one-two punch against cognitive decline.
  4. Grab a brain game. It’s no surprise that exercising your brain is good for your brain, but if you’re not a fan of crossword puzzles, don’t worry! Research shows that any mental challenge will do. Keep a book of sudoku in your pocket or a brain training app on your phone and sneak in a mini-workout next time you’re sitting on the train, standing in line or waiting for a friend.
  5. Put your phone on airplane mode. Too little sleep puts your brain in a fog and contributes to the buildup of beta-amyloid in the brain, increasing the risk of developing dementia. Set yourself up for a restful night’s sleep by putting your phone on airplane mode. Your alarm will still work, but you won’t be disrupted by the buzz of an incoming late-night email or text. Try this trick when you’re with your friends and family, too. Being present with the ones you’re with strengthens your social connections, keeping your relationships and your brain strong, healthy and happy.

These habits may seem simple, but don’t be deceived. Every one of these actions can have lasting long-term effects when they become a part of your everyday life. But you don’t have to wait until your senior years to reap the benefits. The habits that support long-term brain health will also help you to feel healthier and happier while you’re still young. For information on our upcoming brain health course, click here.