Memory is a selective, peculiar thing. We remember the lyrics to a song that came out 10 years ago, but we can’t for the life of us remember what we wore yesterday. We forget the names of people we’ve met, and sometimes, we forget meeting people altogether. We can recite all the items on a grocery list by heart, but we can’t remember the answers on a biology exam or the key points for a presentation, even though we knew these bits of info five minutes before.
Fortunately, there are many ways that even the most forgetful people can improve their memory. And thanks to your smartphone, most, if not all, of these methods can be practiced on the go. Whether you’re waiting in line for your coffee or sitting on the bus during your commute, try using the following five suggestions to boost your brain power.
Play Brain Games
An active mind is a sharp mind. Treat your mind like muscle — a muscle that must be exerted until it hurts and rebuilt as something stronger. Brain games are a great way to work out this mind muscle. There are common games like crosswords and Sudoku, and there are apps that offer thousands of these types of puzzles. There are also apps like Lumosity, which offer more comprehensive, yet fun, training programs. Lumosity has games dedicated to mentally sharpening an individual — in memory, attention, speed of processing and other positive mental attributes.
Lumosity was developed by neuroscientists to boost the brain’s capabilities, and some of the best ‘brain’ apps are based on similar scientific research. The Fit Brains app, which is affiliated with Rosetta Stone, also uses neuroscientific research to design its games. Like Lumosity, the games get progressively harder as your abilities improve and give you the ability to track your progress.
Listen to Music
The positive effects of music on the brain have been well-documented in many studies, including this one from Nature Neuroscience. Music can be associative — if a melody is paired with visuals (or if someone sings facts or knowledge in the form of lyrics or verse), it becomes easier to recall at a later date.
But even when knowledge isn’t explicitly paired with melody, music can still have a wonderful, therapeutic effect. When you’re studying, reading or doing something academic, music aids your learning and retention skills by helping you to focus and block out the rest of the world.
Pleasurable music can conjure positive emotions, and these positive emotions can enhance your ability to form memories. Just make sure to listen to instrumental music, because if you’re trying to read or write at the time, lyrics can confuse your brain.
The notion that Mozart’s music can make you smarter (a.k.a. the “Mozart Effect”) is being dismissed by more and more psychologists — any enjoyable music will do. Use your smartphone to create an ideal study playlist from your mp3s, and compile hours of memory music. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, use an app like Pandora to discover new favorites. Type in your favorite songs or artists, and Pandora will generate a playlist based upon your personal preferences.
Cut Down Your Stress Levels
Try to avoid or ameliorate stress, like the low-level, day-to-day stress of a job, a class or a rocky relationship. That low simmer of tension and pressure can have long-term, negative effects. A recent UC Berkeley study, which was referenced in an article published on CNN.com, concluded that constant, ongoing stress can decrease the number of neurons that are used for information processing.
Meditation Oasis has created an app called “Take a Break,” which leads you through guided meditations. The app even has ambient nature sounds that you can play in the background to complement its programs. And there’s a Breathe2Relax app that can help you regulate your diaphragmatic breathing. There are also many sleep regulating apps, including Sleep Cycle and Sleep Bot, which can help you optimize your sleep schedule so you can tackle your day with less stress.
Additionally, athletic fitness is another productive way to deal with stress. When you’re anxious, going for a run might be the best, most healthy solution. You can use your smartphone as a fitness tracker to time your laps, track your goals and burn your stress off by the calorie.
If you want a more long-term fix, a data tracker like the MyPsych app might be the right way to go. MyPsych allows you measure your moods every day, on a scale of 1-to-10, so that you can visualize your stress levels, set emotional goals and get to the root of your problems. You can allow a family member, doctor or loved one to track your progress, as well.
Remember that being relaxed is not the same thing as being a couch potato. Whatever you do, keep yourself busy. Inactivity is the worst thing you can do — or rather, not do. And certainly, your memory is worth the effort. Treasure every moment — every scrap and tiny speck of your life — in the vivid, bright detail that it deserves.