If you wish to improve your memory skills, i.e. your ability to remember information and recollect it when you so desire, it is imperative that you improve your concentration. Concentration requires you to ‘focus intently’ on whatever you are trying to remember. Concentration enables you to:
learn new facts
recall information that you have already memorised
It is obvious that you need to focus on the information to be learnt if you want to remember it. So you must improve your concentration to improve your memory. You cannot claim that your powers of concentration are weak and hence you suffer from a weak memory. Concentration is a mental skill. It can be developed by you, just like any other skill.
There are several exciting ways in which you can boost your concentration power.
Step 1: Power Your Brain
If you really wish to improve your concentration, try the following tips and you will find a marked improvement in a relatively short time period.
There have been several books that have been written on the subject of how the brain works and how you can use this knowledge to improve its functioning. In Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, Sharon Begley explains that ‘the structure and function of the adult brain is not set in stone’. The connections between the neurons in your brain grow and change all the time. When you learn to play the guitar, study the human anatomy, read a book, practise the Chinese style of cutting vegetables, or develop a new habit, you are increasing the networking in the brain. As with any other muscle in the body, the more you use the brain, the better it becomes. You need to exercise a muscle regularly to develop it. In the same manner, you must exercise your brain regularly to develop and keep it in good shape.
Your brain has the ability to change and grow all the time. This is a continuous process and does not happen overnight. With continuous and consistent effort, you can improve your brain’s ability to concentrate. Build into your daily regime the following habits:
Mindfulness meditation: Begin by meditating for five minutes in the morning and for five minutes again at night before going to bed. If you do this everyday, you will notice that your power of concentration is improving. ‘Mindfulness’ means to be ‘aware’ or ‘conscious’.
Meditation sharpens your focus and memory. Studies at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have proved that regular meditation creates changes in the physical structure of the brain by thickening the cortex. Then thickening of the cortex happens because of increased blood flow to that area. The cortex is that area of the brain that deals with the higher mental functions. So, meditation and memory are inextricably linked to each other. By meditating regularly, you improve your brain’s power to focus. It also helps bring clarity in your thinking. I found ‘mindfulness meditation’ is the best way to meditate. In this way you have to do the reverse of other meditation methods commonly used. Here you will not try to empty your mind but you will try to fill your mind with as much as information you can. But it should be from the present only not from the past and the future. E.g. sit comfortably and try to focus on your breathing sound, listen the sound of it. Feel it, try to imagine that air going in and out. I mean make your all the senses/ perception busy enough in receiving information from the present moment. It will make busy your mind in the present passing movement and you will not get the time to wonder in past and future. And concentration is all about staying in present. You can do the same thing while eating, bathing, walking by making your senses busy in receiving the information in the present movement. Like what is the temperature of water you are using for bath or what are the ingredients of the food you are eating also try to analyse their quantity.
It is a well known fact that”… sleep contributes to the long-term consolidation of new memories” (Nature journal, November 2006). Going by this, any new memories that are formed require enough sleep to enable the brain to organize and retain them.
If a night has been slept in tossing and turning (if it’s due to an old mattress, throw it out and get a new one), the brain is not fresh and ready to face a new day of work. It is foggy and sleepy, and it will not function with clarity and sharpness. Its ability to retain anything will be reduced. Both concentration and memory will suffer because of poor sleep.
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To improve the quality of your sleep have a hot cup of milk before going to bed, remove stressful thoughts from your mind, darken the room, have warm shower, put on some light music and read a boring book. All these things are aimed at ensuring that you get a good night’s rest. It will help your brain boost its energy levels. This in turn will lead to improved concentration.
There is a direct correlation between your diet and your concentration and memory. The nutrients and energy needed by your brain are supplied by the food you eat. The brain uses glucose, a sugar, as fuel, so your blood sugar needs to be regulated.
To help improve your memory, cut back on fast foods which are high in saturated fats and salt, both of which block your carotid arteries. Such blockages reduce the supply of oxygenated blood to the brain. The focusing power of the brain is then diminished. Reduce your weight to the normal levels, for being overweight makes your physical body and your mental capacities sluggish. Eat foods that enrich your brain to help in improving its functionality. Brain foods include apples, bananas, dark green vegetables such as spinach, eggs, flaxseed, and fish, and some essential fatty acids like Omega -3. Drinking at least one liter of water a day per 23 – 24 kg of body weight will also help.
To keep your blood sugar steady, take five or six small meals throughout the day. Limit your calorie intake to what is essential.
Vitamins and other supplements:
Brain enhancement supplements do not do much and can be avoided. Taking a multi-vitamin tablet everyday as a supplement does help. It may fill in the lacuna created by any kind of vitamin deficiency in your diet. Cod liver oil capsules, Vitamin B and vitamin C tablets help in supplementing the vitamins that you get from your regular diet. Vitamins are essential for the proper functioning of your brain.
You need to play the games that ask for greater focus. These should be played often to improve your concentration levels. This is because the brain becomes better at whatever it exercises on a regular basis. By playing those games that require concentrated effort, the brains ability to focus increases.
Step 2. Optimize your Environment:
A proper environment, conducive to studies, also helps in improving your concentration.
A Study Area:
It is good to have a designated spot for studying. You will get in the habit of studying there. Make sure it’s not the bed that you use for studies, for the bed relates to sleep. Have a desk in a quiet and secluded place away from noise to enable you to concentrate.
Try Different Coloured Lights:
Recent studies indicate that the use of a green light bulb in the study lamp improves concentration. You could try this out to see if it works for you. Red light is also supposed to improve concentration and memory. You may also decorate your study area with artifacts and items which are red in colour and see whether this helps in improving your concentration.
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Radio, television, and telephone are all distractions. They should be switched off during your study time. This will help you focus. Make sure that when you study, you are not disturbed by friends who call or drop in unexpectedly. Your study time should be clear to you as well as others. By demarcating your study hours, you will prevent the distractions that otherwise eat into your time.
Use Time Boxes:
For a particular portion of study, set a reasonable time limit. If you wish to learn a new chapter, set forty minutes for reading it and another twenty minutes for learning it. You should be able to complete the chapter in one hour. By doing this, you ensure that there is a deadline to be met and this helps you to focus on the work.
To stay motivated you can promise yourself a reward at the end of a certain period of focused studying. For example, you may tell yourself that after a couple of hours of study, you will have earned the reward of watching your favourite T.V. show at night.
Take a Regular Break:
Every hour, take a five minute break, to prevent your energy levels from lagging. You should get up from the chair, walk a bit and stretch your legs. Have a glass of water or a light snack. Do some eye exercises to relax your eyes.
Change your Breathing:
Change your breathing to activate your alpha waves. Switch your breathing pattern to deeper and slower. This helps your brain to switch to alpha waves, which mentally prepare your brain to concentrate on new facts. The alpha waves bring your mind to readiness to learn new facts. This is the cool and relax state of mind.
Any learning requires concentration. Without focusing on the information, the brain will not be able to learn or remember. If your brain wanders, it will not recall a lesson. So concentration is a must for learning and retaining. Improvement in concentration will lead to improvement in the memory since learning, remembering and recollecting are all inter- related. If you have not learnt, how will you remember? Hence, improve your concentration and this will lead to an improved memory.
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