Improving Your Mental Capacity English Language Essay

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The important role that feelings and emotions play in the process of learning, retaining and in retrieving information from the brain cannot be stressed enough. Emotions have a strong role to play in the acquisition of knowledge and information. When the emotions are upbeat and the mood is positive, anything which is learnt during such a time is retained better. 

A relaxed atmosphere is found to be more conducive to the learning process. Perceiving, receiving and retrieving emotional and mental information is easier when you are emotionally balanced and psychologically stable. That is why emphasis is laid nowadays on a holistic approach to wellness and mental health as this is found to aid the development of memory power.

For improving your mental capacities, the following may help:

1. Positive Affirmations: Positive affirmations are statements which you keep repeating to yourself like a chant to boost your confidence . These help you to deal with tense situations in daily life, examination anxiety and even the lack of self-confidence that you may experience from time to time. Close your eyes to focus on a pleasant experience or scene or picture. An affirmation can be a sentence like,"I believe in myself and I know that I am a worthwhile person." You may also chant a mantra if you know one. The idea is to repeat to yourself any sentence or set of words that help you to feel good about yourself and fill you with positive energy. You concentrate on the good things and not the negatives in this way.

2. Getting Rid of Negatives: You can use the method of repeating a positive statement in order to get rid of a traumatic experience of the past, where someone may have put you down intentionally or unintentionally. Imagine the face of the person who has negated you or your capabilities in some way and tell that person that you are smart and capable. Tell him, "I pity you because you are not a visionary and do not know that you are talking to a future leader " In this way you can deal with the stress that such a person had brought to your life. Your repetition will affirm your thinking good about yourself and undo the harm done by the negative statements made by that person or persons. Even when you have to deal with strangers, e.g. when you have to appear for a job interview, by saying these affirmations to yourself in advance, you will prepare yourself to face the interview with confidence.

3. Calming the Mind: There are practical methods that can be applied to create a mood of relaxation. A relaxed atmosphere aids the learning process. Keeping this in mind, the place where learning has to occur can be lit with scented candles and aromatic objects can be used as well. The walls can be painted with pastel tones and the furniture can be upholstered in material of muted colours so that the effect is of calmness and peace. Loud colours aggravate and excite the mind and hence should be avoided. These practical methods can be applied in controlled environments. In uncontrolled environments where learning is to be spontaneous, it would help if you create your own mental pictures while undertaking learning tasks or actions. This means that you can calm yourself by thinking about peaceful scenes like the blueness of the sea or imagining the green countryside. Such imagery influences the mind and relaxes it, thus enabling it to learn better.

Memory and Meditation

The world today is one of stress, where everyone is in a rush to get somewhere and trying to accomplish a lot in a given time. Meditation is one way to reduce the stress and calm yourself. Meditation is a system of breathing exercises done in a calm and serene atmosphere, which helps the entire body and mind to relax. You become more open and receptive and this helps you to learn better. During meditation, you use concentration and breathing techniques to make you feel refreshed and vibrant once again. Your ability to focus increases, your mind is more centred, and this acts as a memory booster. Your increasing powers of concentration help in developing your memory power over time.

When you forget a person's name or his birthday, you become anxious about your forgetfulness. This creates a chain reaction within you and your anxiety increases and you then tend to forget things even more. The cycle can become such that you become a very forgetful person in the long run, largely brought about by your degree of anxiety regarding your inability to remember simple things like the name of a person.

On the other hand, if you have a good memory which retains names and numbers and important dates which matter to you, your confidence will increase. You will feel less forgetful and increasingly sure of your ability to retain and recall. 

Meditation Techniques

Meditation helps your mind and your memory to function better. Unlike common perception, meditation does not call for complicated antics or processes. You need to follow some simple exercises. These should be done regularly for fruitful results to help boost your memory. 

The points you have to keep in mind while meditating is to first find a quiet spot to meditate, away from noise and clutter. You should meditate preferably in the open but a quiet space inside will also suffice. You must sit cross-legged on a mat or if you are unable to sit comfortably on the floor, you may also sit on a straight backed chair. You need to close your eyes and focus on a spot between your eyes (the ajna chakra). If you have difficulty in doing this, just chant a mantra like "Om", which will also help you to focus. Your breathing should be relaxed. There are some simple breathing exercises which you can learn to do to help you to meditate. As you do these exercises, you will find that your focus increases and you become calmer. These factors then help your concentration which in turn helps your memory.

The entire process helps you rejuvenate your mind. You can also use candles and some essential oils to add to the calming atmosphere that you are creating for your meditation purposes. 

Meditation has become very popular in itself nowadays and a number of meditation classes are held in several cities. Health care and naturopathy centres and gyms as well often provide a class for meditation. Some of these meditation classes are in fact geared towards improving memory. It must be remembered that for anything to have long term benefits, a routine has to be followed . This holds true for meditation too. For it to help boost your memory ability, you have to do the exercises on a regular basis.

The Connection between Meditation and Memory 

Meditation has a great impact on the physical structure of your brain. Research has shown that the cerebral cortex thickens in those who practice meditation on a regular basis. The blood vessels that supply blood to that region dilate and increase in size, and this increases the blood that flows to that region. This increase in the blood flow thickens the cerebral cortex. The type of meditation that creates these changes and hence creates an increase in both the powers of concentration and in memory, is called mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is `insight' or `awareness' meditation, of the type that is commonly practiced by Buddhist monks. 

Sara Lazar, who is at Massachusetts General Hospital, and is a lead investigator in meditation research, has this to say in the New 

"You are exercising the cerebral cortex while you meditate, and it gets bigger." Lazar says that yogis "aren't just sitting there doing nothing." The cortex is the area of the brain responsible for the higher mental functions, so this is an amazing discovery. 

If you are a great pianist or artist, the related area of the cortex will be thicker in

your brain, for those are the areas where the focus is on

Sharon Begley, in her book, "Train Your Memory, Change Your Mind", talks of `neuroplasticity' and how the brain can change.  "But as we learn from studies performed on Buddhist monks, an important component in changing the brain is to tap the power of mind and, in particular, focused attention. This is the classic Buddhist practice of mindfulness, a technique that has become popular in the West and that is immediately available to everyone."

Andrew Weiss and others like Walter Zimmerman, all propound the practice of mindfulness for increasing awareness. 

Meditation refreshes you, energizes you, and increases your focus and memory power. It is an important tool to be used for developing your memory.

Forgetfulness and Memory

"The existence of forgetting has never been proved: We only know that some things don't come to mind when we want them," Friedrich Nietzsche once said. 

The brain is conditioned to forget the trivial so that specifics that are important can be remembered and recalled with ease. The brain needs to forget if it wants to retain the important. It is like throwing the garbage out so that the brain keeps only the required information. Forgetting actually acts as a kind of a protection against the clutter which would definitely happen if the brain remembered every trivial detail.

Research at Stanford University's Memory Laboratory has demonstrated that the subjects under study were able to recall a specific memory with greater ease the more they had forgotten the memories that were similar.

However, you cannot forget too much. There are some things that are important and definitely not what you would consider clutter. For example, you need to remember an official appointment or your father's mobile number. 

Studies have also shown that the human mind never forgets. It is not information loss. The forgetting happens when the information is either not remembered properly or not retrieved properly. Yet, if you keep forgetting, you will blame yourself for it and become anxious regarding it. Once you know that there is a connection between `forgetting' and how you learn and retrieve information, you can have a more rational approach to the problem and find ways to a solution. 

However, even though you know that the cause of forgetting is mainly related to the way you learn and retain information, you may still wonder why you never remember where you put the car keys or your spectacles, or forget the answer to a question in the examination hall, an answer you knew very well just a few minutes ago while you were waiting for the examination to begin.

The ability of a person to recall and remember is dependent upon a variety of reasons, and there is no one predominant factor which explains this. Each individual's memory is what it is because of his or her overall life experience. A number of factors come into play here which may be as simple as the food you eat for breakfast to something as complicated as your genetic inheritance. The kind of schooling you get and the kind of childhood you experience; all will be contributory factors to your ability to remember. 

Some scientists say that the mind is like a video camera. It records everything that an individual experiences, so a past event can be searched through the mind as though looking for a scene in a film. You may pause or stop the footage, or zoom in for a detailed study. It is just like replaying a film in your mind. The use of drugs or hypnosis to help people remember parts of their life or important events that they have forgotten (or make them blurt out the real truth) is born out of this realization. 

It has also been noted, however, that though the mind has a "video-graphic" eye, it does not have perfect archival properties. Like a video tape it may become blurred over time, gather fungus and lose its sharpness. So while retrieval can be done, it may not always be accurate.

The brain is compared to a computer chip. It holds large amounts of information. However, it has only a given capacity to store information, beyond which it becomes taxed. You cannot overload the brain. So, the brain makes way for `new data' and in this process, it removes some of the old data from time to time. It also reconstructs the old data, so that some of the events are no longer recalled easily. Over time, some events may become completely lost or forgotten and a `trigger' would be needed to bring back that information. Such a `trigger' could be a song, or a smell or a photograph that cajoles the memory and makes the connection return.

The Explanations for the Forgetfulness

Explanations have been given by people ranging from scientists to mystics to philosophers. The attempt is to understand why the brain forgets at all, and why it forgets certain things and remembers other things in acute detail. It tries to explain how certain events are blurred and others are clear in the mind as if they had happened recently.

1. Decay of Memory Traces - When a word loses its meaning or a name loses its value in your life; then you may forget that word or name, since it has lost its significance. Memory decays with time. This is the oldest explanation regarding forgetting. 

2. Distortion of Memory - Sometimes the process of retrieval is such that the information being accessed is through wrong traces or leads in your brain. When this happens, the experiences may be replayed in an inaccurate way and hence the retrieval would be of no help. Distorted or false memory is a result of this.

3. Interference - The process of learning and memorizing is not a simple one. If there is the presence of interference in any form, the learning process becomes difficult and even incorrect. So for memorizing anything, it is important that no interference occurs.

For example, if certain activities are done just before the learning process, they may confuse the retention process. This is called `proactive inhibition'. The more a learning takes place before a particular task, the more the probability of forgetting the new task. However, if the new task to be learnt is very important, then it may be remembered well despite previous learning .

In `retroactive inhibition', the interfering activities occur after a learning period. 

If you have one task to learn, you will master it better than if you have two of them to learn at the same time. so you must learn one task well and then proceed to the next one.

The learning of driving illustrates this point well. While learning driving, motor skills have to be synchronized in a particular way and this may create confusion in the mind of the beginner. However, over a period of time the co-ordination is achieved. You manage to learn and memorise the various skills in the required order and hence execute the task successfully. Therefore, in order to remember well you have to learn step by step: master one stage and then move onto the next. In this way, confusion is avoided and the brain also memorises the information in the required sequential order.

4. Motivated Forgetting - Emotions play a role in memory as well. Certain experiences which are pleasant will be remembered by you while others which are unpleasant or traumatic will be forgotten or suppressed. Emotion is an important factor influencing a person's desire to remember. Traumatic experiences are often forgotten on purpose. This is often a wise thing to do. Negative thoughts increase stress levels. You should forget past mistakes and motivate yourself to focus on the good things.

5. Absence of Cues: Cues and guides help us to remember information and retrieve it easily. They move us towards remembering what we are searching our memory for when we are trying to recall something. Without such cues it becomes difficult to retrieve information stored in your brain

To Deal with Forgetfulness

1. Focus and say your task out loud - you may have experienced this situation sometimes. You have a list of queries to ask your friend and they are all there in your mind. However, when you come across your friend, you may find that you have forgotten the questions you wanted to ask him. Your mind becomes totally blank. This is something which is common. Repeating what you need to remember out loud often helps. E.g. "I must ask Ravi about the certificates that have to be submitted while applying for this appointment." If in case you still forget what you want to ask or do, try recalling the place where you began your process of repeating the task. Associating the place with the task is useful.

2. Don't procrastinate- Procrastination becomes a habit. You develop a habit of ignoring things and delaying work. Get the task over and done. Do your homework on time, pick up your mail on time or give your car for servicing on time. if you have to leave something for later, use visual and other reminders to help you to remember.

3. Get a friend- people who live alone or lead a solitary existence are more prone to forgetfulness. A companion is like a a back up plan and keeps you alert and more aware than you would be if you led a single life. A companion or close friend is a big boost to your ability to remember things because he/she helps you to discuss things and remember events and appointments.

Memory and Your Senses

Your five senses enable you to retain information. The impressions received from these five senses are called Memory of Sense Impressions. Research has shown that the majority of such impressions are acquired through the two senses of sight and hearing. 

Sight Impressions 

You exercise your sense of sight all the time without any conscious attempt on your part to do so. You do not pay attention to all the information that is being received by your eyes.The eye has to be made attentive and it has to be directed to pay attention before it can really store what it sees as memory. When you see something, you do not really `see' it, you may just see a few aspects of the total picture. You see it as a whole and not in detail. For it to make a clear impression on the subconscious mind and get retained in the brain as memery, you have to consciously direct your eye to store the impression.

You will understand what it means to say that the brain has to consciously see by the following example. Consider a case where a man is attacked by a robber and he sees the thief's face from really close up. You would think that he would be capable of describing the thief's face well to the police when he goes to report the robbery. Yet he is unable to do this. Here, the victim was `looking but was not seeing'.

The mind can be trained to see the object in detail and then retain the detailed impression of the object in the memory. This requires a concentration of your will and attention upon objects of sight. Remember that you have to combine interest with will and attention for retention to work. Seeing and observing is not enough, you have to be driven to retain the sight impression and record it to memory. Shift your mental focus. Concentrate to look at objects with your mind, not your eye alone. Then the process of retention of what you see will surely happen.

Hearing Impressions 

Every day you are bombarded with sounds but you pay little attention to them. This is also necessary so that you pay attention to what you are doing without listening to all the sounds that go around in the environment around you, whether on the streets or in the home or office. Also, if some sound attracts your attention because it is new, you will ignore it once the novelty goes.

If the brain is to record and retain the correct memory of things that are heard, your interest and attention has to be centred on that which is to be remembered. It is known that the mind will pay close attention to the things it wants to hear. At the same time it will ignore things which do not hold its interest. A mother will pay close attention to her baby's sounds or a doctor to his patient's breathing. However, these same people can be otherwise "poor hearers" who hear nothing else for they are not interested in those sounds.

That is the secret behind training the ear. Train your mind to pay attention and have interest in sounds. It requires an increase in awareness of the sounds you hear, and to try and build your degree of concentration on them.

Many people pay little attention to what they hear, they are not good listeners. So they cannot remember or recall properly what they had heard a while ago. It would not be advisable to listen to everything, since a certain degree of filtering is required. However, those who are poor listeners would do well to increase their attention to sound impressions. This can be achieved by listening more attentively to what they hear.

The following techniques may be useful:

Try and imprint the words or phrases spoken by someone to you into your memory consciously. In your attempt to do this, you will find that you begin to pay attention to what the person is saying. You remember better since now you are `listening'. When you listen to a lecture or talk, pick some of the words for memorizing, and have confidence in your ability to remember that which you are concentrating on. 

You can also try and listen to stray bits of dialogue of those you pass on the street and try to remember the dialogue, telling yourself that you need to give this information to a friend. This will help you sharpen your listening skills. The kind of impressions you will form through the honing of your auditory skills will be surprising.

Listen to poetry and try to memorize the lines. Pay attention to the tone of people when they speak. Through such attempts you will significantly develop your power of paying attention to sounds that you hear. This will train your mind to be continuously interested in hearing and remembering. 

2-in-1 Combo 

Sometimes, sight and sound create a joint impression. For instance, in the case of words. When sight and sound combine to create the impression, it is retained faster and easier. Teachers of memory use this knowledge of the fact that the combination of two senses helps in creating more memorable impressions. The students say the word aloud and then write it down. In this way they manage to learn. The combination of the sound of the word and writing it down helps many people to remember the words. 

It follows therefore that the more impressions you can make of any one thing through the use of your senses, the greater the chances of easily remembering it. See which of your senses are stronger and use that sense to primarily remember what you want. Attach the weaker sense's impression to the stronger one, making the law of association work for you. If you have good visual memory, use that more and allow it to help your auditory memory to work along with it.

Using All Five Senses 

Different sense impressions are formed by different parts of your brain. Build as many memory paths in your brain to the same information, so that you may remember well through the use of all the five senses,. This works on the concept that the more sensory pathways you use to connect to a piece of information, the easier and faster you will be able to retain or recall the information. So if you cannot visually recall the information, your sense of sound will help you, or your sense of smell will etc.

Use as many of the following steps to work with the new material that you want to remember: 

See: Use your powers of concentration to really look at the item and study it in detail. Pay attention to the shape, colour, size, depth and texture of the object. Look at the material it is made of. 

Speak: In other words, read aloud what you are trying to learn or remember. In this way, you are not only seeing the object or word, but also hearing your voice as it speaks the words or defines the object. This helps built both visual and aural pathways to your brain and you will retain the information better.

Write: Take notes. When you take down notes or write the information down, you are stimulating the neural pathways in your brain and that helps you remember better.

Do it! If it's a procedure you need to remember, do it. Repeat it several times. The act of "doing" is very important in helping you retain and remember. Just reading about a method is not good enough. Once you practice the method or do the procedure yourself, you will remember it well.

Draw: Draw the information and associate it with other images if possible, for this will be of great help in making you remember. This creates another path for remembering the material. Your creative and imaginative abilities are enhanced and through this process you also remember what you wish to learn.

Imagine:  Learning history? Think about the location, the soldiers, what they were wearing and what their weapons are. Make it real enough for yourself so that you are living the history. You will find that you will recall everything with greater ease once you add so much life to what you are learning.

This holds true for other subjects as well. The process of visualization is extremely helpful to learning and retaining.

Research: Google for information and for examples on the internet. Find out more details about what you are learning. By doing this, you are getting more information than your book gives or your instructor explained. You are making more interconnections in your brain by linking information together. So, you will remember everything well.

Emotionalize: When the information evokes an emotional response in you, it will be remembered faster and well. Even if you find that you cannot really relate to the information, make yourself find some kind of connection. This will make you `care' for the material and you will see the difference it makes in your retention powers.

Convert : Facts like dates, numbers, or formulae are usually considered tough and boring to learn. Find similarities and patterns in the shapes of numbers. Formulae may be learnt by create rhymes with them. try using the information in such a way that you learn easily.

Question: Don't be passive and take everything that is stated as given. Question the validity of new material. Try to find out whether what you are reading makes sense and whether it is authentic. Is what you are learning based on facts and is it believable?  Read a chapter in a book and make the heading into a question. Try and find the answers in the chapter when you read it.

Other Aids to Overcoming Forgetfulness

How to Remember Places 

To a person who forgets the way to reach a place even when he or she may have been there several times before, this lack of a sense of direction would be very frustrating. This is especially so, if his or her best friend is the kind who remembers the way to a place after visiting it only once. Some people can remember directions to a place with ease, while others can't.

What is really required to be done by those who are not blessed with a strong sense of direction is to consciously cultivate a deep interest in places and notice the roads when you travel. Pay attention to the landmarks, a temple or a post office or a restaurant. Watch the way in which the road turns; also watch the trees and other natural objects along the way. All this will create awareness in you and help you relate with the direction in which you are going. You can also begin to study maps, and this may help you to develop an interest in them. 

Do not traverse the roads in an absent minded fashion for then you will never be able to learn any directions. This is fatal for anyone who is trying to remember directions to a place. Take notice of the lanes and bylanes, the corners and the traffic signals and the objects you see along the way. Try to make an imprint on your mind of the things you passed on the way. When you return home, use a pen and try to draw a map of your route. You can state the general directions, indicate the street names, and mark the particular features of objects along the way. Then as you travel along, compare the places with your map, and you will find that you will take an entirely new interest in the trip. Your increased engagement in your surroundings will not only make you more aware but also give you a better sense of directions and places.

2. Remembering Directions 

Remembering the directions to a place that you need to be at is often mind boggling largely because of the number of lefts and rights and the blocks that you have to remember while travelling on the road. It is confusing to try and remember this kind of unfamiliar and repetitious data. 

The way out of this is to ask for a landmark. This may be a prominent building at a crossing, or a corner tailor shop. Landmarks such as these provide the guides to help you find a place with ease. They also help you remember directions better.

To remember all the "lefts" and "rights" is not an easy task. Use images to represent "left" and "right". For example, you can use cats for left and cows for right. So if your friend tells you to "turn left after the tailor's shop," you can imagine large cats sitting and purring all over the clothes in the tailor's shop. If you exaggerate the look of the cats as showing them wearing heavy gold jewellery and sunglasses, you will not only laugh but remember the directions too.

3. Recalling the Activities of the Day

It is helpful to have a memory that enables you to recall what your boss announced the day before regarding the company's new project. Or to be able to remember the dinner you had five days ago. 

Don't get anxious, however, if things like these escape your memory. Sometimes, you may become so engrossed in your daily responsibilities that you tend to forget events or happenings you haven't paid much attention to. This is experienced by many of us today, since we have too much on our minds to deal with.

If at the end of each day, you spend a little time and go over the occurrences of the day, you will find that this act will help you register the events in such a way that you will be able to retrieve the information later quite easily. You should do this work in the evening, when you feel relaxed. Do not do it after you retire, for at that time you need to rest. Because you reviewed the work at the end of the day, your `subconscious' mind will be well at work at the time and will record the events for you, so that you can then recall with ease.

An exercise you can do is to sit quietly every day before you sleep in the night and try and recall the events of the day. This may be difficult for you to do in the beginning, but with time you will find that you are able to remember more and more the happenings of the day precisely and with clarity. This is because you are learning to sharpen your ability to recall things. You can even relate the events of the day to some close friends or family members and this will also go a long way in helping you increase your memory prowess. When you tell the events to someone else, you are reinforcing the information in your brain. 

General Strategies

One can sometimes find oneself being likened to a nutty Professor who is constantly forgetful , placing his glasses someplace and his car keys someplace else and then spending a long time trying to locate them. It helps to know that there are many people who forget, many of them brilliant, and it is not a crime to be forgetful. Some strategies, if followed, will go a long way in helping you overcome this. These are listed below.

Be patient with yourself: Acceptance is half the battle won. Accept the fact that you tend to be forgetful. In this way you don't get depressed over the fact but find ways and means to deal with it.

Improve your memory directly: There are methods to increase your memory abilities through playing games that increase your concentration. Proper diet, meals eaten at regular intervals, enough sleep to recharge your batteries, the use of learning methods and other related ways help you to work at directly improving your memory.

Reminder Aids: There are many ways in which you can remind yourself of task that you need to do. you can set the alarm on a watch, or on the mobile or use an electronic organizer. This is one of the ways to ensure that you remember to do the things, you need or want to do, on time. you an also make good use of the computer for this. Microsoft Outlook has a `reminders' feature that can be made good use of. 

Have an assigned space for everything: Assigning a particular space for every item, be it books, clothes, jewellery, spectacles or car keys, is a good habit. Then you learn to look for an item only in a particular place. You will find your things easily and won't have to resort to a guessing game all the time. This not only makes your life neater and more organized, it also helps in you better your recalling abilities.

Open a bank safe deposit box: Important documents and precious jewellery can be placed here, and you will have no fear of losing them through your forgetfulness. 

What is of utmost importance is to maintain a healthy perspective about forgetfulness. You should not allow it to get you down, but try to maintain a sense of humour about it.

The quick memory tips:

In conclusion, some quick memory tips to keep on your fingertips are as follows:

Use all your senses and become more observant

Recite and repeat the material loudly if you can

Have confidence in your memory and your abilities to remember

Pay close attention to everything that you want to remember.

We will come to the importance of `paying close attention' in another chapter.

Krishan, I have redone all this, please check. The area in red is information that cannot be changed. You can decide whether you want to include it or not. 23/03/10