I was on my way to an appointment last week and suddenly had one of those moments that is happening more frequently over time. Speeding down the highway, lost in thought about a variety of things, I suddenly thought: “Where am I going?” Then once I remembered, said to myself, “I can’t believe I forgot!” Maybe you’ve had those moments too? Maybe you were calling someone and while the phone was ringing, you suddenly realized you forgot who you were calling? Or you studied and studied for an exam, but when you sat down to take it, your mind was blank? You can’t believe you forgot.

If you can relate to these situations, take heart! They’re not that uncommon, and they’re not a sign of early-onset dementia! We’re constantly learning more about memory, but how we remember is still somewhat baffling to researchers. For example, there are specific structures in the brain that are involved in the memory process. However, there isn’t a place where memories are stored. And when we remember, we’re actually “reassembling” that memory from various parts of the brain and can, therefore, change the memory each time we retrieve it. Which may help to explain why my sisters and I often remember the same event so differently from our childhood!

As we age, some of our brain processing tends to slow down. However, the brain, being infinitely resourceful, actually begins recruiting additional parts of the brain to help compensate. So as long as you maintain general health and vitality as you age, your brain will automatically do what it can to keep up. Obviously there are a lot of memory techniques and tools that we can learn and practice.

However, what I notice from my own experience, and that of my clients, is that there are a few things totally within our control that can help improve our memories now.

• Get adequate sleep. You’ve heard this before, but sleep’s role can’t be underestimated. Even small deficits start to impact your memory. Short naps have been shown to help us consolidate (store) memories, so try a few ZZZZ’s in the afternoon to help your memory.

• Pay attention. If you want to remember where you put your keys, for example, consciously tell yourself what you’re doing (even out loud – don’t worry about what other people think when you’re talking to yourself!). The more you focus and engage your body and senses, the more you’ll remember.

• Use positive emotion. Did you ever hear of someone who forgot where they were going while on their way to a big event? Feeling good “wakes up” the brain so it’s working better.

• Manage stress. This one is huge because stress interferes with short-term memory retention as well as physically shrinking the brain’s capabilities over the long term. There are dozens of stress-busting tools (enough to be a little overwhelming if you tend to stress about that sort of thing!). If you need some advice for your particular situation, let me know.

Those four simple strategies will do wonders, especially if you are like many people today: tired, stressed, and multi-tasking! For my driving and phone calling situations above, paying attention and using positive emotion are the most helpful for me. For the test-taking situation, adequate sleep and managing stress are often the best answers. Typically last-minute studying leads to skimping on sleep. Then in the exam situation we’re stressed out, which blocks our ability to retrieve memories. The same sleep and stress solution is also helpful for job interviews or important presentations. The more you can relax and focus, the less you’ll say “I can’t believe I forgot!”

So in the future, if you see me speeding down the highway with a relaxed smile on my face, you’ll know I’m just in the process of trying to remember where I’m going!

Author's Bio: 

Karen Van Cleve is a Personal Coach, Professional Speaker, and creator of the "Do It Yourself Brain Surgery" program. You have amazing, untapped potential to overcome disempowering patterns of thought and action, and boost your brain power for improved results. Visit Karen and learn more about your amazing brain at www.Do-It-Yourself-Brain-Surgery.com or email coachkaren@comcast.net. Check the website for details on free monthly teleclasses.