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Writing things down improves your memory

An old proverb claims, “The shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory.”

And those of us still using paper planners can rest assured we are making the right decision, according to information contained on an article in the October 11, 2017 issue of Fast Company. The article references studies showing that taking notes by longhand helps you remember important meeting points better than tapping out notes on your laptop or smartphone. This could be a particular advantage for us older folks since most of us lose memory power as we age. It might also explain why some people are switching from smartphones to paper planners for their everyday planning activities.

We tend to understand and retain information better when we read from a hardcopy book as opposed to a digital version as well. In a study conducted by Anne Mangen, PhD, a professor at the Reading Center at the University of Stavanger, Norway, the researcher gave participants the same 28-page mystery story to read either on an Amazon Kindle or in print format. “We found that those who had read the print pocketbook gave more correct responses to questions having to do with time, temporality, and chronology than those who had read on a Kindle,” Mangen claimed. “And when participants were asked to sort 14 events in the correct order, those who had read on paper were better at this than those who had read on the Kindle.”

Writing down your “to do” list frees up working memory, imprints the items in your mind, allows time to evaluate their importance, and provides a motivational sense of accomplishment as you cross off each item.

People may think they are better at comprehending information when they read it on a digital screen because they can read much faster than those reading the text in paper format. But results of the studies show that the paper groups outperformed the digital groups on memory recall and comprehension of the text.

Mikael Cho, cofounder of Crew, claimed that “the separation from the digital space (where I do most of my work) to the physical, helped me feel less overwhelmed.”

The Fast Company article was quick to point out that this doesn’t mean you should start printing your emails in order to read them. Brief snippets of text don’t seem to make any difference.

A paper planner is a great tool for keeping more of your memories intact and slowing down the perceived passage of time. Not only does the act of writing in the appointments and scheduling the important projects and tasks help transfer them to your long-term memory, reviewing those pages after the fact helps solidify them in your  memory. Research shows that thinking or talking about an event immediately after it occurs enhances memory for the event. That’s why it’s so important for a witness to recall information as soon as possible after a crime.

The greatest loss of memory is in the first hour or so of the event. By reviewing it in spaced intervals, you are fixing it in your memory. You want as much of the present as possible to be retained so you will recall it in the future. I schedule every significant event in my time planner, even after the fact. In other words when we spontaneously drop into a restaurant or go to a movie or visit friends, I write the details of that event in my planner when I get home. If it’s a restaurant, I take out the receipt and copy the name, address, and telephone number into that block of time, including the names of the people we might have been with at the time. It was unscheduled time; but it becomes scheduled after the fact.

By reviewing my planner, I am in effect reviewing my life. And I can readily justify this strange habit by the number of times I have retrieved phone numbers of great restaurants we wanted to revisit or to confirm the name of the movie we saw three weeks earlier or to get the name of our friend’s cousin who attended the dinner.

The pen is not only mightier than the sword, it’s a lot easier to carry with you – and does a better job of writing.

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ll never forget what’s her name.

Back in the late 1970s, when I first decided to carve out a full-time career as a speaker and trainer, I experimented with management topics such as time management, delegation, stress management, leadership, motivation and creativity. I also studied memory training based on techniques and tricks that were then being used by memory experts such as Harry Lorraine and Jerry Lucas.

Before I had the nerve to actually charge a fee (since I was already earning a living teaching at Humber College and well underway with an association management business), I offered brief morning workshops on these management topics no charge – and included memory training to add a little variety.

By the time I felt comfortable charging a fee (since the classes started growing), I had realized that you can’t be an expert in everything, so I dropped every topic except time management. It was the most popular session, and I guessed it would still be popular – and even more relevant – in the future.

My special interest topic, memory training, was the first to be eliminated, not that I didn’t enjoy it, but it was too stressful trying to remember everyone’s name. I had slipped several times and the big goof that cemented my decision was the time I was interviewed by a well-known TV personality on the occasion of my latest book, Managing your memory. It was published by General Publishing, which later became Stoddart Publishing and eventually disappeared altogether from the publishing scene. (Hopefully not because of my book.)

When I was asked by the interviewer to demonstrate how I would memorize her name using my techniques, I couldn’t even remember her name. I guess that’s way up there on my list of most embarrassing moments. (And my first lesson that stress can impact memory.)

I definitely made the right choice. Time management has served me well all these years, and I still facilitate workshops and give talks on time management to local organizations – mostly senior’s groups.

I find that many seniors are living with memory problems and a nagging fear of dementia – especially Alzheimer’s. I never thought that memory gimmicks would be of use in cases of dementia, even though I have been relying on them myself all these years to prevent more embarrassing incidents like the one experienced in my youth.

But last week I picked up a copy of Gary Small’s book, The Alzheimer’s prevention program: keep your brain healthy for the rest of your life. Dr. Gary Small, along with his wife Gigi Vorgan, has written several books on the brain, and in this book, they claim that memory training can slow age-related decline and even improve the cognitive performance of those with mild cognitive impairment. They claim that seniors “may be able to stave off some Alzheimer’s symptoms for years by learning and practising memory enhancement techniques.”

The book even backs up those statements with research. Perhaps I was right in predicting the importance and popularity of time management; but it’s nowhere near as important as brain health – a term never even used back in the 70s.

I have dusted off my old memory training notes. (Yes, I am a packrat when it comes to training material. I can survive another embarrassing admission.) Surprisingly, I can still recall most of those one hundred 4-digit numbers that I memorized over 35 years ago. There’s a trick or technique involved, of course; but it’s one of the techniques that I have been using all these years to remember my PINs, “To do” lists, and other information.

When I speak to those senior’s groups again, I will risk a little embarrassment and included memory training. Who cares if I forget a name or two – or a dozen or more? If you can help stave off dementia, it’s well worth it.

Note: Harold now has an e-book on memory techniques published by Book boon.com titled, Boost your memory and sharpen your mind.