One of my first posts on Wellness Wednesday tackled the ever relevant topic of attention and provided several tips to improve focus and concentration during the day. Today, I wanted to follow up on that post and explore memory, a different but highly interrelated ability. Indeed, if we do not pay attention, we definitely are unable to encode information into our memory storage systems.
In order to understand how to improve our memory we need to understand how memory works. Current theories of memory focus on three distinct stages: sensory memory; short-term memory; and, long-term memory. It is a common misconception that the briefer aspects of memory are far lengthier than they really are. For instance, sensory memory is only 2-3 seconds and short term memory only naturally lasts around 20-30 seconds. While we may be able to do a series of tricks to make those first two stages seem like they are lasting a bit longer, what you are probably most interested in is improving is your long term memory.
The best way to “improve” your long term memory is to make sure that you encode information properly so that it is stored in long term memory. You also want to make sure that the information is encoded in a manner that is easily retrieved where and when you need it.
Consider the file folder system at an old school doctors office with hundreds of patient files are filed alphabetically by last name. Our brain's memory storage is surprisingly similar to this. If we do not file information in an organized way, we will have immense difficulty retrieving the information when needed from those long-term memory stores.
Now that we have a bit of background on how memory works, let us get started on some basic memory strategies that you can use (or maybe you are already using intuitively) to help yourself be more productive each day.
Four memory strategies that you can start using today:
Give one of these techniques a try and let me know which helps your memory the most. Do you have any other memory strategies that you find help?
This week I took the plunge and did something that I have been thinking about for a long time. It has been years since I took part in an organized hobby activity, but, with a push from a family member, I decided that it was finally time to stop googling it and actually sign up and show up.
I often encourage my clients to invest in themselves by practicing self-care. But self-care means more than just self-compassion, relaxation and rest. To me, self-care means participating in self-actualization and growth fostering experiences. We often do not think of hobbies as growth opportunities, but they certainly can be. So yesterday I took part in my first ceramics class.
It was immediately apparent that this was going to be more than just fun artistic hobby time. The benefits of the class started from the excitement of having something to look forward to in my calendar. For me, the class was a time to detach from my phone for a full three hours, and boy was that something that was foreign to me. The class also pushed me to be fully focussed on the present moment, my attention on my creation instead of my future responsibilities, worries and to-do lists. By focussing on the wet clay, instead of getting caught up in the past and future, I was practicing mindfulness while also creating art. Taking three hours to focus on something for the entire pursuit of pleasure felt freeing. This class was not for work or professional development, it was purely for me. It felt meditative to let my hands be in control rather than my busy mind. As the third hour approached, I became more appreciative of the repetitive motions and sensory exploration of the clay between my fingers. It felt exciting and satisfying to see my creation improve and more closely approximate what I had intended as the minutes progressed.
The most interesting thing that I took from the class was the feeling of being challenged. It has been a while since I have attempted to learn a completely new skill. I had to consciously fight the urge to compare myself to others that seemed to grasp the hand motions and techniques with greater ease. I had to remind myself that perfection is not the goal and that learning means things start off hard and slowly, but with practice gets easier.
Learning a new skill is healthy for your brain, excellent mental exercise, and an opportunity to train your sense of resilience. Avoiding struggle is avoidance of growth and a failure to explore what life can truly foster in us. During childhood, we are taught that we need to try different hobbies and that we should not give up when things are difficult. As an adult, we sink into what we are good at. We choose careers in line with our strengths and focus on everyday routines that become somewhat mindless and habitual. As a result, adults may forget that mistakes and challenges foster growth. We need to remind ourselves that small challenges prepare us for the big challenges that we cannot easily anticipate. By adaptively working through challenges we can train our brains to approach future struggles with that same adaptive perspective instead of crumbling in despair.
So next week, when I look at the non-symmetrical bowl I made, I will be reminded that I can continue to work on what is not easy for me instead of letting my imperfections and difficulties defeat me.
One of my goals with each weeks #WellnessWednesday is to inspire readers to think a bit deeper about their day to day experiences and use that thoughtfulness to encourage either acceptance or action. I similarly spend a lot of time perusing the internet for my own personal inspirations, during which I came across a great article from NPR that had me thinking more deeply about how mainstream North American culture teach children to regulate emotions compared to how other cultures approach this. While we have certainly moved forward in this regard over the decades, it also seems that other cultures are approaching this in a unique, and sometimes better, way.
The Other Side of Anger: How Inuit Parents Teach Kids To Control Their Anger (Authors: Ichaeleen Doucleff and Jane Greenhalgh) explores an alternative parental response to anger. Specifically, the article touches upon how the Innuit community traditionally responds to tantrums and outbursts through demonstrations of patience and storytelling rather than time-outs or consequences.
The article explains how responding through narrative can be a tool to help children understand the repercussions of their actions in a dramatic creative way. This approach to behavioural outbursts reminds us that mirroring back anger through yelling and threats are rarely successful for young children who need time to learn to self regulate. The Inuit community informs us that yelling only teaches children to respond with a raised voice when they are angry or to run away from you when they are upset. By not yelling, we model self control in moments of anger and then when the child is calm we can explore other ways that they could have reacted. This practice further helps children to learn perspective taking and critical thinking, which underlie the development of empathy.
The article is an interesting read and can act as a reminder to caregivers who already act in such a fashion or a valuable alternative approach for those who find themselves stuck in a retaliatory emotional battle.
You can find the original article by clicking here.
While it may be difficult to experience negative emotions like anxiety, sadness, and guilt, these emotions can also serve an important purpose. They are certainly not enjoyable and experiencing positive emotions may feel more desirable in the moment, but the reality is that we have a full range of emotions for a reason. In fact, the ability to have a diverse emotional experience is an adaptive strength and one of the key things that has made humans so successful.
Experiencing sadness can alert us to the need to make changes in our lives, help us identify a deficit in personal fulfilling relationships, or flag the need for actions that align with our values. Feeling anxiety and fear help to protect us from danger. Stress is also not necessarily a bad thing. While extreme stress can lead to feelings of burnout and impede our performance, moderate stress can be motivating and may propel us to focus and work harder.
It may be surprising that positive emotions can actually be quite dangerous. While we certainly could use a little more happiness in our lives, chasing positive emotions in an attempt to avoid negative ones can be maladaptive. Excessive drinking, drug use, or risky behaviours can all stem from this combination of positive emotion chasing and negative emotion avoidance.
Still, we should aim to experience negative emotions in moderation and use them as warning signs, motivators, and red flags to alert ourselves to changes that need to be made in our lives.
Image used under Creative Common license. CLICK HERE for the source.
Summer is upon us and for many this means it is a time for travel. Whether its a trip with family, friends, a significant other, or a solo trip to overnight summer camp, going away can bring forth a variety of anxiety-laced thoughts and feelings. Often this anxiety stems from trying to accept the unknown and letting go of control. It can be as simple as being in a new setting, an unfamiliar climate, getting on a plane, or not having the comfort of your bed at home. For others it is about the possibility of something going wrong (like losing your luggage) getting lost, or feeling unsafe.
While some travel anxiety is unavoidable (and helpful), there are a few things you can do to retain some control and reduce travel anxiety.
Prepare. For many of us planning, organizing and seeking predictability can help ease tension. Whether this means generating a simple packing list, researching and booking everything in advance, or bringing your favorite comforts from home, preparation helps us to focus on what we can control instead of what we do not have power over.
Appraise Adaptively. Some of us only recognize anxiety at a physiological level. This might be that lump in your throat or the butterflies in your stomach. Sometimes we are actually misinterpreting our body signals. In fact, the physiological reactions we attribute to stress are not unlike those we experiencing during excitement. Interpreting our bodily sensations as a sign of positive anticipation can help us perceive things in a more optimistic manner. Try not to presume that a physiological feature is reflective of worry, instead ask yourself what you are excited about regarding the trip ahead.
Normalize. It is also reasonable to recognize and acknowledge that feeling a bit nervous is normal, no matter how many times we have gone away before. If travelling with someone else, it can help to let them know your worries. Often talking openly about your fears gives your travel buddy an opportunity to help you put things in perspective and put you more at ease.
Positive self talk. Don’t catastrophize, rather remind yourself of previous travel successes and use positive self talk to reassure yourself that the anxiety is just temporary is usually very comforting. When you find yourself going towards the negative, try to identify how you would resolve these situations, rather than locking your thoughts into the idea that failure is inevitable.
Finally, recognize that travel anxiety is usually short lived. How many times have you had these feelings before and things were fine once you got started. Travel is an opportunity to relax, but also evolve. Some of our best travel stories tend to reflect unexpected challenges that we overcame. Ask yourself how this trip may allow you to evolve and have a fantastic voyage.
Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.