Stick for Brains: 5 No-Cost Ideas for Sticking Memory to Your Brain

Got Sticky notes on your mirror? Frig door? Back doorknob? It was when my cat’s fur was littered by vet reminders that I decided to work on memory.

Memory matters. It’s what shapes our unique identities. Whether recalling a significant childhood milestone or remembering names in a business environment, memory plays a vital role in our lives.

After encephalitis, a brain injury similar to stroke, a memory network’s encoding can get confused with “errors.” These errors obstruct thoughts that were likely easy before the injury, such as remembering a word, knowing why we just went into the garage or what three items we’re needing from the grocery store.

We can clutter our homes and cars with Sticky notes as a temporary fix to these errors or we can engage in cognitive learning to help with long-term brain plasticity—a brain’s ability to change neural pathways and reorganize as it learns new things or commits new things to memory.

For those of us who choose to de-clutter, here are 5 no-cost tips that can enhance our memory performance:

  • Play the alphabet game: My son and I played this all the time in the car the first two years post encephalitis. I had no idea I was helping myself heal at the time.
    • Here’s how it works … one word per letter of the alphabet in alpha order, such as “apple, bicycle, Coke, dungeon, elephant …”
    • You get the gist.
    • We mostly used objects that I could picture to reinforce the word with an image.
    • Throw in words with multiple syllables for an extra challenge. Or words that cater to the ages involved in the game.
    • Forcing the recall on a verbal and visual level involves more senses, which creates better working memory skills.
  • Design mind maps: Every brain, whether injured or not, categorizes information in a diverse manner.MindMapA mind map can help channel our thoughts by plotting them out, which is related to how our brain stores information.
    • I prefer paper so I can quickly draw vs. being confined to a keyboard and/or a software program.
    • Where a thought expands, simply give it a new track before losing the ideas that would have otherwise disintegrated.
  • Get physical: Exercise is great … helps with oxygen flow to the brain. Applying our motor skills is another form of exercise … it helps the brain learn new information.
    • A great example is using our hands to acquire a new skill, such as mastering the alphabet in sign language.
    • I actually use sign language as a memory tool in conversations or in the car. If I need to remember to pick up a prescription on the way home, I form the letter “P” as a reminder for prescription.
    • If someone else is speaking and I want to mention something before I lose the thought, I shape the first letter of the idea under the table so I can contribute when it’s my turn to speak.
  • Express yourself: Studies show that emotionally charged events are easier to remember … especially positive ones. Celebrating past pleasant experiences keeps them alive in our memory.
    • A home run that won the game. The first grandchild. Getting to pick out a special pet for keeps. A great part in the school play. Wedding day.
    • Telling and reliving these memories help reinforce the paths in our brains. Use an old photo album as a memory aid to help recall details.
    • Don’t remember? Ask a family member to use photos to recall those stories for you and relish the details.
    • Use different emotions in recounting the stories … scared about hitting the pitcher’s ball, nervous because the local rival was in the audience, thrilled when the ball made contact with the bat, anxious when rounding second to third base, and invincible after completing the home run.
  • Use Sticky notes: Half of what I get done around the house or town is due to these small ingenious pieces of paper affixed to strategic locations.
    • If I adhere a Sticky note to the same place all the time, I won’t notice it. Try changing up the patterns so that a reminder message stands out. I stick them to my cell phone if it’s a short-term need, such as returning a call. If it’s an errand, I stick a note to my car keys or dashboard.
    • For everyday reminders, stick notes to a pillbox, the refrigerator handle or the toilet seat (well, strike that last one).
    • Keep stickies random for general ideas to remember, such as exercise, thinking positive thoughts or doing deep breathing to slow down.

Final thought as I close out the topic on memory. It’s easy to get down on ourselves when we realize we lack the sharp memory that we could previously rely on. Pretty darn aggravating. However, we have a choice in being stuck in that mode or in finding new paths that can help. Try taking the challenge of stretching: you might be amazed at the results. If you like these tips, you might consider reading Brain Wreck, which has tips throughout as well in the afterword.

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