This article originally appeared in Whimn – With Her In Mind
Why be busy when you can be effective and efficient?
In a world full of Google alerts and iCal reminders, why do we forget so much? In short: we’ve got too many tabs open to knuckle down and give one task our full attention. And that’s where monotasking comes in.
Monotasking, or concentrating on a given task until it’s complete, has been heralded as the most effective performance and memory enhancing strategy since sliced bread.
“Despite having access to Google, the iCloud and an App for everything, it seems we’ve never had so much to remember. With busy lives and hectic schedules we are always chasing our tails, planning what’s coming next while still worrying about what happened before,” says Dr. Jenny Brockis, who specialises in the science of high performance thinking and brain health.
The key, she says, to boosting your attention is to first identify and corral your distractions. Then apply your complete and undivided attention to one thing at a time.
We quizzed the Future Brain author on how you can play this card to your advantage and up your attention span while you’re at it (but maybe take notes anyway.)
How can we remember things better?
To remember something, anything, we have to create a memory, which starts with paying attention. Ah yes, attention, that brain function at increasing risk of extinction as it becomes more superficial, fleeting and fragmented.
“Where is that urgent document I asked you for yesterday?” asks your boss. You’re sure you sent it – but did you? It was just as your colleague popped in to ask you a question and your phone was ringing. Oops, it’s still sitting in “Drafts”.
Assuming you did pay attention to take in exactly where you put down your wallet, the second stage of forming a memory is encoding. This occurs at a subconscious level with the critical time being when we sleep. Our clever brain rapidly replays the days’ events, picking out the salient details it believes you are most interested in and want to keep for long-term storage. While you are sleeping your brain strengthens those synaptic connections required for that memory to last. Rehearsing and practicing your newly acquired memory whilst awake also helps.
Giving your brain enough down time is essential to remember more. When not focused we default to a little mind wandering, the perfect opportunity for the mighty subconscious to start looking for associations and patterns and create more enduring memories. Plus sprinkling in a little extra emotion, especially the stronger ones helps strengthens memories too.
Where exactly do we file a past memory?
Our memories are not stored neatly in the filing cabinets of our mind but are broken down to their component parts and scattered across the cortex. When it comes the time to recall an event these are then quickly reassembled to reform the whole, a potentially problematic time as that fragile memory can be easily lost or changed. We might remember that Tinder date from last June as having a red beard and glasses – whereas the reality might be he’s clean-shaven and blonde.
Why do we need to forget to remember?
Forgetting is essential so the brain can continue to learn new information. While remembering some automated skills such as how to ride a bicycle or tie our shoelaces stays with us, let’s face it, we don’t need to remember what we learned in chemistry class in Year 10 unless it is relevant to us now.
Once more sleep is critical to this process, loosening up those connections that no longer serve us, and creating more room for new ones to help us retain important current information.
To remember more and recall what matters is about applying our full and undivided attention, taking regular brain breaks and getting enough sleep, and perhaps most importantly of all, staying in the present moment, because that’s what’s most important to focus on right now.