New Experiences or Old Habits: Which Is Better for Improving Your Memory After 60?
Have you heard that brushing your teeth with your opposite hand is good for your brain? Have you actually done it? And how did your brain feel? Did your memory improve?
Forgetting things is frustrating and annoying. So, naturally, many of us will try all sorts of strategies to remember better.
Although forgetting is more common as we age, we can implement some strategies into our everyday life that will help. Brushing our teeth with our opposite hand will provide some novelty for our brain but won’t likely do a good job of cleaning our teeth.
Here are some tips to develop your own unique techniques to remember what is important to you.
New Experiences – the Good and the Bad
It is true that our brain is stimulated by new things. Have you ever walked into a room and instantaneously realized something was different? Our brain is alert to changes in our environment, and is also excited by them.
The word new is one of the most powerful words in advertising because marketing companies know that we are attracted to new things. If we buy a new purse, taste a new food or learn a new yoga pose our brains will benefit from the novelty.
The downside to having too many new experiences at once is that it can become stressful. I’m sure many of us have experienced too much change in our lives at times, to the point of becoming overwhelmed.
Old Habits – the Good and the Bad
It is also true that our brain seeks routine. Habits and routines provide stability in our life. When emptying our dish washer, we return the clean cups, plates and cutlery to the same drawer or cupboard they were in before.
Imagine how you’d feel if each time you put the cups away you placed them in a different cupboard. When you wanted a glass of water you would need to remember where the cups are now. Anyone who has moved recently can probably relate to having regular scavenger hunts.
Although creating routines is important to help us remember things, sometimes the opposite happens. We find ourselves going through a routine mindlessly.
For example, on our way to visit a friend we wonder if we closed the garage door. We have no memory of leaving because it has become such a habit that we hardly think about it.
Strength in Unity
Old habits help us execute our daily tasks efficiently while new experiences provide the zest. So, a balance of old habits and new experiences is optimal for our brain’s general wellbeing.
We can also use it to our advantage to improve our memory. We can create our own memory joggers by
- developing strategies to take advantage of our brain’s dependency on old habits and
- at the same time engage the brain’s attraction to new experiences.
Here are two ways of combining some novelty into our regular routines for the purpose of aiding our memory.
Can’t Find Your Glasses (or Keys)
If you regularly lose your glasses or keys, get a dish that you like. It can be funky, pretty, hand-made by your grandchild or purchased while on vacation. The important thing is that it is new to you. Put the dish in the most common place where you put your glasses.
The challenge is to place your glasses in your new dish every time you put them down. Soon you will have the habit of putting them in the same place and looking for them in the same place just like the dishes coming out of the dishwasher.
Forget Something When You Are Leaving the House
When my dad got older, he developed a routine that was a bit like the Hokey Pokey. Just before he left the house, he would stand at the back door and with alternate hands he would:
- touch his face – yup, he had his glasses on;
- touch his ear – yup, his hearing aid was in;
- pat his chest – yup, his glass case was in his breast pocket;
- put his hand to his front pocket and jingle his keys – yup, house key was in his pocket;
- finally pat his butt – yup, his wallet was in his back pocket.
Now he was ready to go out. Of course, he hammed it up a bit for my kids, who loved it. But he had made it into a routine, and he only needed to remember the steps to be sure that he had everything he needed.
Now It Is Your Turn
Give it a try.
Developing routines with a novel twist won’t guarantee a perfect memory, but it will help you remember those things that are frequently forgotten.
What are the things you are most likely to forget or misplace? What new item or activity can you add to your routine to change it up? Be creative and make it fun! Please join the conversation.
Noreen Kolesar specializes in brain health and fitness. She aims to raise awareness of this important topic and offers simple, proven strategies based on the latest brain research findings. She is committed to a holistic lifestyle and life-long learning. She enjoys nature, including growing a large organic garden.