We all have periods throughout the day where it feels like we’ve hit a mental wall.
In these moments, we tend to “zone out” or daydream for what may be several minutes.
Nothing productive is completed during these moments and we often only vaguely remember what happened during this time.
Knowing how to improve memory and concentration can help to reduce these blackout periods of zoning out, help you to keep your focus on the task at hand, and be more efficient with your productivity – no matter what it is that you’re trying to do.
It all begins with getting a good night of rest every evening.
A proper amount of sleep is essential to improving memory and concentration. The amount of sleep a person needs is different due to biological variability, so you may need 6-10 hours of sleep every night.
Certain medical conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea, can interfere with the quality of sleep you receive as well.
Establish an evening routine that avoids electronic screens. Consult with your medical provider if you suspect a medical condition is interfering with your rest.
Then you’ll be able to take advantage of these additional proven techniques that will help you to improve memory and concentration.
#1. Practice active listening skills as often as possible
Cornell University has put together a crisis management system known as TCI, or Therapeutic Crisis Intervention. Part of this program includes a model that they call the IASSIST method of staying focused on an individual’s needs. This acronym is a 7 step process.
Step #1: Isolate the Situation
If there are distractions around you when you’re trying to focus on a task, then your attention will be divided. Make sure that you can focus solely on a conversation, an email chain, or the task at hand so it can have your undivided attention.
Step #2: Actively Listen
Instead of making assumptions about what people are telling you or what a project needs to have done, take a look at the facts that are presented to you. Avoid having negative expectations. Repeat back anything you may not understand so that you can be on the same page with more certainty.
Step #3: Have Empathy
We all make mistakes. We all have bad days. We all just want to crash on the couch sometimes with our favorite foods, favorite beverages, and our favorite movie.
When you see others having a bad day, have empathy for them. See if there is something you can do to help them out.
The conscious choice to help someone can actually stimulate the mind to be more focused because others are directly affected by the choices and outcomes that will be achieved.
Step #4: Stay Calm
If you are aggressive with your desire to improve memory or concentration, then you’ll actually be taking a step backward.
Aggressiveness equates to anger and that emotion causes mental functioning to become more primal in nature. Memory and concentration are upper level mental skills that require a calm, respectful, yet assertive stand in all things.
Step #5: Invite Additional Outcomes
We believe in the things we do because we believe they are the “one true path” for our lives. This encompasses all areas of life: money, politics, family, religion, and so forth.
It can be easy to assume others are automatically wrong. With an open mind that is receptive to different points of view, memory and concentration improve because there isn’t a tunnel vision on one specific outcome.
Step #6: Space Is Necessary
You need to have time for yourself every day. Be crowded with other people naturally raises stress levels, which will then interfere with memory and concentration.
Step #7: Time Is Necessary
Don’t rush the process. It takes time for memory and concentration problems to develop. It’s going to take time for the situation to be corrected. Expecting everything to fix itself over the course of a few days is an unreasonable expectation that will often lead to failure.
#2. Adopt a habit of daily meditation
Meditation is something that many of the world’s top executives cite as one of their primary methods to improve focus and concentration.
There are numerous clinical studies that have reinforced the validity of meditating on a regular schedule. Even the world’s major religions advocate the use of meditation as part of their spiritual development practices.
Why does meditation work? Because it helps the mind become more organized.
Think of the brain as a giant file cabinet. If you have files that are strewn everywhere, it can be difficult to find a specific piece of information that you need.
You must spend time looking at each file, determine if it is the correct file, and then repeat until you get the information that you need.
Meditation helps you to label these “mental files” so your mind becomes more organized. Stray thoughts always come up while meditating. This is normal and expected. Label those thoughts and put them into their appropriate mental file.
Each meditation session will help you to become more organized and eventually you’ll have everything locked away until you need to access that information.
If you haven’t tried meditation before or you’ve given up on it because it just wasn’t working for you, then give it another try.
Start slowly and try just 5 minutes of meditation for the first 7-14 days. Expand it to 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, and so forth as you feel comfortable.
Do your best to have a dedicated time for meditation every day.
When it becomes part of your routine, it will definitely help to improve memory and concentration.
#3. Approach mindfulness
The senses we have are almost magical in the amount of information they are able to provide us.
Sights, sounds, scents, and everything else the world has to offer deserve to be experienced. Every moment, in fact, has some level of perfection contained within it that is just waiting to be discovered by us.
To find these perfect moments, we must separate our emotions away from our senses. Instead of focusing on the love we have for a favorite food, like pizza, focus on how the crust feels in your mouth.
Pay attention to how the food feels when you chew it. Experience the heat not from the spices included, but from the temperature of the pizza itself.
This can apply to every aspect of life – including when we experience the death of someone close to us. Grief and sadness are natural parts of the cycle of life. So are the experiences that engage our senses during our most difficult and trying times.
When you adopt a lifestyle that seeks out the perfect moments that surround us constantly, you’ll have found a way to improve memory recall naturally.
#4. Tune your mind
Brainwave entrainment has been studied for nearly a century. This audio practice uses various tones, melodies, and natural sounds in combination with each other to help create a specific mental outcome.
It’s like meditation in many ways, but your mind is fully engaged in any environment you may find yourself.
Very few things can engage the mind like musical tones. Using short symphonies from a composer that very few people knew about, researches from Stanford Medicine discovered that music specifically targets the areas of the mind that focus on memory retention and concentration.
Music even helps people make predictions about the future and update the memory centers of the mind.
The peak levels of activity actually occur when a short period of silence occurs after a musical movement has completed.
Brainwave entrainment not only tunes the mind to brainwaves that create specific results, but increases attention levels thanks to the inclusion of musical tones.
In a concert setting, for example, different individuals listen to a piece of music with wandering attention, but at the transition point between movements, their attention is arrested, commented Dr. Vinod Menon, the senior author of the study. I’m not sure if the baroque composers would have thought of it in this way, but certainly from a modern neuroscience perspective, our study shows that this is a moment when individual brains respond in a tightly synchronized manner.
If you want to know how to improve memory and concentration, then listen to music. Include brainwave entrainment programs. You may just find that when the silence occurs afterward, you will be hyper aware of what is going on around you.
#5. Ask questions
Have you ever noticed someone’s eyes glaze over when you’re talking about something specific during a conversation? This happens because that person doesn’t understand what is being discussed.
Our minds are always interested in new information, but there is a need to understand that information at the same time.
If there isn’t an understanding of what is being absorbed, then the mind is going to discard that information because it has been deemed as irrelevant.
That, in turn, leads to a reduction in memory and concentration. Your mind wanders to things it does understand.
To counter this issue, make sure that you ask questions when you encounter something that you don’t understand. Engage your mind by seeking out an understanding by breaking down the information presented to you in a way that is comfortable.
In doing so, you’ll be able to remember more of the data because you were able to understand more of the data.
#6. You are what you eat
A healthy lifestyle will also contribute to improvements in memory and concentration. A well-balanced diet that contains vital vitamins and minerals will always stimulate the mind to help it remember more.
A healthy lifestyle also contributes to better sleep, which is the foundation of any method to improve memory naturally.
What is often not discussed in this method of improving memory power is the use of caffeine. This stimulant has some definite advantages: it improves concentration and focus, provides energy, and encourages the creativity centers of the mind to engage.
Caffeine also creates a vicious negative cycle that can destroy your memory and concentration over time. This is because the adrenal glands are also stimulated when caffeine is consumed. Adrenaline is the foundation of the body’s “fight or flight” mechanism.
The end result? You have a brief window of time where you can create some amazing things. When that window expires and the lack of a stimulant causes your body to begin crashing, you then forget many of the things that you were doing.
You might remember you were typing, for example, but you will struggle to recall what it is that you were typing or why you felt the need to type in the first place.
Caffeine also has a long half-life in the body – up to 12 hours for some individuals. This means it can keep the body stimulated well into the night if you have a 3pm pick-me-up to get past that mental wall which formed. That causes insomnia, which creates fatigue, which then creates higher levels of caffeine consumption.
If you do need a morning coffee consistently, then examine your sleeping habits. Make adjustments as needed to improve your sleep at night instead of relying on this drug. If you must have caffeine, then limit it to 100-200mg at most to avoid the problems this stimulant can cause.
#7. Put your routine outside of the box
Change is good for the mind. Frequent changes, in fact, can help to keep the mind engaged because there is something consistently new to learn. This means it can be beneficial to put changes into your routines so that your mind can stay engaged.
Tinkering with a routine can be dangerous, however, because it can also cause the mind to feel uncomfortable and that contributes to a lack of memory and concentration.
To avoid the pitfalls of change, consider making small changes within the scope of your routine instead.
If you take the same way to work every day, then try a different route that will still get you there within the same period of time. Switch up how your desk is organized from time to time. Be spontaneous and go out for drinks after work or catch a movie before heading home.
Give yourself permission to do something different.
Every time you switch between tasks, it takes about 15 minutes for the mind to catch up. Plan on having a single-minded focus on one task for about 60 minutes. Then switch tasks, but allow yourself to take that 15-minute break.
In doing so, you’ll be encouraging the mind to improve its concentration and you’ll be ready to stay focused for the next 60-minute window.
#8. Create visual cues that represent specific information
Have you ever been taught the knuckle method for remembering what months have 31 days?
You just start at the first knuckle and then recite the months. When you reach your pinky knuckle, you’re at July. Touch it again for August and then come back. Every knuckle month represents a month which contains 31 days.
You’ll just need to remember that February has 28 or 29 days depending on what year it happens to be.
Simple visual cues can help us to recall an amazing amount of data. Those who excel in memory and concentration create visual codes that help them to recall incredible strings of information that seem impossible to remember when you see this recall happening in person.
This is referred to as “context-dependent memory.” When we lose our keys, then we use this system of visual cues to retrace our steps as best as we can to remember what we did with them.
Dave Farrow, who holds multiple memory Guinness World Records for memory recall, associates visual data with memory input to create a massive volume of memorization.
After spending 14 hours on a single sighting of 59 separate packs of cards, he was able to recall all 3,000+ cards from memory over the course of 9 hours, making just one error that he corrected on his own.
Recalling 3,000 items in order may not be necessary in the course of our daily tasks, but the method of memorization and focus works.
Associate specific data points with recall cues and it becomes easier to remember specific information items. Repeat the information several times if you’re struggling to stay focused and it will lock itself in there.
Why does this work? Because pictures and sequences are easier for people to remember than random bits of data. This is why we naturally create lists, read articles that are list-orientated, and structure our days based on tasks that need to be completed by certain times.
We are comfortable with visual cues, which means we can remember the data from visual cues very effectively.
#9. Find a way to get more active
It doesn’t take much exercise for the mind to reap some enormous benefits when it comes to memory recall. Research out of UC-Irvine shows that just 6 minutes of moderate exercise will help to improve an individual’s memory performance. The results are instantaneous.
When the exercise group was compared to an inactive group, the memory and concentration results were better on average for the entire group which exercised – for just 6 minutes.
Exercise also releases a chemical that is called “norepinephrine.” This chemical has a strong influence on how memories are created and recalled. Exercise is also known to actually increase the physical size of the brain, which allows for more storage space to be filled.
When combined, people are able to remember and focus more because they have a greater capacity to store data for recall.
You don’t have to go to the gym or own a treadmill to take advantage of the benefits that exercise can provide. Go for a walk around the neighborhood at a moderately brisk pace. Do some house cleaning as fast as you can. Add some push-ups or sit-ups to your morning routine.
In return, you’ll also notice another benefit: less stress.
When exercise like this can become a weekly habit of 3-5x per week, you may see profound improvements to your memory and concentration.
Knowing how to improve memory and concentration can help to create an improved level of focus that will help you become more productive. You’ll be able to work smarter instead of harder, sleep better, and stay in more control of your emotions.
All of these proven methods can be used on their own or in combination with one another. For a powerful result, consider adding all 9 of these methods to your daily routines in some way. It could be a life-changing decision.
It only takes one step to begin the journey toward an enhanced memory and better concentration. Sometimes we all take backward steps on this journey because of a bad day.
Dust yourself off, have the courage to keep moving forward, and your memory improvement exercises will pay many dividends over time.