Robin’s Quest to Boost Her Memory

How is your memory these days? About the same as always, getting better, or getting worse? Memory is something I think about a lot because I have always believed I have a terrible memory. My go-to fix for this has been to be a consummate note taker. I write down everything. Note taking only goes so far though.

Recently, I read that no one has a bad memory, just one that hasn’t been trained! Our memory is like any other skill; it can improve with practice and good habits. That sparked my curiosity and sent me on a mission to improve my own memory.

In addition to learning that with training we can improve our memory, I learned that our over reliance on technology can also have a negative impact on our memory. Have you heard of digital dementia? This term refers to how our short-term memory pathways can start to break down with the overuse of technology. We can look everything up on the internet in seconds, store hundreds of phone numbers on our phones, or use GPS to get from point A to B without having to think about it – and, all of this may be to the detriment of our long-term memory. While I’m not ready to go cold turkey on technology, I do want to focus on improving my memory.

I have been reading Jim Kwik’s book, Limitless, about ”unlimiting” our brains, in which he shares many ideas and tips on improving one’s memory. He starts with the mnemonic MOM:
M = Motivation – We have to be motivated to remember something, so figure out what your motivation is to remember something.
O = Observation – Many times we don’t remember something, like the name of the person who was just introduced to us, because we weren’t really paying attention. As Kwik states, “Most of the time when we fail to remember something, the issue isn’t retention but attention.”
M = Methods – There are numerous methods and tools that we can use to remember something (some links below). Learning and using these tools is a matter of practice and the more one practices, the easier they become to implement.

Below are some methods/tools for improving memory (and learning):

  • Using active recall to improve your memory – Pause after you read or listen to something, think about what it means, and then write down a summary of what you just learned.
  • Association – Attach visual pictures or create a story linking together the words or ideas you are trying to remember. Make it as vivid as possible in your mind and have fun. Do you remember Do-Ra Me-Fa-So-La…? Do, a deer, a female deer, Ra, a drop of golden sun, Me, a name, I call myself… ­­– Yep, that’s using association to remember the musical notes!
  • The AGES Model a method for long-term learning from The Neuroleadership Institute. It stands for Attention, Generation, Emotion & Spacing. This method can help people learn more quickly and retain information over the long haul.
  • Learn about the importance of sleep when it comes to memory – Matt Walker: Hacking your memory — with sleep | TED Talk
  • Here are 7 Ways to Keep Your Memory Sharp at Any Age ­– For example: “Use your senses. The more senses you use in learning something, the more of your brain will be involved in retaining the memory.”

I don’t know that I have improved my memory yet, but I am motivated to keep working at it!


P.S. Here’s a quick tip for keeping your motivation up.   

Simple Rules

Simple rules can ease our minds

Our brains seek to simplify information and processes so we can better respond to unfamiliar or complicated aspects of our lives. Parts of our brains are devoted to habit formation and create habits very easily, even when we’re not aware of it. One natural response to change and complexity is to try to pay attention to and manage every little detail. However, this isn’t an approach our brains manage very well, especially if we already feel depleted. As perception of stress increases, our cognitive capacity decreases even while we might try to control as many details as possible. Instead, we can prime our brains and nervous systems ahead of time by determining what is most essential—whether in a project workflow, a meeting or relationship. 

In Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex Worldprofessors Kathleen Eisehhardt and Donald Sull describe simple rules as shortcut strategies that save time and effort by focusing our attention and simplifying the way we process information. Simple rules help us zoom out to the big picture and focus on what matters and what we have influence over. They give us flexibility to adapt to a changing environment while also having a sense of consistency (which can help put our nervous systems at ease). Read this Stanford Business Review post for a concise overview of the book.

Simple rules for simple rules

You already have simple rules in your life that were taught to you as a child like Stop, drop and roll in the event of a fire, or Look left; look right before crossing the street. Whether you know it or not, you likely have developed simple rules for your own unique journey. Consider:

  • Fewer rules are better than more rules. Most minds can hold about three seconds of information or three chunks of information.
  • Offer guidance rather than prescription to allow for creativity and responsiveness to unique situations. 
  • Develop simple rules to address a specific challenge or goal and tailor them to the situation.
  • Reflect on your simple rules periodically and adapt or let go as circumstances and you (or your team) change.

Design simple rules to fit the situation

  • How-To Rules like Focus on what’s working well and build from there or Ready, fire, aim.
  • Boundary Rules like  Do what’s yours to be done or If it’s not a ‘hell yes,’ it’s a no.
  • Priority Rules like First, do no harm or The customer is always right.
  • Timing Rules like Schedule meetings between 10am-2pm or Check email twice daily.
  • Exits and Letting Go Rules like If you haven’t used it in two years, get rid of it or Let go of anything that doesn’t spark joy.

align your goals and ease bottlenecks

Reflecting on where you want to go and what’s tripping you up can help you make sure your simple rules are aligned with what your vision and goals. Consider: What really matters to you in the context of a project, situation, or relationship? Where do you have influence and potential for impact? 

Pay attention to situations and activities in which you and your team feel energized, motivated, in the flow, or “alive.” This can give you information about areas that are working well. Perhaps you already have simple rules in place that you can make note of and apply to other areas. 

Also notice those times when you or your project feels blocked or gets pulled off course (this is sometimes referred to as finding the “bottlenecks” in the process). Where would you like to have more ease? This is one way to identify areas that could benefit from simple rules. What patterns do you notice? Are there actions you can take of let go of to maximize impact and minimize bottleneck?

Start by trying out one new simple rule for yourself and your team and stick with it for a month. Be curious about what changes and make adjustments if needed.  

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

Perspective taking seems more important than ever in our increasingly complex and interconnected world. As program planners and evaluators, much of our work centers around gathering and making sense of multiple perspectives on a program or challenge. We’d like to share a simple story along with some ideas and resources we’ve curated.

A few years ago, Jennifer was strolling through Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington. She was heading to a women’s leadership retreat and arrived early to explore the area. As she wandered through the maze of fish and flower stalls, she found a tucked away corner where artists and artisans displayed locally-made crafts. A small gray ceramic dish with bold, black spirals and lettering caught her eye so she went in closer to investigate. When she was close enough she read could the words etched into the clay: 

Don’t believe everything you think.

Jennifer picked up the dish so she could take a picture of it and send it to Robin, Tara, and KKaye. For the four of us, Don’t believe everything you think is a reminder of the importance of perspective taking, the ability to look at information or a situation from multiple points of view. Perspective taking helps us become more aware of our biases as we try to make sense of the complexities of the in which world we live. It’s an art, a skill, and a practice that can benefit everyone in almost all circumstances. 

Join Jennifer for a 45-minute online community call on Monday, March 28 at 4:00pm (Central Time) to explore and practice tools for perspective taking. She’ll create space to explore the nuggets from in this newsletter, offer tools for personal reflection, and invite community conversation. Register here and share with colleagues and friends to invite them to join! 

A belief is a habit of thought

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Simply put, the more a pathway in the nervous system is activated, the stronger that pathway becomes. This is true for behavioral habits as well as habits of thought (aka beliefs). Additionally, the way we perceive a situation strongly influences how we act. Check out this article published by the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative to learn more about how perspective-taking helps us by both giving us access to more information than we would have without it, and also by increasing activity in the brain centers involved in creative problem-solving.

Perspective taking can expand our story

Our minds create stories about the world based on our own experience and observations. Once we’ve created a narrative about a person, situation, or problem, we become attuned to things that confirm the story we already believe to be true. In other words, we see it when we believe it more often than the other way around. This is often referred to as confirmation bias. 
Perspective taking forces us to pay attention to biases and ask questions that can disrupt habitual patterns of thought. Taking on new perspectives as a simple thought experiment can be a powerful tool for building empathy, opening up to new insights, and expanding possibilities for collaboration and action.  
Simple rules for navigating perspective taking
1. Slow down to create space. 
Perspective taking requires us to pause, disrupt our habitual patterns of thinking and observing the world, and use intention to get inside a different point of you. Watch this 17-minute TED Talk in which Roger Aronsen uses examples from mathematics to illuminate the ways slight change in perspective can reveal patterns, numbers, and formulas as the gateways to imagination, empathy, and understanding 
2. Be open to what emerges.
As you consider different points of view, ask curious questions and journal about the answers or discuss with your team. Some suggestions include:  

  • What is the story I/we are telling? What’s another story that could be true? 
  • What assumptions am I/we making? In what ways might we be wrong or misguided? 
  • What would the situation look like from the perspective of….my friend? my arch rival? my client? my boss?

Know that it’s natural for discomfort to come up as you consider perspectives different from your own. Explore more about how beliefs form a part of your identity in this interactive online tool created by Clearer Thinking to support critical thinking. 
3. Move forward with clarity, intention, and courage. 
Ultimately, practicing perspective taking can broaden our scope of understanding. Over time, we can we can feel more confident that the decisions we make—both personally and in collaboration with others—are aligned with what matters most. This article on perspective taking by AMP Creative outlines the benefits of making perspective taking a practice both in personal and professional life. They include a daily practice that can be used any time you encounter a challenge, misunderstanding, or disagreement.