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Mentalrobics™

You exercise your body to stay physically in shape, so why shouldn't you exercise your brain to stay mentally fit? With these daily exercises you will learn how to flex your mind, improve your creativity and boost your memory. As with any exercise, repetition is necessary for you to see improvement, so pick your favorite exercises from our daily suggestions and repeat them as desired. Try to do some mentalrobics every single day!

In order to remember something, three things must happen. First, you must receive and learn a piece of information. This is the "Recording" step. Second, you must store this information in your brain (the "Retaining" step). Lastly, you must "Retrieve" the information out of your brain in a useful way.

The mind has a huge capacity to record and retain memories but it is not so good at retrieval. In fact, most memory failures occur at the retrieval step. Unfortunately, there is not much that you can do to directly improve retrieval, but learning good techniques for recording and retaining information will indirectly improve retrieval because the information will be more organized.

A good analogy is a library. If the books were randomly put onto shelves, it would be impossible to find anything. The library records each book in the card catalog and organizes the shelves so that retrieving a particular book is an easy task.

Proper "Recording" improves "Retrieval." Using good memory techniques will help you improve the way you organize information in your mind.

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Memory performance may not decline with age as much as people think. Some studies show that visual memory skills decline with age but that verbal memory skills remain steady. Other studies show that people can compensate for decreased learning ability by drawing from their life experiences. Since older people have more experiences to draw from, they are better able to reconstruct a partially forgotten memory.

Probably the biggest thing that affects memory performance is mental activity. Elderly people who remain mentally active perform better on memory tests than those who do not exercise their mind on a regular basis. Use it or lose it!

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The Loci system (the oldest mnemonic system on record) takes a little preparation and practice, but once you are ready, it can be very effective. The first step is to memorize a series of familiar locations in a particular order. You may choose to do a virtual walkthrough of your house (front door, hall, living room, kitchen, etc.), or you may choose to use places along your drive to work. The key is to make sure that you can conjure up a vivid mental image of each location. You must over-learn these locations because they are going to be your memory aid.

The second step is to take each item you are trying to memorize and associate it with a location using a vivid mental image. For example, take this list: clown, banana, giraffe, and moon. You might start by visualizing a clown jumping at you as you enter your front door followed by slipping on a banana as you walk down the hall. Then you could be surprised to see a giraffe eating a plant in your living room. You go into the kitchen and see a lunar eclipse through the window. Now, whenever you need to remember the list, you can do a mental walkthrough of your house and remember each visualization.

Once you have memorized your locations, they can be used over and over again to memorize different lists throughout your life. You can use any type of location, just make sure that each one is distinct.

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Earlier, we talked about the Link
and Story systems for remembering lists of items. Our example list was pretty silly (clown, banana, giraffe, and moon) so you may be asking yourself what practical uses you can apply these techniques to in your daily life. Good question!

These systems can be used in nearly any situation where you need to remember a list. Two popular examples are shopping lists or errands. Waiters can use it to remember the orders for their tables. Students can use it to learn vocabulary words or facts for a quiz. You could remember the state capitals or names of the presidents.

Sometimes the items you want to remember may be difficult to visualize or work into a story. In these situations, you can use a substitute word that sounds similar or has a relationship to the item that you are trying to remember. The idea is to pick a word that is easy to visualize. For example, if you are trying to memorize the U.S. state capitals, you might use "Tapioca" as a replacement word for Topeka, the capital of Kansas. Or if you are trying to remember the errand of picking up your laundry, you might visualize a shirt with a stain on it.

You can even use these systems to remember a speech or lecture. Just pick a concrete word for each section of the speech and link them all together. Now you'll be able to recall the entire speech without notes.

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The Story System is similar to the Link System and will help you remember items in order. To use this system, you need to create a little story using each item on your list.

For example, take the list: clown, banana, giraffe, and moon. Your story might be, "A clown slipped on a banana and startled a giraffe. The giraffe jumped over the moon and ran away." It's easier to remember this short story than it is to remember the list of words without any associations.

Compared to the Link System, this system may make it easier to recall the information later, but it is less effective for longer lists of items because it's difficult to work subsequent items into a meaningful story. However, the story system works better with abstract words that are hard to visualize by themselves.

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