Why We Don’t Need to Remember Everything
Dr. Caroline Leaf – In this podcast (episode #376) and blog, I talk about memory and how to improve it.
We actually aren’t supposed to remember everything. The brain is designed to forget things that are not useful to us. In fact, trying to remember everything can cause neurochemical chaos in our neural circuitry because we are designed to selectively remember what interests us and what we need for particular tasks.
However, we can also forget information because we did not build memory properly. This means that we build memories incorrectly and we cannot access information we need when we need it. Our memory is also affected when we stop learning. Our minds grow through deliberate and intentional deep thinking, which is necessary to keep the brain healthy.
Chaotic thinking creates neurochemical chaos in the brain that can also affect memory. This is why it is so important to take the time to think about our thinking and control what we allow into our heads. Never let thoughts just wander through your mind unchecked, because thoughts are real things that have real effects in the brain and body. To practice doing this, focus on the “now” moment and observe your thoughts and feelings, perhaps writing down your thoughts in a journal to become aware of and organize them.
As I have mentioned before, we merge with our environments because of the plasticity of our brains. Essentially, our brains respond to our minds (our thinking, feeling and choosing). How we react to the circumstances of life, and whatever we focus on the most, will be wired into our brains and influence our mental and physical health, which in turn impacts our ability to recall information. We need to pay attention to our external and internal (thought) environments, because if we keep focusing on our toxic thoughts, they grow and damage the brain. Memory issues are just some of the problems that can occur when we don’t pay attention to our thinking.
So, take a few moments every day to write down what is happening in your life, what you feel, and how this is affecting your thinking. Analyze the relationship between your environment and your thoughts, and think of ways you can improve your external and internal environments to improve your mental health and ability to build memory.
Additionally, toxic schedules can have a negative impact on our memory. Living under an unnecessary sense of urgency creates toxic stress that causes the blood vessels around the heart to constrict, restricting blood flow and oxygen to the brain and resulting in foggy thinking and memory problems. Rest is not just a “luxury”. The clock should not rule our lives. To incorporate more rest in your life, schedule in times to switch off. Give yourself time to breathe: get coffee with a friend, go on a date night or treat yourself to a spa day!
This also means taking a break from technology! The average person spends up to eight hours a day using different technology. The fast pace of being “online” can create a toxic habit because itstimulates a temporary high, which can rob us of the ability to think deeply that is essential for good memory. The internal circuits of the brain tend to disconnect when we use technology for long periods of time, and this can lead to feelings of depression and memory loss.
Thankfully, some of the worst effects of electronic devices, including their effects on our ability to think and learn, can be mitigated when devices are used less than two hours a day. When we find ways to limit our use of technology throughout the day, such as taking the time to go for a long walk in the park, playing with our children or pets, or reading a good book in the bath, we improve our mental and brain health. These “off” moments give the brain time to reboot, heal and build healthy memories.
This includes social media! Instead of spending hours on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, limit your time on social media, spending an hour or so every day reading a newspaper or magazine article, or a chapter in a book, and thinking deeply about the information you have just read. Ask yourself what the author or authors are trying to say, answer your question by writing down several points, and discuss what you have read with a family member, friend or colleague. Thinking deeply about information fires up your mind, allowing you to build healthy memories and succeed in life!
Some medications, particularly psychotropic drugs (such antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, antipsychotics and stimulants) can also cause atrophy (shrinkage) of the brain. This has been scientifically shown to contribute to memory issues, amongst a myriad of other issues that can affect the systems and organs of the body. Always weigh the risks and benefits of these medications with a medical professional, and if you decide to come off your medication, do so under medical supervision, as withdrawal can be a challenging process.
At the end of the day, it is important to remember that the brain can heal, change and grow new brain cells, so never give up hope! Memory is not fixed and determined. The more we learn to use our brain in a healthy way by thinking good thoughts, eating healthy, doing exercise and living fulfilled and enjoyable lives, the more we can build healthy memories and increase our intelligence. Remind yourself of this every day!
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