How many senses do you use? Mindfulness and memory.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness.
Photo courtesy of pixabay.

A mindfulness exercise for all the senses to improve mental efficiency and memory.

Most people rely on one or two senses to do all the work. How many do you routinely use?

One reason memories fade over time is our excessive reliance on one or two senses to store and anchor information. You were probably taught to remember things by converting them to words and then creating a story about the person or thing you needed to remember.

Memory functions better when you use more than one sense to store that memory.

Writers struggle with this problem frequently. We envision a scene; paint it with colors and plenty of verbal descriptions. We describe the shape of things, the size and arrangement. With all that description the scene should come to life. It doesn’t. Our scene is flat.

What has gone wrong?

Life is more than shapes and colors. Visual is important, ask any photographer. There is more to a life event than what is customarily captured in a two-dimensional picture.

Here is a simple mindfulness exercise to help you improve your powers of observation, use of multiple senses and improve your memory as a result.

Take a walk. Find a place where you can pause to explore your situation without the use of your eyes. A park bench, bus stop or seating areas at public buildings make great places for this exercise.

Sit with your eyes closed, or if safety is a concern look down and focus on something small and plain. (Check my post on Shrinking the World by Staring at a Rock.)

Don’t try to figure things out, simply experience them.

What smells do you smell? Are they constant or do they fluctuate? Can you identify them? Are they pleasant or disturbing? How would you name them?

What are the sounds you hear? Without looking can you identify what is creating those sounds? Can you imagine the bird making that song? As you concentrate on the sounds you may well find that you notice more sounds and that they vary in pitch and intensity.

If you hear traffic, is it a car, truck or bus? Which direction is it traveling? If there are people nearby what are they talking about? With whom?

What sensations do you feel on your body? Can you feel the wind on your skin? Where is the sun? Find the sun by feeling not by looking.

What tastes are you sensing? Was this something you brought with you, part of your breakfast or lunch or does this place have a taste as well as a smell?

Notice, but do not dwell on what you mind is thinking. If thoughts come racing through your mind let them go in peace. If you must capture that thought and not let it go I find that having a pen and paper in my pocket allows me to write the thought down and get it free of my mind, and then I return to my mindfulness exercise.

Do not allow yourself to judge your senses. Unless a professional has told you that there is some reason for a deficit in one of your senses it is likely that you can improve your underutilized senses by practice and by being more observant of the things they try to tell you.

Pay special attention to the times your senses of smell, taste or hearing disagree with the story your eyes told you about this place when you sat down here. Sitting by a fountain can be especially helpful here.

I once sat on a bench by the fountain on the college campus where I teach. There are many fountains down the center of that walkway. I had walked by repeatedly and seen only fountains that constantly throw water in the air. This day seated and experiencing the fountains I discovered that they each had a cycle, the flow fluctuated and with that fluctuation, the sounds varied. It length I realized I could predict when the fountain nearest me was about to subside by a faint feeling of spray on my cheek even before the fountain had dropped in volume.

The constant pattern of fountains masked constant changes in the same way our over-reliance on sight may mask the changes in smells and sounds that go unnoticed in our daily life.

Learn to rely on more senses and you will find that your mental efficiency grows and your memory improves.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Advertisements

Finding success when fear is in the way

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Success or failure sign

Success or failure.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Success – You can’t get there from here; you need to go somewhere else first.

Do you have a picture of success in your mind? Have you thought about the things you will need to do to get there from where you are? But you can’t seem to make any progress?

Is there a fear blocking your path?

One major obstacle in the path to being successful for many of us is that boulder-sized fear that is right in front of us. What will you need to do to get past that fear and reach the success you were meant to find?

We have talked in the past about making sure that what you say your goals are is in fact what you really want out of life. Nothing so clearly undermines success as heading towards the one goal we say we want while looking over our shoulder at the goal we wish we were working on.  Secretly wishing we were going somewhere else impedes all forward progress.

Your goals also need to be consistent with your values. If what really matters to you is your family and friends, good relationships make you happy; trying to make a lot of money will take you away from your goals and reduce the time you have to spend on improving those relationships. Sure you need some money, but how much money is enough and how much time with a loved one is too much?

Fears in our path to success can come in all sizes and shapes.

One fear that keeps people from trying is the fear of success. What would it mean to you to be truly successful? If you are unsure if you believe you don’t deserve success or you think others will look down on you and reject you if you stood out, then your brain will help you out here and sabotage your efforts to do something that it knows you don’t really want.

To reach success, however, you define it; you need to believe that you deserve to succeed.

Fear can take up a place in your way to success wearing the disguise of doubt or self-distrust. If you don’t believe that you will be successful, others around you will find it difficult to believe in you. If you give off that vibe that you don’t really want to accomplish anything, those around you will spend their time helping people who want to go somewhere.

Some fears shrink when you approach them.

That old bogeyman under the bed disappears when we shine a light under the bed. The same is true of many other fears. Avoiding unpleasant things makes them scarier. Some fears will shrink rapidly once you walk up to them and begin the task.

Some fears won’t budge and you have to find ways around them.

If the thing you fear is a real risk, you need to look for ways to reduce that risk. Insurance and savings are two ways people shrink risk. Getting the education and training you need to be successful in a field also reduce the risk of heading in that direction.

Think for a while about the role of your fears in keeping you from the success you want. Is it trying to protect you from failing? Is it warning you of a real risk that needs to be taken into account?

Concurring fear is an important step in your journey to that happy, successful life you deserve.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

5 reasons learning and memory are not about intelligence

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Puzzle

Memory pieces.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Average people remember things that supposedly smart people forget.

Our educational system and a lot of parent’s efforts to help their children learn are misguided.

Somewhere along the line, we got the impression that to be a good learner you needed to be really smart and that if you scored low on an I.Q. test then you would never be able to learn.

That is just not so. Being smart helps, but it is not the whole story. There are things anyone can do to improve their memory and learning.

Here are some reasons why.

1. Learning is emotional, not intellectual.

If you truly enjoy something it is easy to learn a lot about that subject. If you don’t care about something it is next to impossible to remember. If you have ever had to take a class in school because it was required, but it was nothing you will ever care about after the class is over, you know what I mean.

Excitement fuels learning. Anything that gets you excited about a subject leads to better, learning, memory and retention of that subject. Practicing memory games can make learning more fun and goes a long way towards improving your memory.

2. Learning is cumulative.

We find learning about something very difficult when we don’t have the foundation to understand the subject. Knowledge is cumulative. If you don’t have the basics down the advanced material becomes more difficult.

Begin with something simple, something that interests you and as you learn more about that subject. Ask yourself what else you want to know about. Follow those trails wherever they go and you will find yourself become more knowledgeable about many things.

3. Learning and memory require willpower.

To learn some things requires willpower. I wrote a while back about how many people have difficulties with willpower. One reason willpower is so elusive is our tendency to confuse willpower and won’t power. Another cause of poor willpower is the natural human tendency to enjoy today and forget tomorrow.

The hardest form of willpower is the ability to do something unpleasant today because it will produce future gains.

4. Learning is about how many words you know.

Memories for most people are saved as stories. The more words you know the less effort it takes to convert this expertise, real or imagined, into a story that will be easy to remember.

Movies and books are hard to remember if you don’t have the vocabulary to store and retell the events that made this story important.

Reading anything can improve your vocabulary. The more you read the more you learn and the more able to learn and remember you become.

5. You can’t rely on only one sense to store information into memory.

Having multiple anchors in your memory from multiple senses helps you to store and retrieve that memory.

When there is someone or something that you want to remember to try associating that memory with all your senses. What did it smell like? What were the good smells and the bad orders? Did it touch you internally as well as externally?

Paying attention to the sound of the person’s voice, their facial expressions and the way you experienced their presence will help you in remembering that person.

Most of us have tried to improve memory by becoming better at memorizing words rather than by learning to engage all our senses and fully experience the event.

In future posts, we will talk about some ways to improve your acuity and mental efficiency using senses other than verbal memories as ways to improve your ability to remember.

Go out there and practice mental efficiency, memory improvement and the other skills you will need to create the success you want.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Improving your memory by finding happiness – excavating happiness

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Old pictures

Memories.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Sometimes you need to excavate those happy memories.

Part of memory improvement is reviving old memories you may still need but are having a hard time finding. One good place to start is reviving happy positive memories.

One great technique to retrieve those happy memories is a dose of introspection. Looking inside yourself can help you find things you had forgotten were there.

Happy memories are sometimes hard to recall. Let’s work on improving your memory by improving recall of happy times in the past. Memories that are not used degrade. With total disuse, the brain may prune off those memory connections. Certain times in your life and emotional states promote that pruning.

One good think about faded memories is that if you can find them before they are gone you can retrieve them. It is always easier to learn something a second time than it was the first time because there may be traces of those memories left in your brain.

Here are some questions to ask yourself. I suggest you write the answers down whenever possible. The act of writing them down stores them in a second part of the brain and may make retrieval easier. Telling someone about those happy memories has a similar effect. For good measure whenever possible do both.

1. When was the happiest time in your life? The three happiest times?

Try to walk back through those happy times. Where were you? Who were you with? If that person is no longer part of your life try to only remember the good part of this happy time, not the subsequent loss.

Try to recall as many details as possible. What time of year was it? Where there any smells? What was touching your skin? The more senses you can involve the more details you remember the more real and permanent the memory becomes.

If you find yourself stumped on that happy time, look for a happy place, somewhere you may have been or a trip you took. Even if that place was imaginary, returning to it can improve your mood.

Some of our memories come from the books we read, the movies we watched and the characters from those stories that made their way into our hearts. For some that happy memory will be the time their favorite team won that big game.

2. What was the best job you ever had?

This may not have been the best paying but it was the one you wanted and may have wished you could do again. Relive that excitement of being chosen for that job.

Where were you when you had that job? What else was going on in your life at that time? Try to remember the people you worked with. How did they treat you? What made this the best job of your life?

In the moment we store a lot of memories about the problems on any job. If you look back searching for the things that meant the most to you there just might be some things you need to remember.

3. What are your good qualities?

This can be harder than the first two. If you are stumped on this one ask yourself how a friend would describe your good qualities? What would you say to a potential boss if you were asked this in an interview?

Don’t dismiss this question too quickly. Give yourself time to ponder.  Most people have far more skills and good qualities than they give themselves credit for.

Did you win a contest? Have you ever been given an honor? Do not dismiss that victory no matter how small and insignificant it may seem now. Those past achievements will tell you a lot about yourself and the potential you have to become even more.

4. When was the last time you learned something new?

Was this a good experience? Are you proud of what you learned? Had you planned on having this experience or did it just happen? If you learned this new thing with someone else, who? Is this person still in your life? In a good way?

People who continue to learn throughout the lifespan get more mileage from that thing we call a brain. Lifelong learning may not cure Alzheimer’s but it is good for knocking the cobwebs off the brain and keeping it working to the best of your ability.

5. When in your life was your health at its best?

What else was going on then? Has your health fluctuated over the years? Has that affected your happiness? Is there anything you can do to improve your health and re-experience those happy times?

Some of these introspective self-examination questions will bring up painful memories as well as the happy ones. Notice the pain and then let it go. Your goal is to focus on the happiness you had forgotten. For more on the problem of painful memories check out the post on meditation and painful memories.

Happiness and pain are not stored equally. It is easier to remember the bad than the good. Cultivate the habit of looking for the positive and adding those memories to your memory collection and you will find your happiness and your memory will improve.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Memory March – How to improve your memory and motivation

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Puzzle

Memory pieces.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Your memory can be improved with a little effort, some motivation will help.

This month let’s take a look at memory, its role in our life and how you might improve it. Contrary to popular belief a good memory is not something you are either born with or you will never have.

There are ways to work on improving your memory regardless of how good a memory you started with. I want to keep this Memory March discussion on a practical basis. There has been a ton of research on memory over the years. This research has given us some insights into how the brain works but that information has not always translated into anything all that practical.

We can describe memory “systems” and parts of the brain involved, but the systems do not at this point correlate well with the brain parts and those parts of the brain serve many functions beyond memory.

From a practical point of view, there are ways to improve your memory, thinking and mental acuity that has little to do with the way your brain is shaped and how much supposed intelligence you have or do not have. We have noted in past posts that some very smart people can do dumb things and some average people come up with some surprising ideas.

Having a good memory may begin with how much storage capacity your brain has but the efficiency of storage and how you use those abilities can make a tremendous difference.

A long time ago before we discovered ADHD and learning disabilities, there used to be some programs on memory improvement and mind development. New advances in medications and learning techniques have been helpful, but to date, we have found no magic pill that makes your memory better and the elusive part of learning remains learning how to learn.

Things you can do to improve your memory and mental efficiency.

A good memory is not something we are born with. In the early years, children’s memories are primarily stored as pictures. There are processes for consolidating those memories. As children move into the school years what they can remember is largely influenced by how many words they know. Memories begin to be stored in the brain as stories.

Much of our memory is about being a good storyteller. Very young children are often good “storytellers” meaning they can invent fantastic tales full of creativity. What they lack is the ability to consolidate those stories’ so they can be retold time after time. As we get older our storytelling abilities crystallize.

Fortunately for those of us with sometimes faulty memories, learning to remember stories is a skill that can be learned.

Don’t confuse a good memory with IQ or being smart. There are plenty of people who are smart in the IQ sense. They score very well on standardized tests. But can they remember anything? Not much! Those stories about the absent-minded professor have a lot of truth to them. Being smart does not mean you can remember anything outside your primary interest.

Having a good memory is more a skill than something you are born with. Skills can be learned and they can be improved with practice.

Over the course of Memory March, I will try to offer some everyday suggestions on how to improve your memory, your mental efficiency, and your productivity. There will be some suggested exercises. You may do them or not. I have borrowed some of these ideas from old memory improvement and mental efficiency texts but where possible have updated them for our current terminology and understandings. Can’t say the ideas are all that original and I will try to give credit where credit is due.

My hope is that these memory posts will be helpful. We will also need to say a few things about motivation. Being motivated to remember things helps the memory. I have written in the past about internal and external motivation. Through the month I plan to talk some more about motivation.

Links to a few of the older posts on both memory and motivation will appear at the end of these posts.

Let’s end this post with a simple memory prompt.

Please remember to leave a comment about memory, motivation and how this may lead you towards your happy life.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.