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.

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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.