Columns Op-ed and Comment The National

Memory Improvement

Memory improvement is an obsession of mine. Here is my latest exercise/attempt to improve it.

The National Conversation

When I turned to the internet to improve my poor memory
Shoba Narayan
Jul 26, 2013

“Thanks to your mother, I am drinking hot water these days,” I told the visiting boy. “Like her, I too believe that the hot water will melt the fat globules in my body and I will become slim, indeed svelte.”

I was chuffing with pride at adding one more trick to my arsenal of “how to lose weight without doing exercise”, when my daughter spoke up.
“Ma, you’ve said the same thing four times in the last 24 hours. Don’t you remember? I am getting worried about you.”
She didn’t exactly call me senile but the sympathetic looks in the faces of the five children sitting around the dining table implied it.
The kids were wrong, not about my memory, which is fallible, but about the reason for the repetition. I repeat myself endlessly, not because I am senile but because I haven’t been heard.
On an average day, I give about 100 instructions to my kids. Not a lot, I know, but I try to keep things simple in my household. I believe in giving my family freedom of choice so that they don’t become completely dependent on me for everything. That said, I remain mildly shocked when I return from a trip and find that the house hasn’t collapsed.
Every morning, I wake up and spell out instructions about bathing, dressing and homework. In response, I get a burp.
How do school teachers do it? How do they make sure that an entire class room of kids has heard what they said?
The last time I got a burp in response, I discovered that it wasn’t even a burp. It was a word masquerading as a burp. It turned out that the latest response to sweep the United States – somewhat like “duh” before it – is “word”. That’s right. When someone says something, you say “word” in response; if possible, in a low macho kind of voice.
“Make sure you are back home before dark.”
“Word.”
“Don’t run out on the road even if you hit the ball out of the building.”
“Word.”
No wonder I thought the kids were burping at me.
There was an essential – if disheartening – truth in what my daughter said. My memory is failing. I don’t think it is an age thing. My friend, Ayesha, is younger than me and she claims that she can’t remember anything. I think it has to do with neuroplasticity and no, I didn’t write this sentence just so I could use that word.
There are many ways to improve memory. The Mentalist, a television show I used to be addicted to, talked about cultivating a “memory palace”, something that the book Moonwalking with Einstein explains. Paying attention to your surroundings is important. The ancient yogic practice of tratak, or candle gazing, improves concentration.
Mindfulness practices and meditation centre the mind and improve memory. Being at a much more advanced stage of neurosis, I needed something more doable than “sit still and empty your mind of all thoughts.” An empty mind is a normal state of being for me. As for sitting still, if I could do that I would have – paradoxically – conquered the world. I needed to feel like I was “doing something” to improve my memory, not just sitting around doing nothing. So I looked for help in the internet.
There is one application that helps to improve working memory. It is called “n back 2” and it is a game that you have to play 20 times a day. Studies show that it improves your working memory. There are many iPhone applications that cater to “n back 2”. The one I like is called “IQ boost”, and it is a game of squares that progressively become more difficult.
I have played this game for a week and can confidently say that it has improved my working memory. Now where did I leave my spectacles?

Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India: a memoir

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