New Year's Resolutions for a Better Memory

Alex and I just got back from the beach with our families. It was a wonderful way to spend the holiday. We started this tradition last year. Both sets of parents and our respective siblings join us at the beach in Florida. Because Alex and I grew up together, our families were close before we started dating. This familiarity makes it easy for us, because we don’t have to choose one family with which to share the holidays.

christmas vacation beach

Now that I’m back at my desk, I’m starting to look ahead at the new year, including writing resolutions. While I prefer to start self-improvement whenever inspirations strikes—even on a random day like December 28—I admit that a fresh “January 1” startline can be extra motivating.

Here are three memory-related resolutions I’m considering.

1. Pomo more | Don’t multitask

As the wife of a 3x world memory champion, I feel I am uniquely positioned to point out that attention (or lack of it) is the real reason so many of us don’t remember things (that our spouses say). It’s easy to feel like multitasking is the powerhouse of a productive millennial. Unfortunately, dividing a finite store of attention between several tasks prevents any one task from being done properly, and then you tend to forget what you’ve done. It just doesn’t work. Alex and I have always loved the Pomodoro Method (Alex discusses it at length in this article) while studying (setting a timer to devote 25-minute intervals to only one task), but it stands to reason that a pomodoro mindset can be applied beyond studying: in exercising, in eating, in relationships. Alex has practiced mindfulness over the past few years with meditation, using the popular app Headspace. My own goal is to be more mindful and less distracted by recognizing my tendency to multitask and to apply the pomodoro technique to more aspects of my life.

2. Swim more | Exercise without digital input

Exercising while listening to music and watching TV is a specific form of multitasking I see at the gym. Constant content consumption is a new way of life facilitated by digital content on our ever-present phones. But scientist have long warned that humans brains cannot learn properly and effectively without sufficient downtime. Periodically getting your mind out of focused mode and into diffuse mode—as Barbara Oakley puts it in Learning How to Learn (her popular MOOC and book of the same title)—is essential. It seems that new memories are consolidated during the downtime we now try to cram full of “productive” activity. Alex and I swam competitively in high school, and we’re thinking about making swimming a larger percentage of our exercise routines. For me, swimming laps is meditative. There’s just the sound of the water, the rhythm of a well-controlled breathing pattern, and beat of a flipturn every 25 yards. Short of sleep, it’s the ultimate diffuse mode.

3. Read more | Avoid TV before bedtime

Speaking of digital consumption, we’re definitely guilty of watching a TV show before bed. National Geographic has a wonderful piece on the damaging effects of blue light on an efficient sleep cycle, leading to the worldwide phenomenon of sleep deprivation as a lifestyle. The connection between sleep deprivation and cognitive impairment—including diminished memory—has been reported over and over and over. There’s not much to debate. If we want to have better memories and learn better, Alex and I will need to kick the habit of TV before bed. Luckily, we’re both big fans of our Kindle Paperwhites. Because the Kindles don’t have a backlight, we can enjoy our books without worry.

What are your New Year’s resolutions? Do you have any memory-related goals? How do you hold yourself accountable?