Sometimes difficulty with memory can actually be related to attention. You can think of attention and memory as stairs building up as shown below. You need to be attending to an event or information to create a short-term memory and those short-term memories will help to create long-term memories. If you are having difficulty with attention, it will be difficult to create short- and long-term memories of events or information.
Some research has shown that mindfulness meditation can improve attention and in fact, I have worked with Marines who receive training in mindfulness to help improve their attention and memory after a traumatic brain injury.
So, what is mindfulness meditation? It is a mental exercise that can improve attention with practice. I particularly like the way this video describes it. This takes practice. Most people I work with say it’s hard to stay focused the first time they try mindfulness, but with practice, they are able to use it in daily life to improve their attention.
Here’s what I usually recommend:
Practice mindfulness in a quiet place.
This usually involves sitting comfortably, closing your eyes, and just focusing on your breath. I like to use the Headspace app as a guided meditation or you can use the following meditation if you prefer to meditate in silence.
Lie on your back or sit comfortably in a chair. You can either close your eyes or gently fix them on a neutral object in front of you. Breathe evenly and gently, focusing your attention on the movement of your stomach. As you begin to breathe in, allow your stomach to rise in order to bring air into the lower half of your lungs. As the upper halves of your lungs begin to fill with air, your chest begins to rise and your stomach begins to lower. Don’t tire yourself. Continue for 10 breaths. The exhalation will be longer than the inhalation. If your mind gets distracted by other thoughts, gently bring it back to your breath. Your mind will wander and that is okay. The point is to notice that your mind has wandered off and bring it back to your breath. Once you feel comfortable doing this, you can attempt to use these mindfulness principles in routine activities.
Practice mindfulness in routine activities.
This can be during your morning routine, while chores around the house, during mealtimes, etc. In our routine activities, it can be easy to think about other things. For example, during your morning routine, rather than focusing on brushing your teeth or showering, you may be worried about things coming up at work or getting your kids ready on time for school. Try instead to concentrate on what you are doing and staying present in that moment. For example, when washing your hair, what does it feel like? How does it smell? What sounds do you hear? Another routine activity I frequently recommend practicing mindfulness in is driving. It is so easy to go on autopilot when driving to and from work. Can you instead attend to what you see and hear around you? When you notice your mind wandering, bring it back to attend to what you are doing.
Practice mindfulness in situations you feel like you have difficulty attending to and recalling later.
For the Marines I previously worked with, more often than not, this was in conversations. Their significant other would ask them to pick up something from the grocery store and they’d forget by the time they got to the store. Or they’d be given a task at work, but would have to go back to ask what it was again because they had forgotten what they were told. Other situations may include forgetting if certain routine tasks were already done or not, like feeding pets.
As you are practicing mindfulness throughout your day, here are a couple quick ways to “reset” your attention and get present.
Take Ten Breaths
This is a simple exercise to center yourself and connect with your environment. Practice it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.
- Take ten slow, deep breaths. Focus on breathing out as slowly as possible until the lungs are completely empty – and then allow them to refill by themselves.
- Notice the sensations of your lungs emptying. Notice them refilling. Notice your rib cage rising and falling. Notice the gentle rise and fall of your shoulders.
- See if you can let your thoughts come and go as if they’re just passing cars, driving past outside your house.
- Expand your awareness: simultaneously notice your breathing and your body. Then look around the room and notice what you can see, hear, smell, touch, and feel.
This is another simple exercise to center yourself and connect with the world around you. Practice it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.
- Plant your feet into the floor.
- Push them down – notice the floor beneath you, supporting you.
- Notice the muscle tension in your legs as you push your feet down.
- Notice your entire body – and the feeling of gravity flowing down through your head, spine, and legs into your feet.
- Now look around and notice what you can see and hear around you. Notice where you are and what you’re doing.
If your attention and memory are negatively impacting your daily life, Emerge is now offering speech and occupational therapy to adults. Contact us to schedule a phone call with our therapists.