I have some bad news for you.
Especially if you want to improve your memory.
But first a little light relief...
Some time ago I saw a video clip of a man in Japan attempting to set a world record for spinning plates simultaneously.
Now if you too would like to enjoy the fame and fortune that goes with being an international plate spinner you'll need a rather large dinner set.
The record to beat is 91 plates!
Watching this spectacular yet pointless feat was strangely riveting.
Impressed as I was to see all those plates turning hypnotically round and round and round (are you feeling sleepy?), deep down I was much more intrigued to see how long it would be before one fell to the ground... and smashed into a thousand little pieces, sadly never to be spun again.
Which reminds me...
The bad news.
The bad news is that it's getting harder and harder to focus and remember stuff these days.
Life is happening at a faster and faster pace. There are so many things competing for - and demanding - your attention.
Ever found yourself typing an email while checking your phone messages, talking to a colleague and perhaps wondering when you'll ever find time to grab some lunch?
At the same time technology is adding to - not reducing - the problem.
Mobile phones, pagers, laptops, PDAs - a plethora of gadgets flashing, beeping and generally demanding your attention.
Our attention is being increasingly split. And we are losing our ability to focus.
Ever felt like you're spinning one too many plates?
But technology also delivers its own unique solution, one which has been almost universally accepted.
Or in computer jargon - the apparent simultaneous performance of two or more tasks by a computer's central processing unit. (Yes I did look that up).
Applied to mere humans it refers to the commonly believed notion that you can boost your productivity by doing more than one task at a time. Or by switching back and forth between tasks.
So common is this belief that you see people multi-tasking everywhere, every day. And not without reason.
Your brain does possess the unique ability to split your attention and shift it rapidly from one thing to another. All whilst somehow still managing to hold the original thought or task somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of your mind.
So you can multi-task. But does it really save you time?
Studies into multi-tasking suggest not, with a growing body of evidence that it in fact reduces, rather than increases your productivity.
Because the more you juggle multiple tasks the less efficient you become at performing any one particular task. And you lose valuable time and focus each time you switch from one thing to another.
Research also indicates that the more complex the tasks involved, the more time you lose as you jump between them and struggle to pick up where you left off.
What's more, laboratory research shows that multi-tasking also increases stress. But you probably don't need to don a white coat to realise that!
The conclusion... machines multi-task well but humans don't.
And spreading your attention too thinly can play havoc with your memory - you don't remember what you don't focus on.
Now for the good news.
The opposite is also true.
You tend to remember the things to which you deliberately pay attention.
So if you're looking to improve your memory try the following astonishingly simple approach for starters.
Practise paying attention.
Yep that's it.
Practise paying attention.
Practise focusing on a single task, topic, conversation or thought to the exclusion of everything else. Notice details. Review things in your mind. Ask yourself questions. Focus and explore.
Deliberately, purposefully pay attention to the things you want to remember.
This simple act will work wonders for your recall and is the first step to unlocking the amazing potential that is your untapped memory.
Or as the author Samuel Johnson astutely observed way back in 1759
"The true art of memory is the art of attention."
The Final Word: Spin less... achieve more.
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