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  • My Memory Journal: journal & guide to improving your memory
  • Make Your Own Memory Journal: digital version available for immediate download
  • Prices slashed on all Wayz Press memory and study ebooks, for the holiday period
  • New articles with tips on improving your sleep, and advice on building cognitive reserve

My Memory Journal

My new book for the new year (sorry, I did try to get it out sooner!) is My Memory Journal. This is a paperback, a journal that's also an everyday memory strategy, with instructions on how to use it, plus a brief discussion of a memory strategy or habit that you can focus on each week. The Memory Journal covers six months, so there are 26 such "Focuses". The Focuses cover such topics as: Mindset, Goal-setting, Cognitive load, Sleep, Visualization, Senses, Monitoring, etc. There's a page for each day, so the whole thing comes in at about 266 pages. At the moment the book's only available at Amazon, and directly from Createspace (I get maximum royalty there), but in the new year I'll see about widening that.

At the same time as a group of French parents and teachers have called for a two-week boycott of homework (despite the fact that homework is officially banned in French primary schools), and just after the British government scrapped homework guidelines, a large long-running British study came out in support of homework.

The study has followed some 3000 children from preschool through (so far) to age 14 (a subset of around 300 children didn’t attend preschool but were picked up when they started school). The latest report from the Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education Project (EPPSE), which has a much more complete database to call on than previous studies, has concluded that, for those aged 11-14, time spent on homework was a strong predictor of academic achievement (in three core subjects).

We all like simple solutions. However much we may believe we are ‘above’ black-&-white dichotomies, that of course we understand that every situation is complex, nevertheless we have a brain that can only think of a very very few things at once. So it's unsurprising that we are drawn to solutions that can be summed up simply, that can fit comfortably within the limitations of working memory.

A quick note, because I was so impressed by this and wanted to help spread the word! The Guardian has an article about a purpose-built village for those with advanced Alzheimer's. Here's what it says about it: "A compact, self-contained model village on a four-acre site on the outskirts of town, half of it is open space: wide boulevards [but no cars!], cosy side-streets, squares, sheltered courtyards, well-tended gardens with ponds, reeds and a profusion of wild flowers. The rest is neat, two-storey, brick-built houses, as well as a cafe, restaurant, theatre, minimarket and hairdressing salon."

I don't often talk about eyewitness testimony, but it's not because of the lack of research. It's a big field, with a lot of research done. When  I say I don't follow it because I regard the main finding as a done deal - eyewitness testimony is useless - that's not meant to denigrate the work being done. There is, clearly, a great deal of value in working out the exact parameters of human failures, and in working out how we can improve eyewitness testimony. I just arbitrarily decided to ignore this area of research until they'd sorted it all out! (I can't follow everything, I'm swamped as it is!)

I recently read an interesting article in the Smithsonian about procrastination and why it’s good for you. Frank Partnoy, author of a new book on the subject, pointed out that procrastination only began to be regarded as a bad thing by the Puritans — earlier (among the Greeks and Romans, for example), it was regarded more as a sign of wisdom.

The examples given about the perils of deciding too quickly made me think about the assumed connection between intelligence and processing speed. We equate intelligence with quick thinking, and time to get the correct answer is part of many tests. So, regardless of the excellence of a person’s cognitive product, the time it takes for them to produce it is vital (in test).

Similarly, one of the main aspects of cognition impacted by age is processing speed, and one of the principal reasons for people to feel that they are ‘losing it’ is because their thinking is becoming noticeably slower.

But here’s the question: does it matter?

On my walk today, I listened to a downloaded interview from the On Being website. The interview was with ‘vocal magician and conductor’ Bobby McFerrin, and something he said early on in the interview really caught my attention.

In response to a question about why he’d once (in his teens) contemplated joining a monastic order, he said that the quiet really appealed to him, and also ‘the discipline of the hours … there’s a rhythm to the day. I liked the fact that you stopped whatever you were doing at a particular time and you reminded yourself, you brought yourself back to your calling’.

Those words resonated with me, and they made me think of the Moslem habit of prayer. Of the idea of having specified times during the day when you stop your ‘ordinary’ life, and touch base, as it were, with something that is central to your being.

I don’t think you need to be a monk or a Moslem to find value in such an activity! Nor does the activity need to be overtly religious.

I'd like to dwell a little on the comment I made in my recent brief post, regarding the balance between your awareness of the fallibility of human memory and your belief in your own abilities. Some examples should help clarify what I mean.

Let's think of that all-too-common scenario, forgetting whether or not you have done something. Now, you could berate yourself with how forgetful you are getting, and see this as a sign of getting older, or of impending Alzheimer's, or (if you're still quite young), simply of your generally terrible memory. Or, aware of how memory works, you could say to yourself, I should have been paying attention, I know perfectly well that actions I do regularly are hard to keep track of. Perhaps I should start using some sort of external sign to mark when I've done the thing.

The thing to remember about Ericsson’s famous expertise research, showing us the vital importance of deliberate practice in making an expert, is that it was challenging the long-dominant view that natural-born talent is all-important. But Gladwell’s popularizing of Ericsson’s “10,000 hours” overstates the case, and of course people are only too keen to believe that any height is achievable if you just work hard enough.

The much more believable story is that, yes, practice is vital — a great deal of the right sort of practice — but we can’t disavow “natural” abilities entirely.

I have previously reported on how gait and balance problems have been associated with white matter lesions, and walking speed and grip strength have been associated with dementia and stroke risk. Another recent study, involving 93 older adults (70+) has added to this evidence, with the finding that those with non-amnestic MCI were much more likely to be slow walkers.

The study involved 54 seniors with no cognitive impairment, 31 with non-amnestic MCI and eight with amnestic MCI. Passive infrared sensors fixed in series on the ceilings of participants’ homes enabled their walking speed to be monitored unobtrusively over a three-year period.

Those with non-amnestic MCI were nine times more likely to be slow walkers than moderate or fast walkers, and more likely to show greater variability in walking speed.

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