You Created Some Great Holiday Memories. Now Hang Onto Them.

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With Thanksgiving and Christmas behind us, you probably had the chance to hang out with friends and family, creating warm, festive memories.

Now all you have to do is remember them.

As we age, memory can weaken. The good news is that memory skills are not “fixed.” You can improve and strengthen your ability to remember important events and details in your life. This is because of something called neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s life-long ability to reorganize, strengthen, and even create brand new connections that allow us to store and retrieve information, including memories!

Here are three ways to protect and even improve your ability to remember the important events and details in your life:

1. Practice the 8-second rule. Sometimes we can’t remember something because we never focused on it long enough to get the information into our memory banks to begin with. By practicing and strengthening your attention skills, your brain will have what it needs to retrieve the information later. A good rule of thumb is to focus for a minimum of eight seconds on whatever it is you want to remember later.

2. Practice visualization and association. Our brains have a remarkable ability to process and retain images. Because of this, a good way to strengthen your memory is to assign mental pictures to ideas, names, information and even events you want to remember. The wackier the image, the easier it is to recall later. For example, if you want to remember to pick up milk on your way home from work, imagine yourself walking from your office and spotting your car in the parking lot where you left it. Imagine seeing a gallon of milk in the driver’s seat of your car, little arms coming out of the carton and gripping the steering wheel. Picture yourself hopping in the passenger seat of your own car and being driven wildly to the store by the carton of milk, your car careering madly all the way. Trust us, when the workday is done and you leave the office and spot your car in the parking lot, the image of that carton of milk won’t be far behind.

3. Practice mental snapshots. Give yourself 3 seconds to take a mental “snapshot” of something. Then close your eyes or look away, reconstructing the snapshot in your mind and describing the details you see. In many ways, the brain is like a muscle. When you exercise a muscle by asking it to handle a weight or task beyond its comfort level, your muscle changes, developing more mass to be able to manage the same request better next time. When you exercise your brain–stretching it beyond its comfort level– the same thing happens: your brain changes, developing and strengthening neural connections, allowing your brain to handle similar requests more easily in the future.

Whether the recent holidays were characterized by happy memories (or Yuletide mayhem you’d just as soon forget), your memory is a priceless gift. These techniques and others can help you protect and enjoy that gift in every season of the year and of your life.

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