daily improvement

Taking the stairs....mentally.

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Adding a bit of physical exercise into our day can be easy. We park the car far from the door of work or the store than usual to walk further than usual. We take the stairs to the second or third floor instead of taking the elevator. Many of us go to the gym a few times a week, walk around the neighborhood before or after work, or play with the kids in the yard before dinner. We’ve been told over and over that keeping our bodies fit is important. After years of hearing it many of us are finally taking action.

What are we doing for our minds, though? Yes, we go to the office, warehouse, stay at home with the kids, take care of elderly parents, volunteer, go wherever our daily efforts take us. Of course we focus and do what needs to be done, but that’s our normal, everyday effort. What is the mental equivalent of taking the stairs?

Here’s how I did it yesterday. At the end of work I double checked my cloud backup software and realized it hadn’t been backing up as usual for the past few days. I tried several things and couldn’t get it to work so decided to use a different program to back up the last week’s data onto an external drive.

As the backup started running I realized that I rarely use that particular software. What if the computer’s hard drive failed over night? (I have had two hard drives fail in the last several years so I’m a bit paranoid!) I’d eventually reinstall all the programs but…would I remember the name of the rarely used backup software? I realized I didn’t know the name of it - I had searched my computer for “backup” and chosen the program I had installed a few years ago without giving it any thought… or noting the name of it. How would I reinstall that program in an emergency if I didn’t even know its name?

Like many people the first thing I did was reach for my pen and the notepaper to the right of my keyboard where I keep my next day’s to-do list. Yes, the memory guy keeps a to-do list! I discuss why in chapter 51 of my latest book, Mastering Memory: 75 Memory Hacks for Success in School, Work, and Life (available today in paperback). To sum up: I keep my main to-do list in my mind and the paper list is my backup. Most people use their lists as the primary and hope, wish, or pray that they may also remember some of it. I flip that around: exercise the mind by making it work but anything “mission critical” gets backed up by writing it down.

To take the mental stairs last night I noted the name of the backup software and thought of a way to remember it. No need to write it down. Our minds know how to remember — think of all the things we manage to recall each day — I just needed to take a second and make the effort.

Today, take the mental stairs with a few things. Your mind may rebel at first. After all, changing a habit can be challenging and making ourselves work harder isn’t usually our first choice! But in the long run, your mind will thank you!

As a reward for reading this far, here’s the photo of the day. I’m learning photography as a way to continually exercise my mind and I’ll be posting some of the resulting photos.

Snuck outside early in the morning after getting pictures of these three through the window. This is the moment they realized I was outside with them (they don’t mind much when they see me inside the house). They stared at me for several seconds then turned tail and ran.

Snuck outside early in the morning after getting pictures of these three through the window. This is the moment they realized I was outside with them (they don’t mind much when they see me inside the house). They stared at me for several seconds then turned tail and ran.