Remember the good stuff, not the bad

Today’s tip: easy memory improvement plus easy mood improvement. And a nice photo of the day as a reward for reading to the end!

How often do we remember the “bad” stuff that happens: the person who drove aggressively and scared us, realizing we were overcharged for something we bought, or the unkind word someone said? Even people who complain they can’t remember well seem to be able to relate story after story about the negative things of the world.

How often do we remember that amazing sunset from a few night ago, the first fireflies of summer (if you’ve heard one of my memory presentations you probably remember “The fireflies?!” story), the feel of a loved one’s hand in ours, or the person who held the door open for us? These “good” memories are often gone all too soon.


The stories we tell affect us because we’re reviewing and reinforcing our memories. Tell the story about that &#($(&$ driver on the highway enough times (even two times might do it!) and it sticks in you mind.

Do we give the same time (or even better - more time) to the good stories? Do we rush into the office and breathlessly tell our colleagues about the hawk we saw sitting along the highway, its feathers ago in the morning sun?
No. Instead we mention how horrible the traffic was AGAIN, the crazy thing our spouse did that we disliked, or something equally “awful.”

Consider making a conscious choice to tell a story or review in your mind something positive. Reinforce the good stuff, not the bad. Your memory — and mood — will thank you.

While you’re reminding yourself of something positive, think about what else you want to remember from today or yesterday: someone’s name or the work conversation (even if it doesn’t have a deadline or an important to-do involved it pays to remember conversations with clients, managers, and colleagues). That review will tell your mind, “This is important — pay attention and store this information.”

Need more memory hacks? My latest book is full of them — much more in depth than the above but still quick, easy, and fun to read and to put into practice.

Thanks for reading. Here’s your reward - a photo of Mr. Cardinal in the rain.


Taking the stairs....mentally.


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.

Engage your mind: learn new things

One of easiest ways to improve your memory is to learn new things that challenge your mind. Did I say easiest? Many people would argue that the hardest thing to do when our minds are struggling is to push them harder! But I look at it like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or going for a walk every day: we gently push our bodies to help maintain our physical health.

To prevent burnout or a feeling of dread when it’s time to do your “mind work,” pick an activity you enjoy, ideally one with a near-term payoff. Here are a few ideas:

  • learn five new foreign language words per day. This works especially well with a language that means something to you: one a neighbor or colleague speaks or someplace you might visit one day (sooner is better to help with motivation)

  • learn to play a musical instrument

  • learn the rules to a new game (chess, Go, etc.) or sport (can anyone explain Cricket to me?!?). If you have children in your life, learn the rules to their favorite sport or game (anyone else know a child who is obsessed with Minecraft?!)

  • learn how to personalize your smart phone or organize your email inbox

  • learn how to operate your fancy camera, including all the manual options

  • learn anything that appeals to you, from finally actually finishing Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time to mastering 5th grade math to help your child or grand child.

What do all these have in common? The word learn. Learning is something many of us dread. Once we finish school, we’re done. Why? Many have a bad experience in school. Some of us don’t learn well by reading. Sometimes it just feels like too much effort… much like walking up one or two flights of stairs instead of waiting for the elevator.

Today, though, we don’t have to suffer through classes or subjects that don’t interest us. Start learning something and realize you have no interest in it? No problem! Dump it… but pick up something that does interest you.

If you don’t know how - that’s easily fixed. Whether it’s my book about how to remember the new thing you’re learning (Mastering Memory: 75 Memory Hacks for Success in School, Work, and Life) or someone else’s, a Youtube video about how to remember (which works well if you learn better from watching an explanation instead of reading), there really isn’t a good excuse.

Get with it. Start small and don’t forget to choose an activity, subject, language, or hobby that interests you - that’s the key. It’s much easier to learn and remember things we are passionate about!

I practice what I preach. In addition to the memory training I do most days as a memory athlete, I’m slowly learning how to take photos with my Sony A6000 camera. Photography is a passion of mine, I’ve had the camera for a few years, and it’s time to learn how to handle it better. Below are some of my recent photos and I’ll be posting more off and on.

Join me in staying (or getting) mentally fit. If you’re brave, post what you’re interested in learning below.

Helping Hand in the Rain

Helping Hand in the Rain

Hay Deer at Dawn

Hay Deer at Dawn