There are some ways to help the brain make and hold memories.
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Like an earworm — a song that you can’t get out of your head — ideas can camp out in our brains. This happened to me when Dr. D. Gregory Powell, founder of the STARS air ambulance service, dropped a casual comment in a recent luncheon speech.“Our deepest memories are of events that happened when we were in highly adrenalized states,” Powell told the Calgary Knights of the Roundtable.Seems logical, but is there scientific evidence to back it up?I decided to look into the latest research on human memory, and even found some news a guy can use.Some of our memories are “state-dependent” — you recall them most efficiently when you are in the same state of consciousness as when the memory was formed. I experienced this personally at the age of 15 when I participated in a program for highly gifted teenagers at Princeton University. One of my young classmates was an accomplished hypnotist. He got me into a trancelike state, then told me I was standing in front of a bus driver sculpture we had seen at a museum. He asked me to count the change in the fare box. I got it exactly right!So, if you are studying for an exam or practicing for a job interview, it might make sense to work in an environment that’s close to the actual setting. I do this before speeches by arriving early, standing at the podium and doing a bit of visualization. Of course, this also helps me catch lighting and audiovisual gremlins.Don’t forget to rehearse with the right level of caffeine or alcohol in your body. A clever experiment by Jayson L. Mystkowski at Northwestern University gave spider-phobic student volunteers desensitization therapy involving a tarantula. But first, the researchers poured one batch of students the caffeine equivalent of three cups of coffee, while the control group got quinine water. Orange drink power masked the taste.A week later, the students were retested, after having a randomly assigned drink. “Participants tested under consistent drug states from treatment to followup exhibited significantly less return of fear … than participants tested under inconsistent drug states.”One author who has a lot to say about brain and memory hacking is Dave Asprey, creator of the Bulletproof Diet and Bulletproof Coffee — java with butter and MCT oil. His 2017 book Head Strong links our diet and lifestyle to problems ranging from mid-afternoon slumps to sugar craving and obesity.Asprey’s solutions include meditation, breathing exercises, dietary change, and supplements like CoQ10 and Vitamin B12. He recommends getting a good dose of natural light every day, preferably taking your shirt off. Asprey also praises the neurogenic effects of jumping in the sack, writing that “even when you think you’re too stressed for sex, it’s a good idea to try to get into the mood anyway.”Asprey’s book has many glowing endorsements, including one from former Hamilton TigerCats player Jed Tommy. “I suffer from concussions due to 10 years of professional football,” he writes. ”This book has dramatically changed my ability to perform like I had never imagined possible.” Tommy told me he “participated in a concussion study at Queen’s University on toxicity and Dr. Mark Lindsay asked all who participated to follow the principles outlined in the book.”Another author who has a lot to say about brain function and memory is Meik Wiking, a leader of the Hygge craze — making your home super-cosy in the Danish way.His forthcoming book The Art of Making Memories: How to Create and Remember Happy Moments has many clever ideas, some of which were recently featured on the travel website Afar. Wiking advises leaving your comfort zone on vacation. Why? “People remember emotions. When they do something that frightens them a little bit, it gets the adrenalin pumping.” Sounds like Dr. Powell’s idea rings true with him.Wiking also advises creating multi-sensory memories. “Experiences that stimulate several senses have a better chance of making a memorable moment.” In fact, he suggests you record a sound from a special place, which is pretty easy now with smartphones.He also suggests ending each trip with a special highlight experience. “For some, it might be at a luxury Michelin restaurant; for others, it might be skydiving.” Summer camps have known this for years, as steak replaces hotdogs for the final camper dinner.Using these techniques may help to combat age-related brain and memory decline, and that’s particularly important for males. A Mayo Clinic study showed that 19 per cent of men aged 70-79 had mild cognitive impairment, versus 14 per cent of females.Of course, we also tend to remember things that are important to us. I’ll probably never forget Dr. Powell’s speech and the new memory pathways it led me down. As for where I left the car keys, well that’s another matter.Dr. Tom Keenan is an award-winning journalist, public speaker, professor in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at the University of Calgary, and author of the bestselling book, Technocreep: The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy.