Midlife Tips On How To Stop Forgetting What You Just Thought Of
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Now, what was I…?
It’s a sure sign you’re not young anymore – leaving your chair, going to a different room to do something, then spending 5 minutes racking your brain for the reason you got up in the first place. How can you prevent these memory lapses or make them easier to manage?
Brain farts come with the territory for people in midlife. And they have effects you might not realise – like coming across as rude. Your partner is opening up to you, and you butt in to mention that you need to grab milk from the store. You obviously care about their problems (and tell them as much), but you were also about to forget the milk.
Now you have to buy sorry-chocolates when you eventually head to the store. That memory lapse just cost you an extra 5 bucks. Gee, thanks, brain. It’s important to keep up your forgetiquette and manage relationships at the same time you try to hang onto information.
Forgetting what you came in the room for is one of those stereotypes that’s become a cliche because it’s true.
In this article, Team Vippi breaks down the best ways to prevent and deal with memory lapses.
4 things you can do right now
Memento is a classic movie about a guy who gets into all kinds of trouble due to short-term memory loss. Luckily, you don’t have it this bad, and you have a bunch of ways to get better!
While there’s plenty you can do long-term to improve your memory, that doesn’t really help you when you’re standing in the kitchen, wondering how you got there and why you ever left the comfort of the sofa.
We’re going to call this lost thought a Forgottoid.
forgottoid noun for·gott·oid | plural forgottoids:
Definition of forgottoid: the thing you came into the room to do but now can’t remember or the joke you were about to tell that left your head.
1. Talk about something else
Changing the topic often brings back your Forgottoid like a flash of lightning. It’s almost like your memory was sat there waiting to pounce until it was least convenient.
Fumbling, umming, and aahing simply won’t help you access what you forgot, no matter how hard you try. So you’ve got to move on in the conversation. If it’s going to come back, it’ll come back to interrupt your new train. Good lord, Forgottoid, you really are a prize asshole, aren’t you?
The problem here is that you’re listening so intently during the new topic of conversation (for fear of forgetting yet another thing) that you’re caught in an epic battle with your brain – do you focus on absorbing the new info or retrieving the old?
This tip also doesn’t help a great deal when you’re on your own, but you can adapt it. Vocalizing your thoughts might help. If there’s no-one to talk to, just move onto the next thought you have and start saying everything that’s on your mind – or start talking to your pet, if you have one.
This isn’t exactly a scientific method, and you might look a little mad while trying this out. If you’re not the kind of person whose Forgottoids rush back during different conversations, this probably won’t work.
But who’s judging? Your dog?
If this sounds like you, speak your thoughts out loud more often. If your brain’s trying to sabotage your next topic of conversation, make this work for you.
2. Write things down
This seems simple enough, but it can really help. Pull out the Notes app in your phone (or Google Keep, if you’re on Android) and write down the thoughts you have that warrant further action.
If you’re not a smartphone kind of guy or gal (and the constant notifications are among your main distractions), keep a small jotter in your shirt pocket to whip out whenever you think about things you need to get done or funny stories you want to tell someone.
For the people you live with, develop a rule of thumb for communication so as not to seem rude and increase tensions. Let them know that you might be jotting down a retrieved Forgottoid during your conversation. You’re not ignoring them – quite the opposite.
3. Stay on top of organization
Staying organized may not necessarily help you in the moment when you forget something. But it can mean that you have a point of reference if the Forgottoid was something important you had to do that day.
This becomes especially important as you reach midlife. That Forgottoid could involve medications that need to be on a strict schedule, going to the doctor’s office, or picking your child up from somewhere.
There are so many apps that can help you piece your life together and stay on track with obligations. Todoist can help you organize both your personal life and your work schedule. You can set timed notifications for specific tasks and daily to-do lists that remind you what needs doing.
Your phone will also have a calendar app, and Google Calendar has a separate widget that lists your day as a schedule, rather than a square on a calendar. Seeing a list of your obligations as tasks rather than set times can help you reduce how many Forgottoids plague your day.
It’s not just apps, either. Decluttering your life is also about arranging your living space. For example, have a pot or basket by the front door that you leave your keys and wallet in, and have your shoes nearby. That way, you’re not going out, forgetting your wallet, and having to run back home. Set up a pinboard so that you can collect bills and coupons with due dates or expiry dates.
Of course, you may well forget to pin anything to the board. But these tips are about improving the chances that you’ll remember something in the moment. If the board is there, you may well end up making use of it.
We often don’t remember one thing because we’re thinking about several others. So learn to break down priorities as you would at work.
Loads of priority and time management courses are available online, if you can put aside the time (lol). It’s a learned skill that takes practice and application – but mastering it will benefit you greatly throughout your personal and professional lives.
You can also use pretty much any of the organization apps we mention above to prioritize. Open an organization app or your calendar, think of the next five things you need to be doing, and form a priority list.
On Google Calendar, for example, you can assign colors to different events and tasks. Set up a traffic light system – red for do it right now, yellow for get this done at some point today, and green for it can wait.
Doing this will help, because the next time you get up to do something, get to the next room, and go blank, you’ll not only have a reference point, but you’ll also know the next task on the agenda.
5 things you can do long-term
Reducing how many Forgottoids you experience in an average day isn’t just about what you do in the moment. Your brain is a muscle, and it’ll become whichever Twin you let it become – so are you going to make your brain Arnold Schwarzenegger or Danny DeVito? Pick a side.
1. Exercise your brain as much as you exercise your body
Learning new things and keeping your brain busy can help it stay nimble. And it doesn’t have to be any more taxing than picking more interesting media to absorb. Doing this can actually be fun and open you up to new and interesting experiences. Give the following a try:
- Watch documentaries. Factual accounts of interesting topics can help you stay engaged and learn more. If you’re not used to documentaries or aren’t usually a fan, many people’s entry point after 2020 has been Netflix’s Tiger King, a seven-episode journey through absolute insanity. If that doesn’t hook you into more documentaries, nothing will.
- Listen to podcasts that engage your brain. Just as there’s an app for everything, there’s also a podcast. If you’re planning to put your feet up, play on your phone, or go for a walk or jog, stick your earbuds in and put on a riveting podcast, even if it’s just one to make you laugh. Listening to a podcast while carrying out other tasks keeps your brain versatile. My Dad Wrote A Porno is an… interesting place to start.
- Watch foreign movies with subtitles. No, you don’t need to become a film critic, and not all movies with subtitles are pretentious sludgefests (remember, pretty much all martial arts movies worth their salt have subtitles, too). But if you watch a movie that forces you to read while you watch, you’re engaging different parts of your brain. This may help keep you sharp.
- Get your children to teach you how to play videogames. Gaming isn’t the mind-numbing activity your own parents taught you (Donkey Kong is a ridiculously difficult exercise in hand-eye coordination). But modern video games are a different beast, involving world exploration, resource management, puzzles, and incredibly complex controls and command lists. The National Institute of Aging also supports the idea that video games can help you improve your memory. Plus, you don’t have to be in the same room anymore – if you’re at home and your child is at college, you can connect over a distance.
- Watching movies, plays, or shows that challenge and inspire you. Complex TV shows might also help your memory, as they force you to remember characters from several seasons ago (seriously, ask any casual viewer to name all of the characters from Game of Thrones – they’ll never, ever manage it).
- Join a Dungeons and Dragons table. Perhaps you’re not into the same stuff as all the nerds and dweebs you grew up around, and that’s fine. But this tabletop role-playing game isn’t just people pretending to be wizards (although it is, admittedly, a little bit of that). It involves strategy, improvisation, storytelling, and priority management. You also have to remember story details to use to your advantage later, plus keep track of your developing skills and powers. And it’s a great way to stay social and have fun. The thickness of the rule book should tell you everything you need to know about how much of a brain exercise this can be.
However you choose to spend your time, at least use it to engage your mind while you have fun.
Apps that can keep your brain sharp
You can download these apps to help keep your brain in shape. Some are free, some aren’t, but they can all be helpful.
- Lumosity. This app gives you a range of brain-training games that build your memory, help you with problem-solving, and increase your attention span – all very useful for hanging on to those pesky Forgottoids. (free month’s trial, and then $15 per month after)
- Cognifit Brain Fitness. Neuroscientists helped develop this, and they know your brain like the back of their… well, brain. These games help you boost memory and concentration, and you can also track your progress. When the first levels get too easy, you can also crank up the difficulty. (first 4 games free, $13 a month after)
- Clockwork Brain. This is very much like Lumosity, but free. Plus, a cute little robot takes you through your tasks. What’s not to love?
- Eidetic. This app specifically focuses on helping you recall specific types of memory, like passwords and credit card details. With an increasing number of PIN and account numbers to remember, this could help you mold your brain into shape.
- Fit Brains Trainer Free. This app provides 10 games that help you improve memory and concentration. It also prompts you daily, so that you don’t forget (obviously) to practice.
Make sure these apps don’t become a distraction. We know what constant pinging and addictive games can do to your attention span, and you don’t want these to add to the cacophony of notifications you get daily. But in moderation, these can work like a car tune-up and have your brain’s engine humming like a dream.
2. Get enough sleep
Sleep and memory are closely linked. According to the American Psychological Association, when your brain activity spikes during your dreams, it may contribute to how you memorize and carry out tasks during your day.
A scientific review also drummed home the impact of sleep on memory. Your memories consolidate while you sleep. So “sleeping on it” may genuinely be a technique that helps.
It’s also common sense that if you’re running on 3 hours sleeping and jacked up on caffeine every morning, you’re simply not going to be at your sharpest. Forgetting stuff is likely to become the rule rather than the exception unless you get between 7 and 9 hours of shut-eye.
Nope, we’ve gone blank, sorry. Give us a second, it’ll come back.
4. Exercise your body as much as you exercise your brain (and eat well)
That was it!
Exercise isn’t just for keeping that waistline from ballooning. It’s also vital for helping your brain stay on point.
A 2018 review found that exercise provides a whole range of benefits for how your brain works. Another review found that exercise works in tandem with other parts of your lifestyle to bolster your brainbox.
You don’t need to go nuts on the exercise front – just enough to keep yourself ticking over every day. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes a week.
5. Stay on top of chronic conditions
Some health problems, like depression and chronic fatigue, can contribute to short-term memory loss.
Depression can lead to disturbing, unsettling, and distracting memories that resurface and mess with everyday life. Chronic fatigue syndrome can specifically affect short-term memory on a day-to-day basis, as it drains you of all energy – energy your brain needs for memory recall.
And menopause, while not a health condition, is a part of life during which your hormones are going crazy. This can lead to brain fog.
If you’re aware of a chronic health condition that might be causing your Forgottoids to go haywire, make sure you speak to your physician about how to manage the symptoms.
Forgive and forget: Learning not to blame yourself for memory loss
Sometimes brain fog is unavoidable. If you’re approaching menopause, for example, it’s likely that you’ll be dealing with low self-esteem along with the brain fog.
Beating yourself up for memory loss will likely make menopause harder, because you’ll be stressed out and feeling down on yourself. The same goes for depression and chronic fatigue. You don’t want to add to your problems.
People who live with these conditions need to be kind to themselves, however disorienting and frustrating memory loss can be.
If you can’t forgive yourself, at least forget to blame yourself.
So there you have it. (Where you left it is a different question entirely.)
Forgottoids can mess with your day, but there are ways to help you hang onto them both in the now and on a continuous basis.
Your brain is such a gift. Team Vippi fully supports your quest to keep it functioning at its best.
So this is your gentle reminder that you still didn’t pick up the f*cking milk.
American Heart Association recommendations for exercise. (2018). https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults
Forgetfulness: 7 types of normal memory problems. (2021). Forgetfulness — https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/forgetfulness-7-types-of-normal-memory-problems
Greer, M. (2004). Strengthen your brain by resting it. https://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug04/strengthen
How much sleep do we really need? (n.d.). https://www.sleep.org/age/
Mandolesi, L., et al. (2018). Effects of physical exercise on cognitive functioning and wellbeing: Biological and physical benefits. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5934999/
Marcin, A. (2018). What causes menopause brain fog and how’s it treated? https://www.healthline.com/health/menopause/menopause-brain-fog
Memory loss: 7 tips to improve your memory. (2021). https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/memory-loss/art-20046518
National Institute on Aging. (2020). Video games show potential in improving key aspects of memory in older adults. https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/video-games-show-potential-improving-key-aspects-memory-older-adults
Rasch, B., et al. (2013). About sleep’s role in memory. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768102/
Sahu, U. (2021). 11 brain training apps to train your mind and improve your memory. https://www.lifehack.org/articles/technology/11-brain-training-apps-train-your-mind-and-improve-memory.html
The ME Association: (2019). Cognitive Dysfunction also known as ‘Brain Fog’. https://meassociation.org.uk/2019/04/new-leaflet-from-the-me-association-cognitive-dysfunction-also-known-as-brain-fog-04-april-2019/