Light A Fire Under Your Tuchus
“Oy vey, Sarah! Focus already! What is it that cute doctor told to us? You know, about being “realistic” You know. I know. The cute doctor knows… It takes you ridiculous amounts of time to do ANYTHING! You should have started getting ready three hours ago! You must start planning ahead!”
“Sarah, not everything must be perfect. Lipstick yes. Must be perfect. The socks? Who sees your socks? So? They do not match today! Who cares! Your feet are warm, yes? Then we can go”
“Sarah! What are you staring at? Get in this car! Where is your coat? And the gift for Bubbe? I asked you to bring it out with you. Feh! Your Bubbe may pass before you even get your seat belt buckled!”
Let’s thank poor Sara for these are examples of inattention. Chronic inattention raises flags for poor short-term memory (also called working memory). Working memory deficits are a symptom of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) also called ADD. Sarah has yet to be diagnosed!
Working, or short-term memory, is a thought or bit of information a person holds onto temporarily in his or her mind’s memory bank. This temporary memory enables a person to complete a task, such as Sarah remembering her mother’s directive to bring Bubbe’s gift out to the car with her.
People develop different capacities for how much working memory their brains can hold. Young children may hold one or two bits of information. On average, adults can temporarily hold between 4 and 7 bits of data. Remembering an unfamiliar telephone number long enough to place a call is an example of short-term or working memory in action.Short-term memory is critical. In fact, poor working memory is more predictive of struggle in school than is a lower IQ.
Ask yourself if the following scenarios seem familiar:
- You are waiting for another person to stop talking in a conversation so that you can say something. By the time the other person gets done speaking, you’ve typically forgotten what it is you wanted to say.
- Many times you struggle to retain what you just read.
- You tend to get lost easily, even when someone just gave you verbal directions.
- You plan to work at home but after you arrive there you realize you forgot papers you need to do the work.
- You have many unfinished projects because you become distracted and then, “forget” about the first project.
- You frequently lock your keys in your car.
- Many times, you can’t find your keys. Or wallet. Or glasses. Or cell phone.
Well? Sound familiar? If so, ADHD may be impacting your short-term / working memory. No need to panic… There is help for this.
Some people believe that “Brain Training” services help to improve working memory; however, the current research available does not bear this out. What the research indicates is that any benefits that MAY have occurred, do not last past the training session period. The benefits only last if you commit to ongoing brain training. In other words, any benefits derived from training will be lost if you discontinue the training.
Short-term memory functions much the same way as the muscles in your body. It’s a real “use it or lose it” proposition. If you want to get and remain buff, you MUST continue to lift weights. If you stop lifting for any length of time, you will lose any muscle you gained through training. So it is with Short-term memory. Use it or lose it.
How do you build a better working memory, especially if you have ADD?
Reminder systems do work for some people.
Use the notepad, timer and calendar apps on your phone.
Other strategies that MIGHT help include:
Example: You are self-employed and preparing to hostess a seminar. You feel anxious and overwhelmed by all that needs to be done.
First, make a list of all tasks necessary to complete prior to the seminar. Then, attack the tasks in chunks. Place your focus squarely on ONE chunk / task at a time, ignoring or delegating the other chunks / tasks until you finish the chunk / task on which you are focusing. This will require you to do whatever is necessary to remove any potential distractions. Maybe you need to tape a “Do not disturb!” sign to your CLOSED office door. Maybe you need to get focused by putting your earbuds in and listening to music that motivates you. It may be that you need “white noise” to soothe you and to help you manage racing thoughts. Turn on an oscillating fan.
-Create Action Steps.
-Get a Coach.
You may need a real, living person versus an app to keep you on task and accountable. You may need a personal assistant or a coach or a part-time, non medical care giver. For some people the reminder apps are merely “annoying flies’, easily ignored or swatted away…
Here is an example of what this might look like. Your action steps are noted in chunks of time on your calendar.
8-9 Work out at gym for 30 minutes, shower and dress for work
9-9:30 Drive to office, arrive and use bathroom and get cup of coffee, listen to voice messages
9:30-9:45 Read emails
10-10:15 Prioritize all responses to messaging.
10:15 Personal assistant / coach / non medical caregiver calls or stops by to make sure you are on task.
(Take 5-minutes to get drink of water, stretch and breath deeply.)
10:30-11:00 AM respond to messages in the order of priority…
You get the idea.
Develop Routines. (This one is CRITICAL for ADDers!!!
If you don’t do it already, add exercise to your daily routine.
Create routines for everything in your life that needs to be done. Think, “Same bat time. Same bat place”, for all recurring life functions.
Buy groceries on the same evening at the same time each week. Pick up dry cleaning at noon on the same day at the same time each week. Take your child to Play Palace same day, same time… Schedule hair and nail appointments same day / time each month…
Right down to the small things – ALWAYS put your purse by the side of your dresser when you get home each night. ALWAYS place your keys in your purse after using them to unlock something. Same with your glasses and cell phone. Same “bat” principal.
Be sure to build in a routine for relaxation and fun as well.
PRACTICE Working Memory Skills.
Here is one exercise to get you started.
Write down 7 unrelated words. Start by remembering the first two words without looking at the paper. As you succeed, add each additional word until you have memorized the entire list.
Now, create a new list with 10 unrelated words and repeat the process.
I have discovered over the years that my kids and my clients are super creative and very good at coming up with their own ingenious ways to remember information. As always, keep it light hearted and fun. Experiment with various ways of remembering information. Here are a few more ideas to get you on your way.
Make Up a Song or Rhyme.
Try visualization for Remembering Multiple Items.
Example: You are driving home from work and remember that you need to stop for some dinner items. Unlike our friend Sara, whom we met earlier, you planned ahead and made a shopping list before you left for work this morning! Yay you! But, as luck would have it, you forgot the list on the kitchen table. Not worries! You meet with Cindy at her “Kitchen Table” for counseling / coaching every week so you now have a tool you can use for a sidge such as this!
See yourself driving the car to King Soopers. Or Sprouts or Wal-Mart… Be specific in what you are picturing… See yourself parking (right up front, of course!). See yourself getting out of your car and walking into the store. Then visualize yourself walking to the produce section and picking up big, bright red tomatoes, DOLE brand bag of chopped lettuce, a couple nice Omaha steaks, crusty sourdough bread, and some Ben & Jerry’s (Chocolate Therapy of course!). See yourself going to each section of the store. Feel the temperature in each isle. See the food all lined up nice and yummy looking… Images and sensations are more powerful than words. You are more likely to remember everything you need at the store as you follow your visualization.
Complete one task and then move on to the next.
Did you know…?
The University of Sussex, did a study and found that multitasking actually shrinks certain areas of the brain! This shrinkage is correlated with shortened attention spans. Use mindfulness to minimize distractions and sharpen working memory. A study, completed at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that daily mindfulness exercises increased recall and allowed participants to tune out distractions by regulating sensory input.
This one is worth repeating.
Working memory increases with daily exercise. Mood, sleep and stress directly impact your cognitive functioning. Physical activity impacts memory by improving mood and sleep and by reducing stress.
When it comes to remembering what you need to do everyday, ALWAYS plan ahead. Create a REALISTIC daily (weekly, monthly) schedule. Plan activities in CHUNKS of time. Get ASSISTANCE. Do not be shy about asking for help. (If you had a broken leg, would you not ask for help carrying heavy boxes to your vehicle?) Not everything has to be perfect. Be kind to yourself. There are times when “good enough” is enough.